SOUTH Africa’s president vowed yesterday that his nation would “continue to rise” as its people and millions of others the world over bade a final, tearful farewell to Nelson Mandela, the architect of the country’s democratic ideals.
After ten days of mourning and reflection upon one of the most remarkable lives in modern history, the first black South African president and anti-apartheid icon was laid to rest in his ancestral village.
In a sombre yet optimistic ceremony in memory of the man known simply as Madiba, seminal figures from African politics and Mr Mandela’s family were among those who pledged to fulfil his vision.
Thousands of dignitaries gathered in Qunu, the rural settlement where Mr Mandela was born in 1918, to look back over his 95 years, but also cast their minds forward to a South Africa which can no longer call on the wisdom of its most famous son.
In one of the most poignant eulogies, Mr Mandela’s granddaughter, Nandi, said the nation would “carry lessons you taught us throughout lives,” adding: “As South Africans we must stop pointing fingers, but must rather lead by
example, as you did.”
President Jacob Zuma began his address with a rendition of Thina Sizwe, or We the Nation. As he started to sing, the voices grew, and soon the whole marquee had joined him. Afterwards, he said that although an era in the country’s history had come to an end, there remained a duty to realise the South Africa envisioned by Mr Mandela on his long walk from prison to the presidency.
“It is the end of an extraordinary journey,” he said. “It is the end of 95 glorious years, of a freedom fighter, a dedicated and humble servant of the people of South Africa.
“Fountain of wisdom, a pillar of strength, and a beacon of hope for all those fighting for a just and equitable world order.”
He added: “Your long walk to freedom has ended in a physical sense. Our own journey continues. We have to continue working to build the kind of society you worked tirelessly to construct. South Africa will continue to rise.”
Leaders from the worlds of faith, politics and entertainment were among those who assembled in the Eastern Cape village. The Prince of Wales attended, along with US civil rights activist the Rev Jesse Jackson, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, entrepreneur Richard Branson, broadcaster Oprah Winfrey, former Zimbabwe prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai and Monaco’s Prince Albert II. Mr Mandela’s widow, Grace Machel, and his second wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, wore black, and looked on solemnly as the service unfolded.
Both struggled to contain their emotions as Mr Mandela’s grandson, Ndaba, delivered a powerful obituary to the man he hailed as “one of the world’s greatest icons”.
He reflected: “It is through Mandela that the world cast its eyes on South Africa and took notice of the severe and organised repression of black South Africans. Yet it was also through Mandela that the world would learn the spirit of endurance, the triumph of forgiveness and the beauty of reconciliation.”
Clad in a leopard skin, Chief Ngangomhlaba Matanzima, a representative of Mr Mandela’s family, declared: “A great tree has fallen, he is now going home to rest with his forefathers. We thank them for lending us such an icon.”
More than 4,000 people attended the state funeral service in a giant marquee in the village, while others huddled around television screens across the country.
The service opened with Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika, the national anthem adopted after the end of apartheid in 1994. Together, the mourners delivered an emotional rendition of song, some placing their fists over their chests.
A portrait of a smiling, radiant Mandela looked over them from behind a bank of 95 candles, one for each year of his life. His casket, transported to the tent on a gun carriage and draped in the national flag, rested on a lion skin, a symbol reserved for a Xhosa chief.
The three-hour ceremony, broadcast live across the world, was presided over by Cyril Ramaphosa, deputy leader of the African National Congress, the liberation movement-turned political party Mr Mandela led into government. “The person who is lying here is South Africa’s greatest son,” he said.
Ahmed Kathrada, who was imprisoned on Robben Island with Mr Mandela, delivered an emotional tribute to his long-time friend, saying: “Your abundant reserves of love, simplicity, honesty, service, humility, care, courage, foresight, patience, tolerance, equality, justice, continually serve as a source of enormous strength to many millions of people.”
He said it was painful when he saw Mandela for the last time, in his hospital bed. Some listeners wiped away tears as Mr Kathrada spoke.
“He tightly held my hand, it was profoundly heartbreaking,” he recalled. “I first met him 67 years ago, and I recall the tall, healthy strong man, the boxer, the prisoner who easily wielded the pick and shovel when we couldn’t do so.”
The songs and speeches in the tent ceremony were broadcast on big screens in the area, including at one spot on a hill overlooking the Mandela family property. Several hundred people gathered there, some wearing ANC colours.
Joyce Banda, president of Malawi and chair of the Southern African Development Community, was applauded for her articulate overview of Mr Mandela’s legacy.
“The struggle Tata Madiba led against the apartheid system was not just a struggle against racial inequality, but a struggle against all forms of oppression against humanity,” she said.
“A struggle for democracy and human dignity, it was a struggle for the emancipation of the youth, a struggle for the social security of children, it was a struggle for participation of women in commerce, in politics and in high office.”
Kenneth Kaunda, former president of Zambia, which vehemently opposed apartheid, said death would not dull the guiding light Mr Mandela shone throughout his life.
He told the service: “This great son of the world, Madiba, showed us the way. Whether you are white, black, yellow or brown, you are all God’s children. Come together, work together.”
The service was followed by a private burial attended by about 450 mourners.