NELSON Mandela will make his final journey today when he is buried at his childhood home in the tiny South African village of Qunu following a formal state funeral.
The service will be attended by political leaders, guests such as Prince Charles and the Reverend Jesse Jackson, as well as Mandela’s family. However, Desmond Tutu, one of Mandela’s closest allies, has said he will not attend.
The funeral will include rituals from the Xhosa people, to whom Mandela’s Thmebu clan belongs. An ox will be slaughtered, the deceased will be wrapped in a leopard skin and a family elder will keep talking to the body’s spirit.
Yesterday, the coffin carrying the remains of South Africa’s former president arrived at his hometown.
The hearse carrying Mandela’s coffin, draped in the country’s national flag, arrived at the family compound under cloudy skies. It was escorted by a large convoy of police, military and other vehicles. Mandela’s widow, Graca Machel, and his former wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, embraced at Mthatha airport when the coffin arrived. Both shed tears.
Soldiers stood on either side of the road from the airport in Mthatha. Some civilians were also already lining the route, shielding themselves from the sun with umbrellas, to welcome home their Madiba.
Mandela had longed to spend his final months in his beloved rural village, but instead he had spent them in a hospital in Pretoria and then in his home in Johannesburg where he had remained in critical condition, suffering from lung problems and other ailments, until his death.
It was here, following his 27-year imprisonment at Robben Island, that he chose to build a home following his release, and it was here that he found most peace in his long and colourful life.
In Qunu, the residents expressed deep affection for their native son. “Long live the spirit of Nelson Mandela,” chanted a crowd on a road near Mandela’s compound.
Many people carried small national flags or banners with a smiling image of Mandela. Periodically, police and other official vehicles passed by, heading to the compound.
Milly Viljoen, 43, drove 12 hours through the night with a friend to stand on the roadside overlooking Mandela’s compound in Qunu. “It’s befitting to see him to his final resting place,” she said.
Viljoen, a student activist during apartheid, first saw Mandela when he appeared before an enthralled crowd in Cape Town after he was released in 1990. She met him later when he visited the township school where she was teaching.
“You couldn’t help but love the man and be touched and hang on to his every word,” she said.
Mandela’s body lay in state for three days last week, drawing huge crowds of South Africans who mourned his death and celebrated his successful struggle against apartheid.
At a solemn ceremony at Waterkloof air base in Pretoria that was broadcast live on South African television, a multi-faith service and a musical tribute to Mandela were held. President Jacob Zuma praised Mandela in a detailed recounting of the struggle against racist white rule.
He also described Mandela coming to Johannesburg from the countryside as a young man and bringing discipline and vision to the long and difficult anti-apartheid movement. Zuma led the group in song after his speech.
Meanwhile, Tutu said yesterday that he had been snubbed from today’s funeral and would not attend. It was reported he had not been accredited as a clergyman at the funeral by the government.
Mac Maharaj, a spokesman for Zuma, insisted that Tutu is on the guest list and that he hopes a solution will be found so Tutu is present. He said he had verified that Tutu had been invited.
The 82-year-old retired Anglican archbishop of Cape Town has clashed several times with the current government in the past.
“Much as I would have loved to attend the service to say a final farewell to someone I loved and treasured, it would have been disrespectful to Tata [Mandela] to gatecrash what was billed as a private family funeral,” Tutu said in a statement. “Had I or my office been informed that I would be welcome there is no way on Earth that I would have missed it.”
It was the latest problem to hit the ten-day mourning period for Mandela, who died on 5 December at the age of 95. The public memorial ceremony for Mandela on Tuesday at a Soweto stadium started late, had problems with loudspeakers and featured a signing interpreter for the deaf who made incomprehensible gestures, is a self-described schizophrenic and reportedly once faced charges of murder and other serious crimes.
Tutu has preached at the funerals of most major anti-apartheid figures, including Steve Biko, Chris Hani, Walter Sisulu and others.
Tutu’s daughter, Reverend Mpho Tutu, said that her father had not been accredited as a clergyman at Mandela’s funeral.
Tutu has publicly criticised Zuma in the past. Two years ago, Tutu, who is often described as South Africa’s conscience, condemned the ANC-led government as “disgraceful” for not issuing a visa to the Dalai Lama. He said it was worse than the country’s former oppressive white regime.
Before April 2009 elections propelled Zuma to the presidency, Tutu had said he was so sceptical of the ANC leader he was considering not casting a ballot.
Tutu worked closely with Mandela and served as one of the anti-apartheid struggle’s most visible public figures during the 27 years when Mandela was imprisoned. Tutu was the chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission created by Mandela’s government which investigated apartheid atrocities and he delivered the final report to Mandela in October 1998.
Although today signifies the end of the official period of mourning for Mandela’s death, in custom with tradition, a year after the burial another ox will be slaughtered and eaten by the family to mark the end of the Xhosa mourning period, in a tradition called Ukuzila. About another year later a joyous ceremony is celebrated to bring back the deceased into the family so that the person will henceforth be looking over the family and its children as a well-meaning ancestor.