Nelson Mandela’s long walk ends at last

15 December 2013

Nelson Mandela was laid to rest alongside his father, Mphakanyiswa Gadla Henry, his mother Noqaphi Nosekeni and his son Magkatho Lewanika Mandela at the Mandela family farm in rural Qunu in the Eastern Cape shortly before 1pm on Sunday.

Mandela’s burial was part of a private ceremony at the family gravesite witnessed by about 400 invited guests, and accompanied by a South African Air Force fly-past, the sounding of the Last Post, and the performance of traditional rituals to ensure that the Father of the Nation was received by his ancestors.

This followed a moving funeral service at a specially erected giant marquee where over 4 000 mourners gathered earlier to pray and pay tribute to the man described by US President Barack Obama, in his speech at a memorial service in Johannesburg on Tuesday, as “the last great liberator of the twentieth century”.

Present at the service were royalty – among them Britain’s Prince Charles and Monaco’s Prince Albert – current and former heads of state, and dignitaries including the Reverend Jesse Jackson, Sinn Fein leader Jerry Adams, entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson and US media personality Oprah Winfrey.

Famous actors were also in attendance, including Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker and Idris Elba, who has been nominated for a Golden Globe for his portrayal of Nelson Mandela in Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.

“Today marks an end of an extraordinary journey that began 95 years ago,” President Jacob Zuma said in his eulogy to Mandela. “Whilst your long walk to freedom in a physical sense ends, our own journey continues. We will not say goodbye. In our hearts, you will continue to live forever.”

Other speakers at the service included Mandela’s long-time friend Ahmed Kathrada, Chief Ngangomhlaba Matanzima, representing the Mandela family, Malawi President Joyce Banda, representing the Southern African Development Community (SADC), and Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, representing former African liberation movements.

Mandela’s burial brought to a close a 10-day official mourning period which will be remembered for a massive outpouring of love from ordinary people across the country.

Mandela passed away in the company of his family at around 8.50pm on 5 December, 2013 at his home in Houghton, Johannesburg

An unprecedented number of tributes poured in from all corners of the world and thousands of mourners gathered at his house in Johannesburg to pay their last respects. Mourners held night vigils, laying flowers and lighting candles, while Madiba’s body was prepared at 1 Military Hospital in Pretoria for lying in state.

On Tuesday, a massive memorial service was held at Johannesburg’s FNB Stadium. Over 100 current and former heads of state, kings, sheiks, dignitaries and government representatives attended, as well as tens of thousands of South Africans who danced and sang in celebration of an extraordinary life.

Every morning and afternoon for three days starting on Wednesday, Mandela’s body was transported in procession, down streets lined with singing, cheering, weeping people, to the Union Buildings in Pretoria, where he lay in state under a specially erected structure at the newly renamed Nelson Mandela Amphitheatre.

In scenes reminiscent of South Africa’s first democratic elections nearly 20 years ago, people queued up for free bus rides to the Union Buildings, where they filed past Mandela’s open casket. According to the government, about 100 000 members of the public were able to say their final goodbyes to Madiba in this way.

On Saturday, following a moving service by the African National Congress, Madiba left the capital city for the last time. His body was flown from Waterkloof Air Force Base to Mthatha Airport, finally making its way in procession to his home in Qunu.

Ahmed Kathrada, in his address at the funeral service, gave perhaps the most heart-rending tribute for his close friend and fellow Robben Island prisoner, saying, “My life is in a void and I do not know who to turn to,” but also adding: “Today, mingled with our grief is the enormous pride that one of us has, during his lifetime and now, in death, united the people of South Africa and the entire world on a scale never seen in history.”

SAnews.gov.za and SAinfo reporter