Nelson Mandela has been laid to rest


A young girl watches the televised funeral of former South African President Nelson Mandela in his home village of Qunu on Dec. 15, 2013.


Christopher Furlong

SOWETO, South Africa — After a week of mourning, South Africans have bid a final farewell to Nelson Mandela with a state funeral that combined military pomp with the abaThembu traditions of his childhood in the rural Eastern Cape.

Across the country, people gathered Sunday morning in living rooms and at soccer stadiums to watch the live broadcast of Mandela's funeral in remote Qunu village.

In Soweto, where Mandela lived as a young man before he was sent to prison, the crowd at Orlando Stadium jumped to its feet and waved goodbye at the images of their hero’s flag-draped casket being taken to the family plot for burial.

Like many people, Lawrence Tsotetsi, 48, from the township of Orange Farm near Johannesburg, couldn’t make it to Qunu — some 600 miles away — and instead traveled by bus to watch the funeral in Soweto.

Tsotetsi has a TV and satellite dish at home, “but I said no, I must come and celebrate with other people,” he explained. “For me, especially when the casket was going away, that was so sad for me. I raised my fist to show that my leader was gone.”

Mandela's final resting place is in the village where he spent his boyhood, in the pastoral territory of the Xhosa people, a land of rolling hills and valleys on the eastern coast of South Africa. His parents, sons and daughter were also buried in Qunu.

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Here, Mandela was a herd boy, taking care of sheep and calves. He would later recall his days playing in the fields around the village, stick-fighting with other boys and sliding down rock faces.

After his release from prison, Mandela returned to Qunu and a built a country home with a view of the hills. He spent most of his time there after retirement from public life, until last December when was taken to Pretoria and then Johannesburg for medical treatment.

At the funeral, there were family and friends of Mandela, as well as celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey, Forrest Whitaker and Idris Elba, who played Mandela in the recent film "Long Walk to Freedom."

African National Congress comrades and African leaders including President Joyce Banda of Malawi and former president Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia paid candid, emotional tributes to Mandela.

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One of the most moving eulogies was by old friend Ahmed Kathrada, 84, who recounted how he had held Mandela’s hand for the last time when he visited him in hospital.

“When Walter [Sisulu] died, I lost a father. Now I have lost a brother,” Kathrada said. “My life is in a void and I do not know who to turn to.”

Nandi Mandela, a granddaughter, recalled family anecdotes of a man she described as having a great sense of humor, but who could also be a strict disciplinarian.

"We shall miss you … your stern voice when you are not pleased with our behavior. We shall miss your laughter," she said.

“Go well, Madiba,” she ended by saying in the Xhosa language. “Go well to the land of our ancestors, you have run your race.”

The cameras were switched off for the burial, a moment of privacy for Mandela's family, who in life and in death had shared their father and grandfather with the world.

Before Mandela's coffin was lowered into the ground, a squadron of fighter jets flew over Qunu, accompanied by a 21-gun salute. An ox was due to be slaughtered, and a family elder was to stay with the coffin to keep talking to the body’s spirit.

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George Bizos, the human rights lawyer and struggle stalwart, was one of the 450 people who attended the private burial, and said he was "heartbroken" after burying his old friend.

“We have known each other for 65 years. Now he is gone,” Bizos said. “It has been a difficult 10 days."

Since Mandela died Dec. 5, South Africa has marked his passing with a memorial service in Soweto attended by dozens of world leaders, and with his body lying in state at the Union Buildings for three days, visited by some 100,000 people.

South Africans have paid tribute in countless other ways, from a makeshift memorial of flowers and notes outside Mandela’s home in Houghton, Johannesburg, where he died, to wild dancing and the singing of liberation songs on the streets of Soweto.

Throughout all of it, one old freedom song has been heard more than any other.

"Nelson Mandela, ha hona ya tshwanang le ena," the people in Soweto sang again today. "Nelson Mandela, there is no one like you."