The former president of South Africa and internationally acclaimed politician, Nelson Mandela was laid to rest at a funeral at his family homestead in Qunu on Sunday. Millions in South Africa and the rest of the world watched on television screens as family members and dignitaries gathered at a marque on the family plot. The official broadcasters started the live feed from 7.30am and planned to continue for the rest of the occasion.
$Mandela’s friend and fellow Robben Island inmate Ahmed Kathrada was visibly shaken and broken-hearted when he spoke of his experiences with Nelson Mandela whom he called his “elder brother”. It was an emotional speech delivery that moved some to tears.
A much-appreciated tribute was that of Malawian President Joyce Hilda Banda and it was cause for some jokes by the master of ceremonies, Cyril Ramaphosa. Ramaphosa clearly had the recent Malawian national road remarks by President Jacob Zuma in mind when he said after Banda’s speech: “Mr President, you can now say ‘Malawi’ with the greatest of ease.”
President Banda shared these memorable words: “Leadership is about falling in love with the people you serve and the people falling in love with you.” The reactions to the death of Nelson Mandela and the subsequent outpouring of grief are proof that the people had indeed fallen in love with this great leader.
This time around, President Jacob Zuma was greeted with cheers when he prepared to take the podium. A representative of the Mandela family had, earlier on in the funeral programme, condemned the heckling of the president at memorial service at the FNB Stadium.
Zuma echoed the sentiments of many leaders during the ten days of mourning for the late Mandela: “We pledge to take Madiba’s vision forward for education, health, housing, jobs.” He spoke about putting the wellbeing of women and children first and ensuring that unity is maintained in South Africa. As he concluded his tribute, Zuma said to the Mandela family: “We sincerely thank you, thank your family for sharing you with us and the world.”
Former Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda referred to the commandments in the Bible when he talked about segregation in Africa and the role Mandela played in breaking that painful cycle of division. He was eventually asked to conclude his tribute due to time constraints. “This great son of the world, not only South Africa, Madiba, showed us the way.” The mourners were captivated by the Zambian leader and laughed often as he shared hearty anecdotes of the struggle.
Famous actors including award-winning Forest Whitaker and Idris Elba, who plays Nelson Mandela in a recent film by South African producer Anant Singh, were accredited guests at the funeral along with Alfre Woodard who once played Winnie Madikizela-Mandela in another movie.
General Bantu Holomisa is a close Mandela family friend and he thanked everyone who prayed for and supported Nelson Mandela and his family during his illness. He extended his gratitude to the various government departments who were instrumental in putting together the events of the days of mourning and the funeral. He was especially grateful to Dr Dabula who had been Mandela’s personal physician for more than a decade and had often availed himself at odd hours to attend to the elderly statesman. Former President Thabo Mbeki was thanked for his initiative in launching the preparatory committee for Nelson Mandela’s funeral.
After a short sermon, the military took over the proceedings as the body of Nelson Mandela was transported to the family burial site. The gravesite could only take 450 people including the Mandela family and military command teams. Others were accommodated at the amphitheatre which had been set up for the purpose of handling the overflow. At the amphitheatre, mourners watched the proceedings on a big screen. Heads of state were among those who went to the gravesite. Cyril Ramaphosa gave details of the burial logistics before the army could proceed with the remainder of the programme. Yet again, Cyril Ramaphosa called for calm and discipline in order to “avoid a stampede at the gravesite”. The inclusion of Nelson Mandela’s close friend Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu was noticeable after his exclusion was widely reported on in the media on the day before the funeral. At noon, Nelson Mandela was led out of the dome towards his final resting place with his grandson walking behind the casket.
The grave of Nelson Mandel was adorned with white flowers and nearby, there was a tent filled with the Mandelas and AbaThembu clan. President Jacob Zuma handed the South African flag to the widow of Nelson Mandela, Graca Machel who, years ago, accepted the flag of Mozambique when Samora Machel died. A prayer preceded the 21-gun salute and tribute by the National Air Force.
The public was only included in the military procedures and the rituals reserved for a Xhosa leader of Mandela’s stature were performed away from the public eye. Media personnel were not allowed to broadcast the all proceedings at the burial site and essentially, in watching the casket leave the dome, the world had returned Nelson Mandela to his family so that they could have the last private moment with him.