The rural home where Nelson Mandela grew up in the 1920s had mud walls, a grass thatched roof and a floor polished smooth with cow dung.
When throngs of mourners flock to Mr Mandela’s home town for his burial tomorrow, they will visit a simple place steeped in old ways but which has become the centre of a massive operation to honour the anti-apartheid leader.
Last night, construction workers were scrambling to finish preparations for the mourners.
On Mr Mandela’s sprawling property, workers were erecting a temporary seating structure. Road crews hurried to finish paving a new highway in front of Mr Mandela’s home that runs from Qunu, the home town, to Mthatha, the city with the nearest airport in Eastern Cape province.
Military helicopters flew around the area yesterday and security forces patrolled roads. Units practised drills ahead of a ceremony to welcome Mr Mandela’s coffin today after it is transferred from the capital, Pretoria.
President Jacob Zuma has authorised the deployment of 11,900 servicemen to assist police in maintaining order during the funeral service.
Armoured vehicles ring Mr Mandela’s fence-lined property. A yellow earth mover smoothed a dirt road behind Mr Mandela’s house, near where cows graze.
Compared with Tuesday’s mass memorial, tomorrow’s state funeral at Qunu will be a smaller affair focusing on the family, but dignitaries, including Prince Charles and a small group of African and Caribbean leaders, will also be there.
Iranian vice-president Mohammad Shariatmadari will also be at Qunu, but former US president Bill Clinton, who had been expected, will not attend, a South African foreign ministry spokesman said. US civil rights activist Jessie Jackson is on the list to attend the funeral.
The Qunu event will combine military pomp with traditional burial rituals of Mr Mandela’s Xhosa clan. A national day of reconciliation will take place on Monday when a statue of Mr Mandela will be unveiled at the Union Buildings in Pretoria.