Goodbye Madiba: Nelson Mandela laid to rest in hometown in Qunu

MandelaNelson Mandela's grandson Mandla Mandela, left, watches as military soldiers stand at attention over former South African President Madela's casket before his burial in his home village of Qunu. (AP photo)

LYDIA POLGREEN, JOHN ELIGON & ALAN COWELL

They gathered in the rolling green hills of the Eastern Cape on Sunday to return a son to his native soil: princes and presidents, chiefs and priests, celebrities and grandmothers, comrades and cellmates, here to bury Nelson Mandela.

"Whilst your long walk to freedom has ended in the physical sense, our own journey continues," President Jacob Zuma declared in a eulogy for Mandela at a state funeral in this far-flung village. The ceremony began in a cavernous dome housing thousands with choirs and television cameras, prayers and memories.

The funeral - the final parting after a series of celebrations and memorials that has consumed the land since Mandela died on December 5 after months of illness and decline - left his country poised on the cusp of a post-Mandela era that seems certain to test the durability of his legacy.

Mandela's state funeral burial knitted together the many strands of his life. In addition to the full pomp of state ceremonies, complete with goose-stepping soldiers, 21-gun salutes and jet fighter formations, the service included Christian prayers - Mandela was a lifelong Methodist - and traditions and rituals of the AbaThembu community into which he was born.

Indeed, long before he became a freedom fighter, a fugitive, the world's most famous political prisoner and then the embodiment of forgiveness and reconciliation, Nelson Mandela was a boy of the Thembu royal family. Thembu rituals were a vital part of the funeral proceedings.

Ahmed Kathrada, an Indian-origin fellow defendant in the treason trial that sent Mandela to prison for 27 years, said in an emotional address that Mandela had united a divided nation.

"Today, mingled with the grief is the enormous pride that one of our own has during your life, and now in your death, united the people of South Africa and the entire world on a scale never experienced before in history," he said.

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