JOHANNESBURG. – Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first black president, was laid to rest yesterday after a state funeral filled with eulogies and strident vows to pursue his ideals of equality and justice.Mandela’s casket was buried at his family plot in his rural boyhood home of Qunu, watched by his widow Graca Machel, ex-wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, other family members and around 450 selected guests.
The interment followed a ceremonial state funeral that ran well over its allotted two hours, as speaker after speaker paid emotional tribute to the man who led South Africa out of the apartheid era.
“The person who lies here is South Africa’s greatest son,” said ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa in an opening address.
A 21-gun salute and full military honour guard had escorted Mandela’s coffin to the marquee where 4 500 mourners said their final goodbyes.
His flag-draped casket was placed on cow skins, surrounded by 95 candles – each signifying a year of his extraordinary life. The frail and ageing leaders of South Africa’s anti-apartheid struggle also attended: George Bizos, Desmond Tutu and Ahmed Kathrada, whose voice broke as he delivered an eulogy for his old friend.
“I first met him 67 years ago,” said Kathrada, who along with Mandela was sentenced to life in prison in 1963. He recalled his fellow inmate as a powerful amateur boxer who could cope far better than others with the physical challenge of hard labour.
“What I saw in hospital was a man helpless and reduced to a shadow of himself,” he said, struggling not to break down. We can salute you as a fighter for freedom. Farewell my dear brother, my mentor, my leader. Now I’ve lost a brother my life is in a void and I don’t know who to turn to.”
His words left many in tears among the invited guests, whose ranks included foreign dignitaries and celebrities ranging from Britain’s Prince Charles to US talk show queen Oprah Winfrey.
The funeral closed the final chapter on a towering public figure whose courage and moral fortitude turned him into a global symbol of freedom and hope. During 10 days of mourning, hundreds of thousands of South Africans had turned out across the country to bid the founding father of their “Rainbow Nation” farewell.
They braved a rain-sodden memorial in Soweto and queued for three days to see his remains as they lay in state at Pretoria’s Union Buildings. Mandela was not just a president, but a moral guide who led them away from internecine racial conflict.
For the rest of the world he was a charismatic leader of the anti-apartheid struggle. While Mandela had been critically ill for months, the announcement of his death on December 5 still sent a spasm through a country struggling to carry forward his vision of a harmonious multi-racial democracy of shared prosperity. - AFP.