15 December 2013

South Africa: Mandela Brought Home in State Funeral

Qunu — Former president Nelson Mandela's epic journey ended in his ancestral village on Sunday as family and fellow African politicians laid him to rest in the remote hills of Qunu.

After a tearful funeral service, only a few hundred mourners accompanied his coffin to the cemetery. He was buried beside his parents following a final military salute for the man whose death plunged South Africans into mass mourning.

In his eulogy, President Jacob Zuma acknowledged the disquiet voiced in the past 10 days over the future of the democracy Mandela founded.

"We did not want to confront the reality of your mortality," he told 4500 guests at the funeral service, held in a flower-filled marquee on the Mandela family property.

"As your journey ends today, ours must continue in earnest. One thing we can assure you of today, Tata, as you take your final steps, is that South Africa will continue to rise," he said.

"We plan to take your vision forward."

The day belonged to Mandela's closest family and former comrades. This followed a week in which world leaders converged on the country to pay their respects at a memorial in Soweto marred by politics as Zuma was heckled.

It combined military pomp with the rites of his abaThembu clan. After a procession through the green surrounds of Qunu, his casket rested on cow hides during the funeral.

Mandela's fellow Robben Island inmate Ahmed Kathrada spoke of his pain at witnessing Mandela's physical decline and losing a life-long friend.

"When Walter [Sisulu] died I lost a father and now I have lost a brother. I don't know who to turn to," he said at the funeral service.

"What I saw in hospital was a man helpless and reduced to a shadow of himself, and now the inevitable has happened and he has left us to join the A-team of the ANC, the ANC in which he cut his political teeth, the ANC... he sacrificed his own life for, which he was prepared to die for."

African leaders took their turn in Qunu to hail Mandela as the colossus of the continent's post-colonial era, days after US President Barack Obama led foreign tributes for the liberation icon in Soweto.

Malawi's Joyce Banda said she looked to Mandela for inspiration when she became president last year amid a national crisis.

"Leadership is about falling in love with the people you serve and about the people falling in love with you. It is about serving the people selflessly, [with] sacrifice and with a need to put common good ahead of personal interest."

Former president Thabo Mbeki was brought to tears as Tanzanian president Jakaya Kikwete recalled anecdotes of ANC leaders' days in exile in Dar-es-Salaam, including how Mandela left behind a pair of boots that languished in the capital for three decades after he was jailed by the apartheid regime.

And Zambia's first post-colonial president Kenneth Kaunda bid a fond and rambling farewell in which he dismissed the apartheid regime as "boers" but praised former president FW de Klerk for releasing Mandela.

He was cut short by ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa, who tried to keep proceedings on schedule and made mourners laugh with a joke about how Zuma recently offended Malawi in a diplomatic faux pas.

He too paid tribute to Mandela, remarking how countless South Africans had shared their favourite memories of the liberation icon in recent days.

"Each one of us, indeed millions of people around the world, have each had their Madiba moment... today, the person who lies here is South Africa's greatest son," Ramaphosa said.

Mandela was buried shortly after noon, in keeping with Xhosa custom that dictates that the dead be buried when the sun is at its zenith.

Cabinet ministers past and present followed the casket on foot to his grave, as Zuma and Mbeki supported Mandela's widow Graca Machel.

A smattering of European dignitaries attended the event and, in a last minute change of heart, so did Mandela's friend and fellow Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu after complaining Saturday that he had not been invited.

The imbroglio briefly caused speculation that Tutu was sidelined because of his criticism of government.

But it appeared grudges had been set aside at least for a day as political foes of Zuma, among them fired Cabinet minister Tokyo Sexwale, took their place among mourners.

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