Sunday, December 15, 2013

Thousands Gather to Bury Mandela in His Home Village

QUNU, South Africa — In a cavernous marquee set in the rolling green hills of the Eastern Cape, South Africans assembled on Sunday to conclude 10 days of national mourning for Nelson Mandela with a state funeral gathering thousands of family members, dignitaries and friends to bury South Africa’s first black president in this far-flung village where he spent his childhood.

The funeral, the final parting after a series of celebrations and memorials that have consumed the land since he died on Dec. 5 after months of illness and decline, left his country poised on the cusp of a post-Mandela era that seems certain to test the durability of his legacy.
“Whilst your long walk to freedom has ended in the physical sense,” President Jacob G. Zuma declared in a eulogy, “our own journey continues. We have to take your legacy forward.”
“As you take your final steps, South Africa will continue to rise,” he added.

Mr. Mandela’s coffin, which was flown on Saturday from Pretoria, the capital, to the Eastern Cape region, was borne on a gun-carriage towed by a military truck from his family home after mourners assembled with songs and dancing in what has become a familiar fusion of grief at Mr. Mandela’s death and celebration of a life that became an emblem of the struggle against apartheid.
The ceremonies blended the public — with global television coverage — and the private. While many of the rites and pageantry were aired by the state broadcaster, family members had requested that the moment of burial proceed with no cameras or media representatives on hand.
The moment also brought together the traditional burial rites of his AbaThembu clan with Christian hymns, the pageantry of a funeral with full military honors and the closely watched politics of his African National Congress, the former liberation movement that has governed South Africa since Mr. Mandela became the country’s first black president for a single term starting in 1994.
A gun salute boomed out, aircraft were set to fly past and a bugler prepared to sound the last post and reveille. The strains of “Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika,” or God Bless Africa — South Africa’s national anthem that was once the rallying call of the struggle against apartheid — rose over the hills around Qunu.
Some 12,000 military personnel have been deployed in ceremonial and security roles for the funeral.
Before the ceremonies began, a band clad in red marched around the Mandela farm in Qunu early Sunday morning, belting out songs as helicopters whooped overhead. The sun shined, which is considered a blessing in Xhosa tradition. In the days after someone dies, it is supposed to rain as a blessing that indicates that God has welcomed the person. And there was indeed heavy rain for most of the week leading up to the funeral.
But under the same tradition, the skies are supposed to clear up on the day of the burial. And although rain was in the forecast for later in the afternoon and evening, the skies over Qunu were clearer on Sunday morning than they had been all week.
Honor guards of various stripes lined the roads of Qunu as Mr. Mandela’s casket passed along a dirt road to a steady drumbeat, brass band music and the thunder of cannons
People gathered on the side of the road overlooking the procession, taking pictures and video. Even police officers were capturing images with their smartphones.
The mourners included about 25 foreign dignitaries including Britain’s Prince Charles along with the presidents of Tanzania and Malawi. Military pallbearers carried the coffin, draped in the South African national flag, into the marquee below a podium lit with 95 candles — one for each of Mr. Mandela’s 95 years — below a large portrait of him. The casket rested on a bed of black and white cow hides. Sitting close by, Mr. Mandela’s widow, Graça Machel, and his former wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, flanked Mr. Zuma, who praised both women in his eulogy.

Cyril Ramaphosa, a wealthy entrepreneur and former labor union leader who is now the deputy president of the A.N.C., said Mr. Mandela would be buried at noon under traditions requiring a man of his stature to be interred when the sun is at its highest and shadows are at their shortest. Mr. Mandela, Mr. Ramaphosa said, was “South Africa’s greatest son.”
Ahmed Kathrada, a fellow inmate with Mr. Mandela at the Robben Island prison off Cape Town, said Mr. Mandela “united the people of South Africa and the entire world on a scale never before witnessed in history.” In an emotional eulogy that stirred many among the mourners, Mr. Kathrada recalled the death 10 years ago of Walter Sisulu, another top leader of the A.N.C. “When Walter died, I lost a father. And now, I have lost a brother. My life is in a void and I don’t know who to turn to,” Mr. Kathrada said.
Using Mr. Mandela’s clan name, a granddaughter, Nandi Mandela, concluded her eulogy by declaring in the Xhosa language: “Go well Madiba. Go well to the land of our ancestors. You have run your race.”
Some speakers recalled Mr. Mandela’s days before his arrest and imprisonment traveling clandestinely in Africa using pseudonyms and false identity papers as he sought to marshal support for the A.N.C.'s guerrilla army, Umkhonto we Sizwe, or Spear of the Nation.
When it came his turn to speak, Mr. Zuma, preceded by a praise-singer with a leopard-skin shawl, broke into song, leading the mourners in a lament from the era of the anti-apartheid struggle about land expropriated in the centuries of white domination.
“Today marks the end of an extraordinary journey that began 95 years ago,” said Mr. Zuma, whose government faces wide criticism over issues ranging from the absence of basic services for the poor to corruption among the rich in a society that ranks among the world’s most unequal.
Mr. Zuma used his eulogy to commit his government, which is seeking re-election next year, “to improve the quality of life for all,” specifically with improved schools, hospitals and public services. He also paid tribute to Mr. Mandela’s friends. “We feel their pain,” he said.
Addressing Mr. Mandela’s coffin, Mr. Zuma said South Africa’s leaders owed it to the many who died in the struggle against apartheid “to take your vision of a better life forward.”
“Madiba, we will miss your smile, your laughter and your leadership,” he said. “You will remain our guiding light illuminating the path as we continue to build the South Africa of your dreams.”
“You will live forever in our hearts and minds,” Mr. Zuma said.

John Eligon and Lydia Polgreen reported from Qunu, South Africa, and Alan Cowell from London
Source: newyorktimes

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