Published: Sunday, December 15, 2013

Mandela’s ‘long walk’ nears its end at Qunu

Burial today at ancestral home

mandelaThe aircraft carrying Nelson Mandela’s body has landed in Eastern Cape province as his coffin is transported to his ancestral home village ahead of the state funeral for South Africa’s first black president today.
The South African air force plane landed at Mthata airport yesterday afternoon. Earlier, during a solemn ceremony at Waterkloof air base in Pretoria that was broadcast live on South African television, President Jacob Zuma praised Mandela for bringing discipline and vision to the long and difficult struggle against apartheid.
“Go well tata, you have played your part,” Zuma said in his eulogy, using the Xhosa word for father. “We will always remember you.”
The homage was the most overtly political event of the mourning period since Mandela’s death on 5 December at the age of 95. ANC leaders and allied trade unions hailed Mandela as a determined “soldier” and revolutionary. Zuma led the assembled mourners, who included Mandela’s widow Graça Machel and his former wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, in revolutionary song after his speech.
Mandela’s coffin, drapped in the South African flag, was accompanied by a military honour guard as it was transferred onto a military plane for transport to the village of Qunu.
The state funeral will combine military pomp and the traditional rites of Mandela’s Thembu clan. It will be attended by family members, national leaders and foreign guests including Prince Charles and the US civil rights activist Reverend Jessie Jackson.
Yesterday’s ANC ceremony came after nine days of mourning and memorials held in Johannesburg and Pretoria.
This included three days of lying in state at the Union Buildings in Pretoria from Wednesday to Friday. More than 100,000 people queued for hours to say a last personal goodbye.
Mandela’s eldest grandchild, Mandla, thanked those who had come to pay their respects to the Nobel peace laureate.
“I have witnessed his army, I have witnessed his people, I have witnessed ordinary South Africans who walked this long walk to freedom with him, and I can assure the African National Congress today that the future of this country looks bright.”
Representatives from leftwing parties such as Angola’s MPLA and Ireland’s Sinn Féin attended yesterday’s homage.
Zuma, whose rule has faced widespread criticism, addressed the leadership issue in his speech.
“The question is, can we produce as ANC other Madibas?” he asked, using Mandela’s Xhosa name.
“We need more Madibas so that our country can prosper. Yes we are free, but the challenges of inequality remain.”