Madiba: The end of a long walk

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela has been laid to rest in Qunu, Eastern Cape.

Funeral service of the late former president Nelson Mandela in Qunu on 15 December, 2013. Picture: GCIS

JOHANNESBURG - Bishop Don Dabula officiated over the burial ceremony as members of Nelson Mandela's close family and inner circle watched on in silence.

Immediately after, three military helicopters flew over the burial site, each one carrying a South African flag below it.

The whirring of rotor blades was quickly replaced by the roar of six fighter jets in perfect formation.

At the same time, the last post rang out over the hills of Qunu below as final preparations were made to lower the coffin into the grave and commit Mandela's body to the ground.

After the funeral service, his flag-draped coffin was transported on top of a ceremonial gun carriage as he was honoured with a 21 gun salute.

A military brass band then led the procession towards the burial site.

The death of the former president in his Houghton home on 5 December saw ten days of mourning, flags at half-mast, three days of lying in state and tens of thousands display their grief, sharing their memories and celebrating his extraordinary life.

All of the above was culminated in today's Qunu funeral with the eyes of the world firmly placed on the rural village which Madiba grew up in.

FUNERAL SERVICE

The service, took place in a specially constructed dome-shaped structure erected on the Mandela farm.

During the service, mourners sang the national anthem to the former president for the final time.

In a moving and fitting goodbye, one speaker after the next honoured him.

The opening devotions were led by Bishop Dabula.

"Today we celebrate Nelson Mandela, who gave his life for the sake of justice and freedom. He taught the world forgiveness, inclusivity, compassion and integrity."

ANC Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, who served as master of ceremonies alongside ANC chairperson Baleka Mbete, welcomed all the dignitaries and royals to the service.

Ramaphosa said that 95 candles were lit in honour of Mandela and to remember his contribution to South Africa.

"Behind me there are 95 candles that were lit early this morning around 5am. They represent the years of Madiba's life."

He told mourners Madiba would be laid to rest at noon in accordance with tradition.

"In terms of the traditions and practices in this part of our country in Qunu, a person of his stature is meant to be laid to rest when the sun is at its highest and the shadow is at its shortest."

He also thanked people from around the world for being part of the funeral service.

"We'd like to welcome all of you who are here and all who are watching these proceedings for being part of this process and indeed for being part of Madiba's life."

Madiba's longtime friend Ahmed Kathrada gave an emotional address.

"The last time I saw Madiba alive was when I visited him in hospital. I was filled with an overwhelming mixture of sadness, emotion and pride. He tightly held my hand. It was profoundly heartbreaking and it brought all emotions in me."

He said it was tough to see his friend so weak in hospital.

Kathrada said Mandela has joined his ANC Comrades Chief Albert Luthuli, Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo and others in death.

"The inevitable has happened. He has left us to join the A-team of the ANC. The ANC in which he cut his political teeth and the ANC for whose non-racial non-sexist policies he sacrificed his whole life."

Mandela's granddaughter Nandi gave a tribute on behalf of his children and grandchildren saying one of Madiba's greatest lessons to the world is the story of his own life, a story of resilience.

"Besides his political career which doesn't need to be retold, here lies a world renowned leader, a son of Africa who grew up in the rolling hills in the rural areas of Mvezo and later Qunu. He went to school barefoot and later became the president of South Africa and the greatest statesman in the world."

South African Development Community chairperson and Malawian president Joyce Banda also spoke at today's funeral.

"It is with a deep sense of humility that I accepted to come and be part of this event today. I stand before you to join you the people of South Africa and the world to mourn the loss of a great leader."

She said Mandela taught her how to forgive.

"When I became president of Malawi I had been isolated, humiliated and there was an assassination attempt on my life. I found myself in a situation where I had to work with those same people who had prevented me from becoming president of my country. I had to forgive and do so without any effort because my Madiba had prepared me."

Banda said that even in death, Mandela will continue to inspire and his legacy will live on.

"We should not allow what he fought for and worked for to die and go with him. May his soul rest in everlasting peace."

As President Jacob Zuma said today marks the end of an extraordinary journey that began 95 years ago.

"It is the end of 95 glorious years of a freedom fighter, a dedicated and humble servant of the people of South Africa, a fountain of wisdom, a pillar of strength and a beacon of hope."

Zuma says the period of mourning since Mandela's passing has been long and difficult for everyone in South Africa.

"Tata it has been a long painful week for us, your people, your comrades, your relatives and your friends since you took your last breath."

The president says South Africa has been reluctant to let go of its most loved statesman.

"When you became critically ill last year, we were gripped with fear and anxiety. We did not want to confront the reality of your mortality."

The president says while Madiba's journey is finally over, South Africa must keep moving forward in his name.

"While your long walk to freedom has ended in a physical sense, our own journey continues. We have to continue building the type of society you worked tirelessly to construct."

At the end of the service, family elder Bantu Holomisa bid Madiba a final farewell saying this country and the world must never forget him.

"The Madiba song may have ended, but its melody lingers on. We all have a responsibility to ensure that the melody of Madiba's song never stops."

He said we all have a responsibility to ensure the melody of Madiba's song never stops

"Thank you Tata for the trust you placed in me. The responsibility was tremendous and I bid you a final goodbye today it was an honour to serve you."