Global Politics

PHOTOS: A nation says its final goodbyes to Nelson Mandela

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A minister born and raised in Qunu says a prayer for Madiba.

Credit:

Robyn Murray

By the time Nelson Mandela’s body was laid to rest in his childhood village of Qunu, South Africa, much of the celebratory mood surrounding his funeral had waned.

As his coffin made its way to the final burial ground, the sound of cannons booming in a military salute, thousands of mourners who flooded the remote area to pay their last respects felt a sense of closure.

Sydney Mphono traveled from the Welkom gold mines in the Free State, a province more than 400 miles from Qunu. A member of the National Union of Mineworkers, he called Mandela the “honorary life president” of the union who “pioneered the liberation of historically disadvantaged South Africans.” Mphono said he’d driven eight hours to be there, joining the convoy of cars that streamed into the village and drew crowds of local children who lined the roads to soak in the excitement and wave to visitors. Fellow union member Vincent Norawana said he was pleased to make the journey to honor Mandela, who he called a unifier and peacemaker. “We say phambili,” he said. “Long live a life well-lived.”

The two stood overlooking the funeral from the media center, about a half mile away. That was the closest anyone who was not accredited as family, close friends or select dignitaries could get to the proceedings. Hundreds of media representatives from countries including Brazil, England and Tanzania congregated. Many had spent the night in tents that lined the media center, a makeshift marquee set up on dusty soil, where laptops, news trucks and satellite dishes seemed entirely out of place.

What was meant to be a two-hour service lasted almost four. But just as the sun climbed to its midday spot — the time when, as tradition dictated, Mandela’s body was meant to be lowered into the ground — the media center sprung to life as more than 100 African men, cloaked in traditional Zulu attire marched to the hilltop, spears and fur-covered shields in hand. The men chanted, danced and sang in an energetic, reverent performance filled with archetypal African spirit. Television crews swarmed around them, and photographers dived in to get a decent shot.

But as the funeral drew to a close, the men cleared out, the journalists packed up their things, and the locals began the long trek back home. Madiba’s body was lowered into the ground, and slowly, for miles around him, the dust began to settle. 

Editor's Note: This post has been updated with additional information.

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    Children lined the streets around Qunu and Mthatha to catch a glimpse of the thousands of people pouring into this remote rural area on Saturday in South Africa.

    Credit:

    Robyn Murray

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    Children lined the streets around Qunu and Mthatha to catch a glimpse of the thousands of people pouring into this remote rural area.

    Credit:

    Robyn Murray

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    Children lined the streets around Qunu and Mthatha to catch a glimpse of the thousands of people pouring into this remote rural area.

    Credit:

    Robyn Murray

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    Helicopters patrloled overhead on Saturday as Nelson Mandela's body was flown into Mthatha in preparation for his burial.

    Credit:

    Robyn Murray

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    Signs and photos with messages of remembrance for Madiba lined the streets of Mthatha.

    Credit:

    Robyn Murray

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    The villages near Qunu, where Mandela spent his childhood years, remain rural and remote today.Though many of the homes now have electricity, very few have indoor plumbing.

    Credit:

    Robyn Murray

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    The villages near Qunu, where Mandela spent his childhood years, remain rural and remote today.Though many of the homes have electricity now, very few have indoor plumbing.

    Credit:

    Robyn Murray

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    Thousands of people made the long journey to Qunu from cities like Johannesburg, Cape Town and Bloemfontein.

    Credit:

    Robyn Murray

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    The convoy of funeral goers was rerouted through the dirt roads of surrounding villages when Madiba's body was flown into Mthatha's small landing strip.

    Credit:

    Robyn Murray

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    Children lined the streets along the detour route to catch a glimpse of the procession.

    Credit:

    Robyn Murray

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    Nelson Mandela's body was escorted through the town of Mthatha, drawing crowds of well-wishers, on its way to Qunu.

    Credit:

    Robyn Murray

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    Members of the National Union of Mineworkers traveled to Qunu from the Welkom gold mines in the Free State to honor Nelson Mandela, the "honorary life president" of the union. (Sydney Mphono, third from right, and Vincent Norawana to his left)

    Credit:

    Robyn Murray

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    Cannons were fired outside the funeral site in Qunu as the proceedings began on Sunday.

    Credit:

    Robyn Murray

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    Media from around the world gathered at the media center, where they were kept during the funeral proceedings for Nelson Mandela on Sunday.

    Credit:

    Robyn Murray

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    Media from around the world gathered at the media center, where they were kept during the funeral proceedings for Nelson Mandela on Sunday.

    Credit:

    Robyn Murray

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    Media from around the world gathered at the media center, where they were kept during the funeral proceedings for Nelson Mandela on Sunday.

    Credit:

    Robyn Murray

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    Visitors who managed to get into the credentialed media center were dressed for the cameras.

    Credit:

    Robyn Murray

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    Visitors who managed to get into the credentialed media center were dressed for the cameras.

    Credit:

    Robyn Murray

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    A local resident, draped in the colors of Mandela's African National Congress, watched over the funeral below.

    Credit:

    Robyn Murray

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    A father showed his son the site of Nelson Mandela's funeral and the rural village of Qunu below.

    Credit:

    Robyn Murray

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    A traditional Zulu warrior dance took place at the media center, just outside of the funeral.

    Credit:

    Robyn Murray

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    A traditional Zulu warrior dance took place at the media center, just outside of Nelson Mandela's funeral.

    Credit:

    Robyn Murray