Bid­ding farewell:

Thou­sands mark stellar rise from bare­foot child to na­tional leader

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - By AGEN­CIES in Qunu, South Africa

Songs, speeches and the boom of ar­tillery rang across Nel­son Man­dela’s home vil­lage dur­ing his fu­neral on Sun­day as a tribal chief draped in an­i­mal skin de­clared, “A great tree has fallen”.

South Africa was say­ing good­bye for the last time to the man who rec­on­ciled the coun­try in its most vul­ner­a­ble pe­riod.

Sev­eral thou­sand guests, some singing and danc­ing, gath­ered in a huge tent at the fam­ily com­pound of the anti-apartheid leader, who died on Dec 5 at the age of 95 af­ter a long ill­ness. When the fu­neral ser­vice be­gan, they sang the na­tional an­them in an emo­tional ren­di­tion in which some mourn­ers placed fists over their chests.

Man­dela’s por­trait looked over the as­sem­bly in the white mar­quee from be­hind a bank of 95 can­dles rep­re­sent­ing each year of his re­mark­able life. His cas­ket, trans­ported to the tent on a gun car­riage and draped in the na­tional flag, rested on a car­pet of cow skins be­low a lectern where speak­ers de­liv­ered eu­lo­gies.

“A great tree has fallen, he is now go­ing home to rest with his fore­fa­thers,” said Chief Ngan­gomh­laba Matanz­ima, a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Man­dela’s fam­ily. “We thank them for lend­ing us such an icon.”

The songs and speeches in the tent cer­e­mony were broad­cast on big screens in the area, in­clud­ing at one spot on a hill over­look­ing Man­dela’s prop­erty. Sev­eral hun­dred peo­ple gath­ered there, some wear­ing col­ors of the African Na­tional Congress — the lib­er­a­tion move­ment-turned po­lit­i­cal party that Man­dela used to lead — and oc­ca­sion­ally break­ing into song.

Nandi Man­dela said her grand­fa­ther went bare­foot to school in Qunu when he was boy and even­tu­ally be­came pres­i­dent and a fig­ure of global im­port.

“It is to each of us to achieve any­thing you want in life,” she said, re­call­ing kind ges­tures by Man­dela “that made all those around him also want to do good”.

Ahmed Kathrada, an an­ti­a­partheid ac­tivist who was jailed on Robben Is­land with Man­dela, re­mem­bered his old friend’s “abun­dant re­serves” of love, pa­tience and tol­er­ance. He said it was painful when he saw Man­dela for the last time, months ago in his hos­pi­tal bed.

“He tightly held my hand, it was pro­foundly heart­break­ing,” Kathrada said, his voice break­ing at times. “How I wish I never had to con­front what I saw. I first met him 67 years ago and I re­call the tall, healthy strong man, the boxer, the pris­oner who eas­ily wielded the pick and shovel when we couldn’t do so.”

Some mourn­ers wiped away tears as Kathrada spoke, his voice trem­bling with emo­tion.

Man­dela’s widow, Grace Machel, and his sec­ond wife, Win­nie Madik­izela-Man­dela, were dressed in black and sat on ei­ther side of South African Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma.

Guests in­cluded vet­er­ans of the mil­i­tary wing of the African Na­tional Congress, the lib­er­a­tion move­ment that be­came the dom­i­nant po­lit­i­cal force af­ter the end of apartheid, as well as Bri­tain’s Prince Charles, Monaco’s Prince Al­bert II and US tele­vi­sion per­son­al­ity Oprah Win­frey.

South African honor guards from the army, navy and air force marched in for­ma­tion amid rolling green hills dot­ted with small dwellings and neatly de­mar­cated plots of farm­land. Clouds cast shad­ows over the land­scape. Man­dela’s cas­ket, cov­ered by a na­tional flag, was trans­ported on a gun car­riage to the tent.

Af­ter the fu­neral cer­e­mony, a smaller group of guests was to at­tend Man­dela’s burial at a fam­ily grave site on the es­tate in Qunu, a ru­ral vil­lage in East­ern Cape prov­ince. A 21-gun salute and a fly­over by planes were among the fi­nal acts planned be­fore the cas­ket was put into the earth.

The burial will end 10 days of mourn­ing cer­e­monies that in­cluded a mas­sive sta­dium me­mo­rial in Jo­han­nes­burg and three days dur­ing which Man­dela’s body lay in state in the cap­i­tal, Pre­to­ria.

ODD AN­DER­SEN / REUTERS

Win­nie Man­dela (left), ex-wife of Nel­son Man­dela, and his widow Graca Machel (center) stand by the cof­fin of the South African for­mer pres­i­dent dur­ing his fu­neral cer­e­mony in Qunu on Sun­day.

ODD AN­DER­SEN / REUTERS

The cof­fin car­ry­ing for­mer South African pres­i­dent Nel­son Man­dela is es­corted at his fu­neral cer­e­mony in Qunu, South Africa, on Sun­day.

FRAN­COIS MORI / AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

A trib­ute to Nel­son Man­dela lights up the Eif­fel Tower in Paris on Satur­day.

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