Tears and hope as Nelson Mandela laid to rest

South Africa's Nelson Mandela, a father to a nation and a 'brother' to many, was buried today in Qunu.

AFP pool
Nelson Mandela's casket being carried to the burial plot after his funeral service today.

The Rainbow Nation has grown up and moved on to new leaders and new plans for the future, but South Africa's first black president Nelson Mandela has remained a key part of the national psyche.

The mood his loss has generated, among the celebrations of his life at his ancestral hometown of Qunu today, was summed up by his close friend Ahmed Kathrada, who shared most of Mandela’s time in prison with him.

“When (ANC leader) Walter Sisulu died, I lost a father and now I have lost a brother,” he told a tearful audience in the funeral marquee at Mandela’s rural home. “My life is in a void and I don't know who to turn to.”

South Africans are not so much in a void, but perhaps a rut, with many concerned about where the future of the African National Congress ruling party which once counted Mandela as its helmsman now lies.

This week, its current president Jacob Zuma did his best to assure people that he had Mandela’s values in his own heart as he looked to the future.

“Our own journey continues,” he told mourners at the funeral, addressing the man also known by his clan name Madiba. “We have to continue building the type of society you worked tirelessly to construct. We have to take your legacy forward.”

Zuma controversy

Increasingly fewer people believe that Mr. Zuma means what he says, believing instead that he has his eye firmly on next year’s elections.

The president has of late been embroiled in a corruption scandal over the spending of public money on renovations to his private home, which led to him being roundly booed at Mandela’s memorial service this week.

Despite the somewhat gloomy prospects however, Mandela’s final send-off generated a much-needed swelling of national pride.

The pomp and glory of the thousands of armed forces troops that turned out with bayonets and trumpets to send him off may not have been his style – he was a simple man and favored simple things over grand ceremonies. But the organisational prowess it displayed had locals in raptures. One family friend at the funeral described it as a "gloriously, uniquely South African event". "Madiba would've been beaming with pride," he added.

The funeral was democratic South Africa’s first state funeral, almost 20 years after Mandela came to power. As a result, there were military fly-pasts, 21 gun salutes and three helicopters trailing the national flag overhead as Mandela was buried, just as they did when he was inaugurated all those years ago.

Along the road next to the house, all disappointment among the locals who were not invited inside was forgotten. Children who had never seen helicopters before ran along the dirt road to the fence, shouting “Qunu! Qunu!”

Their parents lifted their flags and embarked on rounds of struggle songs. As guests emerged, they were embraced and asked about the send-off they had attended.

People's funeral

From the news of Mandela's death last Thursday, to the Soweto memorial service washed out by the rain, to a dignified and emotional lying in state in Pretoria, the Qunu service most reflected what Mandela would have wanted.

Journalists struggled to learn the clicks of his Xhosa language and to explain the traditional rules of burials to readers and viewers. Locals came out onto the streets to share their memories and their hopes for the future. Politicians pledged to do better.

Traffic policeman Tony Dlulemnyango, 50, said he had been working around-the-clock for two days and was glad the funeral had gone well.

"It was beautiful, it was easy," he said. "People have been respectful."

Mr Dlulemnyango added: "Mr. Mandela is our president. He will always be our president."

Even though he is now gone, Mandela’s spirit and values, many mourners hoped, will guide the country into the future.

As one spectator to the day’s events pointed out as the burial was completed, he is now an ancestor, and in Africa, an ancestor can be more potent than any living man.

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