After more than a week of pomp and ceremony, Nelson Mandela was remembered in a final service filled with deeply personal tributes.
Under a sunny African sky, Mandela was buried Sunday on a hill overlooking his beloved boyhood village of Qunu. Members of his clan, national leaders and a global audience bid farewell to the man who transformed his country and became one of the world’s most revered figures.
The burial marked the culmination of 10 days of mourning and tributes to Mandela’s remarkable journey, which began and ended in Qunu. Home to a few hundred farmers, the village is little changed since Mandela’s childhood.
Traveling a dirt road, a military procession ushered in Mandela’s flag-draped casket, about an hour before the formal service was to begin. Senior members of the military — the military that once battled Mandela’s African National Congress — served as pallbearers. A gun carriage transported the casket, while personnel from the various military branches marched in front and behind, and also lined the route. A band played. Cannons fired.
“Today, I think we can all agree, the person who lies here is South Africa’s greatest son,” Cyril Ramaphosa, the deputy president of the ANC, said at the funeral.
Ramaphosa and the other speakers appeared on a podium with Mandela’s flag-draped casket in front of them. Behind them flickered 95 candles, representing Mandela’s age.
Because Qunu is so remote, South African authorities this past week swiftly erected a temporary pavilion to host the more than 4,000 mourners. From the inside, the pavilion provided a modern, polished venue for a formal, dignified ceremony. From the outside, it resembled a white bubble placed among the cow pastures and modest village homes of South Africa’s Eastern Cape region.
The funeral was both a global public event televised around the world and a private local ceremony. Speakers included a clan leader with a leopard skin draped over his suit who spoke in Xhosa, Mandela’s first language.
One of the most moving tributes was delivered by Ahmed Kathrada, who knew Mandela for nearly seven decades as a fellow prisoner and ANC leader.
Kathrada, who spent 26 years in prison — compared to 27 for Mandela — joked that he “got a discount.”
“Today, mingled with our grief, is the enormous pride that one of our own has, during his lifetime, and now in his death, united the people of South Africa and the entire world,” Kathrada said.
His voice cracking at times, Kathrada described another ANC leader, Walter Sisulu, who died a decade ago, as his father, and Mandela as his older brother. With both now dead, he said, “My life is in a void. I don’t know who to turn to.”
South African President Jacob Zuma, who was repeatedly booed by the large crowd at Mandela’s memorial service on Tuesday, received a more generous welcome Sunday.
“We have to keep building the type of society you worked tirelessly to construct,” Zuma said. “We have to take your legacy forward.”
While Zuma received polite applause, another president received a standing ovation: Malawi’s Joyce Banda, one of the few women who has headed an African nation.
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