'Mandela has joined the A-Team of the ANC'

Fighting back his emotions, Ahmed Kathrada, gave a touching tribute to Mandela.

Anti-apartheid activist, Ahmed Kathrada, talking during the funeral service of Nelson Mandela in Qunu on 15 December, 2013. Picture: AFP

QUNU - Struggle veteran and close friend of Nelson Mandela, Ahmed Kathrada, said the former statesman has now joined the "A-team of the ANC".

Mandela's long-time friend delivered a heartfelt tribute during this morning's funeral in Qunu which is currently underway.

He said the last time he saw Madiba alive is when he visited him in hospital, and said he wishes he never had to confront what he saw on that day.

"He tightly held my hand, it was profoundly heartbreaking and it brought out all emotions in me."

Fighting back his emotions, Kathrada said he first met Mandela 67 years ago and recalled the "the tall, healthy, strong man, the boxer, the prisoner who easily wielded the pick and shovel when we couldn't do so, the prisoner who vigorously exercised every morning."

But said what he saw in hospital was a man helpless and reduced to a shadow of himself.

He referred to Mandela as his "elder brother".

"I didn't consider him my friend he was my elder brother. What do we say to you Madala in these days, the last final moments together before you exit the public stage?"

He thanked him for his great virtues, saying these served as a source of enormous strength to many across the world.

Kathrada said remarkably, in the last few days, South Africans from all walks of life have demonstrated how really connected they were to Mandela and how his story is their story and vice versa.

Kathrada said South Africa still has a long road ahead.

"It's up to the present generation and generations to come to take up the challenges South Africa faces."

He said despite the country's grief, Mandela's legacy will continue to unite the people.

"Mingled with our grief is the enormous pride that one of our own has united the people of South Africa and the world on a scale never before experienced in history."

Kathrada called Mandela his dear brother, his mentor and his leader.

He said when Walter Sisulu died, he had lost a father, and now he has lost a brother.

"My life is in a void and I don't know who to turn to."

To view Ahmed Kathrada's full speech, click here.