Nelson Mandela to be buried in Qunu ancestral home

15 December 2013 Last updated at 00:59 GMT

Local chiefs escort Nelson Mandela's coffin - draped with a lion skin - in Qunu. Photo: 14 December 2013Some 4,500 people – including foreign dignitaries – will be attending the state funeral.

Nelson Mandela is to be buried in his ancestral home in Qunu in the Eastern Cape, ending a week of commemorations for South Africa’s first black leader.

Some 4,500 people – including foreign dignitaries – will be attending the funeral, which will blend state ceremonial with traditional rituals.

Members of his family are attending an overnight vigil, with a traditional praise singer believed to be chanting details of his long journey and life.

He died on 5 December aged 95.

Tutu to attend

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Xhosa funeral rituals

  • A family elder talks to “the body’s spirit”
  • The coffin is covered with a leopard’s or lion’s skin
  • An ox is slaughtered and eaten on the day
  • Another ox to be slaughtered next year to mark the end of mourning

The state funeral is expected to start at 06:00 GMT, when the coffin will be taken from Mr Mandela’s house to a giant white marquee that has been specially erected.

Mr Mandela’s Thembu community will conduct a traditional Xhosa ceremony – including songs and poems about Mr Mandela’s life and his achievements.

An ox will be slaughtered. A family elder will stay near the coffin, which has been draped with a lion’s skin, to talk “to the body’s spirit”.

Presidents from Africa, several prime ministers, the Iranian vice-president and the Prince of Wales are expected to attend the funeral.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu – a long-time friend of Nelson Mandela – has confirmed he will be present, having earlier said he had cancelled his flight as he had not received an invitation.

The South African government had earlier said the archbishop was accredited, but that no formal invitations had been sent out.

‘Sad but happy’On Saturday, Mr Mandela’s coffin was flown from Waterkloof airbase in Pretoria on a C130 military aircraft, escorted by two fighter jets. It later landed at Mthatha airport, some 700km (450 miles) away.

In line with tribal custom, Nelson Mandela’s grandson Mandla accompanied him on the journey, speaking to his coffin to tell him he was on his way home to rest.

Funeral cortege drives through Qunu (14 Dec 2013)Nelson Mandela always said he wanted to be buried in his childhood home of Qunu
Xhosa women in traditional dress wait for the coffin to pass in Qunu (14 Dec 2013)His funeral will be conducted according to the traditions of the Xhosa people, from which he comes

To solemn music, the coffin draped in a South African flag was moved by a military guard of honour and placed in a hearse to begin the 32km journey to Qunu, where Mr Mandela had wanted to spend his final days.

People waving flags and cheering and singing – in places 10 to 12 deep – lined the route taken by the cortege through Mthatha town to pay their last respects.

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image of Pumza FihlaniPumza FihlaniBBC News, Qunu

“Come home Mandela, the sun has set.” These were the painful wails of a woman who was part of a crowd of villagers who welcomed Nelson Mandela’s coffin back to his ancestral home of Qunu.

They had been waiting along the highway leading to his home all day. Women dressed in traditional Xhosa clothing danced and sang songs about Madiba, asking him to watch over them from the spirit world.

One of those gathered said she believed his presence back home would bring good fortune to this modest village. But some expressed unhappiness that they would not be allowed to attend the ceremony because of a strict guest list.

“How can you have a guest list for a funeral, that is un-African,” an elderly woman told me. According to local traditions, everyone is welcome at a funeral and the more, the better.

Another woman who lived a few houses away from Mr Mandela’s home said she would miss his generosity. “At Christmas time Tatomkhulu (grandfather) would give us clothes for our children”.

“He was our Christ,” she said crying.

There are mixed emotions here, a sense of deep loss, punctuated by a sense of pride that a global icon was born of these simple people.

Tears as well as smiles could be seen on the faces of onlookers.

“He is finally coming home to rest, I can’t even begin to describe the feeling I have inside,” 31-year-old Bongani Zibi told AFP news agency.

“Part of me is sad but I’m also happy that he has found peace.”

However, some people expressed their frustration that the convoy did not stop, so they had no chance to view the coffin as people in Pretoria had.

The cortege then drove through the gates of the Mandela homestead in Qunu.

Ahead of the flight to the Eastern Cape, members of the African National Congress paid final tributes to Nelson Mandela at a ceremony in Pretoria.

President Jacob Zuma, other ANC leaders and more than 1,000 members of the organisation which Mr Mandela once led, attended the event at the Waterkloof air base.

It included a multi-faith service and a musical tribute.

Mourners heard President Zuma pay his own tribute to Nelson Mandela, calling him a “towering figure”, “a man of action” and a “democrat who understood the world.”

“Yes, we will miss him… He was our father, he was our guardian. He was something special.”

“We’ll always keep you in our hearts,” Mr Zuma said.

At least 100,000 people saw the former president’s body lying in state during the week in Pretoria, but some had to be turned away.

Officers carry Nelson Mandela's coffin on to a C130 military transport planeThe coffin was flown to Mthatha aboard a C130 military transport plane, after a special ANC ceremony to bid farewell to Mr Mandela
ANC supporters at the ceremony in Waterkloof airbase (14 Dec 2013)About 1,000 members of the ANC, which Mr Mandela once led, attended the special celebration at Waterkloof airbase
President Zuma flanked by Graca Machel (L) and Mandela's ex-wife Winnie MandelaAmong them were President Zuma, members of Nelson Mandela’s family, his ex-wife Winnie Mandela (R) and his widow, Graca Machel
People queue for busses before heading to the Union Buildings in Pretoria, South AfricaDuring three days of public viewing to see the coffin, long queues of people formed
Mandela funeral map

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