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Mandela's remains reach childhood village for funeral

Last updated on: December 14, 2013 19:40 IST

Nelson Mandela's remains arrived in his childhood village in eastern South Africa on Saturday for a traditional burial on Sunday, bringing down the curtain on 10 days of national mourning and memorial events for the anti-apartheid icon.

An air force plane carrying Mandela's casket landed at Mthatha and the cortege drove through the streets of the town before reaching Qunu, about 31 km away, where he spent much of his childhood.

The casket, accompanied by senior clan and family members, was greeted at Mthatha airport by a military guard of honour. To solemn music, the coffin draped in a South African flag was moved by soldiers and placed in a hearse to begin the road journey.

People who had travelled for hours thronged the road leading to Qunu, singing and dancing as Mandela T-shirts were handed out. Local people were invited to form a human chain to pay their respects along the route to Qunu.

Mandela, who died on December 5 at the age of 95 after a protracted illness, will be buried tomorrow in a state funeral incorporating burial rites of his Xhosa tribe. Ahead of the burial, the coffin will be kept overnight in the grounds of the royal house of Thembu in Qunu.

The Thembu community will conduct a traditional ceremony in a specially erected giant white marquee.

Around 4,500 accredited guests will be at the funeral and about a tenth of them, including members of the Mandela family, will allowed to go to the actual burial site a short distance from the marquee.

In a surprise development ahead of the funeral, Mandela's close friend Archbishop Desmond Tutu said he will not attend the burial though he wanted to, as he had not been invited.

"Much as I would have loved to attend the service to say a final farewell to someone I loved and treasured, it would have been disrespectful to Tata (Mandela) to gate-crash what was billed as a private family funeral," Tutu said in a statement, with his office declining further comment.

Critics have claimed that Tutu was being victimised by either the African National Congress or the Mandela family or both because he was very vocal in recent months in criticising President Jacob Zuma, the ANC, and Mandela's relatives who have been feuding in court over his inheritance.

Earlier, a Hercules C-130 transport aircraft, escorted by two Gripen fighter jets, took off from from Waterkloof airbase for Mthatha after a farewell ceremony organised by the ANC.

The occasion was the party's final tribute to the man who demolished apartheid and brought it to power.

President Zuma and other ANC leaders attended the event, which included a multi-faith service and a musical tribute. More than 1,000 members of the ANC attended the ceremony that was broadcast live on television.

Mourners heard Zuma pay his own tribute to Mandela, calling him a "towering figure" and "a man of action". "Yes, we will miss him... He was our father, he was our guardian. He was something special. We'll always keep you in our hearts," Zuma said during the ceremony.

About 100,000 people filed past his body during the three days it lay in state at the Union Buildings in Pretoria. The same venue had witnessed his inauguration as South Africa's first black President in 1994.

Heads of state or their deputies from ten countries will attend the funeral on Sunday. Among the dignitaries will be Britain's Prince Charles, Iranian Vice President Mohammad Shariatmadari and King Letsie III of Lesotho.

A government spokesman said most countries had accepted that logistics in the rural area had precluded them from attending.

Almost 100 heads of state attended the official memorial service at the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg on Tuesday, when President Pranab Mukherjee and United States President Barack Obama along with three other heads of state delivered eulogies.

In Qunu, the public have been encouraged to watch live broadcasts on television rather than attempt to attend the funeral. Public viewing areas have been set up at scores of venues across the country.

Image: Former South African President Nelson Mandela's flag-draped coffin arrives at the Mthata airport as family members look on, in the Eastern Cape province, 900 km south of Johannesburg, for a funeral on Sunday at his ancestral home in Qunu,

Photographer: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

Image: Former South African President Nelson Mandela's flag-draped coffin arrives at the Mthata airport as family members look on, in the Eastern Cape province, 900 km south of Johannesburg, for a funeral on Sunday at his ancestral home in Qunu,

Photographer: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

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