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Mandela begins final journey

Nelson Mandela has begun his final journey to Qunu after his coffin was loaded onto a military airplane.

Nelson Mandela has begun his final journey to Qunu after his coffin was loaded onto a military airplane. Picture: Reinart Toerien/EWN

JOHANNESBURG - Former president Nelson Mandela's body has been loaded onto a military aircraft that is set to carry him on his final journey home to Qunu.

The hearse carrying Madiba's body moved through the Waterkloof Air Force Base and was escorted by over a dozen military personnel.

His body will be flown to Mthatha in the Eastern Cape ahead of his official state funeral in the village of Qunu tomorrow.

This morning, Madiba received a warm and emotional farewell from the ANC, the party he devoted his life to and said he would belong to even when he went to heaven.

The event was attended by around 2,000 people including top ANC and government officials, members of Mandela's family including his widow Graca Machel and ex-wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela as well as members of the tripartite alliance.

Anti-apartheid activists Ahmed Kathrada and Andrew Mlangeni were also in attendance.

Nelson Mandela's widow Graca Machel during the ANC's send-off ceremony. Picture: Christa Van der Walt/EWN.

Former president Thabo Mbeki and US civil rights leader Jesse Jackson at Mandela's send-off ceremony. Picture: Christa Van der Walt/EWN.

Graca Machel, President Jacob Zuma and Winnie Madikizela-Mandela at Nelson Mandela's send-off ceremony. Picture: Christa Van der Walt/EWN.

Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe. Picture: Christa Van der Walt/EWN.

President Jacob Zuma, who sang songs praising Mandela, paid tribute to Mandela's legacy and said he was "something special."

President Jacob Zuma delivers a speech at the send-off ceremony for Nelson Mandela on 14 December 2013. Picture: Christa Van der Walt/EWN.

He also praised Mandela's focus on the development of the youth through education.

Zuma described Madiba as a man of action and told those gathered that the ANC needed brave leadership during the apartheid years, and Mandela was the best man for the job.

"You needed brave people, people of action and people who could strategise. The only name that was identified by the ANC was Nelson Mandela."

He thanked Madiba's family for sharing him with South Africa and the world under these difficult conditions.

Zuma also extended his gratitude to the international community for their outpouring of grief and condolences.

"I would like to once again thank the international people who have come to mourn with us and the family."

Mandela's grandson and Chief of Mvezo Traditional Council, Mandla, spoke poignantly about his three day vigil at his grandfather's side as he lay in state at the Union Buildings.

Mandla Mandela looks at the coffin of his late grandfather, Nelson Mandela during the send-off ceremony held at Waterkloof Air Force Base in Pretoria on 14 December 2013. Picture: Christa Van der Walt/EWN.

"For the past three days, I sat with my grandfather while he lay in state. I witnessed his army, I witnessed his people and I witnessed ordinary South Africans who walked this long walk to freedom with him, and I can assure the ANC today that the future of this country looks bright."

Another one of Mandela's grandsons, Ndaba, stressed that the ANC was instrumental in Mandela's fight for freedom.

"Without the ANC he would never have had the support nor the protection to fight the apartheid regime."

The ANC flag that was covering Madiba's coffin was then folded up and ceremoniously handed to Machel.