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With a hole in its heart, South Africa buries Mandela

2013-12-15 15:57

By (Agencies)

With a hole in its heart, South Africa buries Mandela

The coffin of former South African President Nelson Mandela is carried by military personnel during his funeral in his ancestral village of Qunu in the Eastern Cape province, 900 km (559 miles) south of Johannesburg, in this still image taken from December 15, 2013 video courtesy of the South Africa Broadcasting Corporation (SABC). [Photo/Agencies] 

QUNU, South Africa - South Africa held a state funeral for Nelson Mandela on Sunday, closing one chapter in its tortured history and opening another in which the multi-racial democracy he founded will have to discover if it can thrive without its central pillar.

The Nobel peace laureate, who was held in apartheid prisons for 27 years before emerging to preach forgiveness and reconciliation, was honoured with a mixture of military pomp and the traditional rites of his Xhosa abaThembu clan.

The funeral at Qunu in Eastern Cape province drew 4,500 guests, from relatives and African leaders to Britain's Prince Charles, American civil rights activist Reverend Jesse Jackson and talk show host Oprah Winfrey.

"The person who is lying here is South Africa's greatest son," Cyril Ramaphosa, deputy leader of the ruling African National Congress and one of the masters of ceremonies, said at the service in a huge tent, its interior draped in black.

As Mandela's coffin, covered by the South African flag, was borne from his homestead on a gun-carriage, a battery of cannons positioned on the hillside fired a 21-gun salute, sending booms echoing across the sun-drenched valley.

The coffin was followed into the tent by Mandela's grandson and heir, Mandla, and South African President Jacob Zuma.

It was then placed on black and white Nguni cattle skins in front of a crescent of 95 candles, one for each year of Mandela's life, as the service opened with Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika, the national anthem adopted after the end of apartheid in 1994.

Mandela died in Johannesburg on December 5, plunging his 53 million countrymen and millions more around the world into mourning, and triggering more than a week of official memorials to South Africa's first black president.

"It is the end of 95 glorious years of a freedom fighter, a dedicated and humble servant of the people of South Africa," Zuma said in his eulogy at the funeral ceremony.

"Whilst the long walk to freedom has ended in the physical sense, our own journey continues. We have to continue building the type of society you worked tirelessly to construct. We have to take the legacy forward," he said.

Over 100,000 people had paid their respects in person at Mandela's lying in state at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, where he had been inaugurated as president, an event that brought the curtain down on more than three centuries of white domination.

When his body arrived on Saturday at his ancestral home in Qunu, 700 km (450 miles) south of Johannesburg, it was greeted by ululating locals overjoyed that Madiba, the clan name by which he was affectionately known, had "come home".

"After his long life and illness he can now rest," said grandmother Victoria Ntsingo, as military helicopters escorting the funeral cortege clattered overhead. "His work is done."


Across the nation, people watched on television or listened to the radio. In some locations, big screens transmitted the event live.

"Qunu is too far to go, so I gathered with some people here so we can mourn together. I can say he is a hero, a man of the people," said 29-year-old Message Sibanda, among about 100 others watching in Johannesburg's Sandton financial district.

At the service, friends, family and African leaders paid moving tributes to the father of the "Rainbow Nation".

"We may be drowned in sorrow and grief but we must be proud and grateful that after the long walk paved with obstacles and suffering we can salute you as a fighter for freedom," said lifelong friend and fellow Robben Island inmate Ahmed Kathrada.

"Farewell my dear brother, my mentor, my leader," he said, his voice cracking with emotion, and drawing tears from many mourners.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn gave thanks for Mandela's contribution to Africa's liberation struggles.

"Madiba's life was the mirror of the continent, for the liberation of which he so relentlessly fought. Africa is forever indebted to him for that," he said.

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