Qunu, South Africa, December 15: South Africa’s first black President Nelson Mandela was on Sunday laid to rest with full state honours in his childhood village after teary-eyed friends and family members bid adieu to the anti-apartheid icon whose courage and freedom struggle turned him into a giant of history.
A military escort carried Mandela’s casket to the family plot where Mandela was accorded a traditional burial, marking the end of an exceptional journey for the prisoner-turned- president who transformed South Africa.
The South African flag was removed from his casket, which was lowered into the ground followed by a traditional ceremony.
South African military jets and helicopters flew over Mandela’s casket was placed over the grave. South African television showed the casket at the family gravesite, but stopped broadcasting the event before the casket was lowered.
The burial brought down the curtain on ten days of national mourning and memorial events for the global peace icon.
Mandela died on December 5, aged 95, after a protracted illness.
Tribal leaders wrapped in animal skins joined dignitaries in dark suits for the walk toward the burial grounds. Soldiers lined the route as mourners slowly made their way to the gravesite atop a hill overlooking the valleys of Qunu.
Before making their way to the site, mourners attended a funeral service in a tent set up for the event. Ninety-five candles glowed at the funeral service, one for each year of his life.
With restricted access to facilities in the rural area, only about 4,500 people were allowed at the service and only about a tenth of those were at the actual burial site.
President Jacob Zuma, speaking at the funeral service, pledged to fulfill Mandela’s ideals of ridding South Africa of poverty, unemployment, lack of educational facilities and social ills such as crime and violence.
Several heads of state or their representatives, including U.K.’s Prince Charles, Iranian Vice President Mohammad Shariatmadari and presidents of several African nations, were present at the solemn event.
Most heads of state had opted to attend the official memorial service last on Tuesday at the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg, where over 80,000 people braved rain to join 91 world leaders, including President Pranab Mukherjee and his U.S. counterpart Barack Obama, in paying tributes to Mandela.
A full military honour guard and a 21-gun salute escorted Mandela’s coffin to the marquee where mourners bid adieu to the global peace icon.
The funeral service, as was the case with other memorial services in the past week everywhere, was marked with celebration as well as mourning by various speakers.
“One thing we can assure you today, Tata, as you take your final steps, is that South Africa will continue to rise,” Mr. Zuma said.
“Your binding revolutionary spirit will remain binding on us to not rest until the poor and the working class have truly benefited from the material fruits of freedom and democracy which you fought for. Today we undertake to take forward the promotion of an improved quality of life for all,” he said.
Veteran Indian-origin South African activist Ahmed Kathrada, a fellow inmate with Mandela at the Robben Island prison off Cape Town and an old friend, said he always considered the iconic leader to be his elder brother.
In an emotional eulogy at Mandela’s funeral, Mr. Kathrada said the anti-apartheid icon “united the people of South Africa and the entire world on a scale never before witnessed in history”.
The final day of South Africa’s 10-day commemoration for the elder statesman began with his coffin taken on a gun carriage from Mandela’s house to a giant marquee.
Members of the family had attended an overnight vigil, where a traditional praise singer is believed to have chanted details of his long journey and life.
His casket, draped in the South African flag, was placed beneath a lectern where speakers paid their tributes. Some guests sang and danced to celebrate Mandela’s life as the service began.
Two grandchildren then addressed the congregation — Ndaba read an obituary and Nandi spoke fondly of her grandfather as a disciplinarian.
“We shall miss you… your stern voice when you are not pleased with our behaviour. We shall miss your laughter,” Ms. Nandi said.
Listening to the tributes were Graca Machel, his widow, and his second wife, Winnie-Madikizela Mandela, who sat either side of Mr. Zuma. Both women were praised for their love and tolerance, in an address by Malawi’s President Joyce Banda.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a long-time friend of Mandela, also attended the funeral.
During the ceremony, Mandela was referred to as Dalibhunga — the name given to him at the age of 16.
Mourners were seen wearing traditional Xhosa regalia, with blue and white beaded head gear and necklaces.
Thembu community, of which Mandela is a member, conducted a traditional Xhosa ceremony — including songs and poems about Mandela’s life and his achievements.
Talk show host Oprah Winfrey and business mogul Richard Branson were also among the attendees.