Mandela funeral brings nation together

South Africans gathered at viewing areas across the country to say a final goodbye to Madiba.

Nelson Mandela's casket is carried by police and military members during his funeral service in Qunu, 15 December 2013. Picture: GCIS.

While many watched Nelson Mandela's funeral from home, thousands of South Africans gathered in their numbers throughout the country on Sunday to say goodbye to the country's first democratically elected president.

Madiba was laid to rest in his childhood and ancestral home of Qunu in the Eastern Cape this afternoon.

People of all races, ages and creeds came together to witness the historic event at public viewing areas.

Locals in Qunu and surrounding villages may not have had a chance to be at the funeral, but many gathered around a big screen to watch the service together.

Even though many have televisions at home, they chose to come together in the spirit of unity to collectively express their grief and pay their respect to Mandela.

From a vantage point, the mourners could see Madiba's property and the large white dome where the main service was held.

Picture: Rahima Essop

People were respectfully quiet as they watched the live broadcast, absorbing all of the tributes and speeches.

When Madiba's coffin, draped in the South African flag, was carried to the burial site, the crowd waved at the screen in front of them.

With tears in her eyes, one woman said Madiba meant the world to people in this region.

"When I think of him, I think of Jesus Christ."

Picture: AFP

At Orlando Stadium in Soweto, Johannesburg, mourners vowed to forever keep his memory alive.

Hundreds of people from across the province were transported in 60 buses to the stadium to watch the historic ceremony on large television screens.

Many people were dressed in white T-shirts with Madiba's face on them and the words, "We love you, Tata" printed on them.

Mourners filled the southern grandstands of the stadium, singing and dancing in his honour.

Some there said they wanted to be at the public viewing site because it made them feel as though they were with Mandela's body in Qunu.

The crowds seated in the stands cheered and ululated when speaker after speaker sang Mandela's praises.

There was an electric mood when popular gospel artists Deborah Fraser and Sechaba took to the stage and entertained mourners.

Also in Johannesburg, several people travelled from other provinces to the Alexandra Stadium to watch proceedings together with friends and family from the township.

Hundreds of people braved the scorching sun to sit in the stadium for six hours.

Picture: Mia Lindeque/EWN.

One woman travelled from the Free State to be with her friends.

"He went to jail for me. I have never been to jail, I don't know what it's like," she said, explaining why she felt the need to honour Mandela.

In the Mother City, international visitors and locals alike gathered at the V&A Waterfront to watch the funeral on a giant screen.

Many said it was difficult to imagine a South Africa without Mandela.

Apart from the cries of seagulls flying overhead and the live feed from the screen, there was total silence among the crowds as they listened to the various speeches.

A string of flowers now hangs around the statue of Nelson Mandela, next to FW de Klerk and Desmond Tutu, at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town. Picture: Graeme Raubenheimer/EWN.

"I feel so sad right now. That's why I came from Khayelitsha just to watch this, even though I don't even have any more money for a taxi to go back," one man said.

Khayelitsha residents earlier cried foul when they discovered that there was no organised screening there.

In Pretoria, where Madiba lay in state from Wednesday to Friday at the Union Buildings, residents said Mandela was given a dignified farewell, befitting of both a global icon and a son of the soil.

"It was a beautiful funeral, rest in peace. We still love you," one woman said.

As Madiba's body lay at the seat of government earlier in the week, over 100,000 people were able to view his body and pay their final respects.

Hundreds of people lined the streets daily to watch as the procession transporting the coffin made its way from the 1 Military Hospital to the Union Buildings.

With his final return to the hospital on Friday, yet more people gathered to see his flag-draped casket one last time.

Many people were angry that they didn't get their chance to see Madiba.

But today, the nation united behind one man and his legacy as his body was finally returned to the earth.