A LARGE WHITE-DOMED marquee that fits 5,000 people and dusty village roads lined with security: the small South African outpost of Qunu has prepared itself for the return of its most famous son.
Nelson Mandela is to be laid to rest today at his boyhood home in the remote location in Eastern Cape province. It lies outside the tiny town of Mthatha and workers have been building, securing and cleaning for the past week.
The local airport at Mthatha has been shut to commercial flights all this week as it receives aircraft bearing high-profile world figures. The section of road near the Mandela homestead has been cordoned off altogether. There is also a special compound of traditional huts restricted to family members and relatives.
The activity is part of the final goodbye to the man revered by South Africans on both side of the apartheid divide which he helped to break through. After the mass celebration of his life at a stadium in Johannesburg, he was reclaimed by his fellow countrymen and women, lying in state as tens of thousands of people filed past for a final glimpse of the prisoner-turned-president.
His body was removed on Friday and taken to Qunu ahead of today’s last ceremony. His second wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, 77, described her final moments with Mandela.
I knew we had reached the end. You get this numb feeling. You don’t react to that. I can’t describe that kind of sorrow.
The actual burial today will be a strictly private, family affair. Once the initial public service is over – which is to begin around now – the moment of internment will be restricted to Madiba’s closest relatives. South African government spokesperson Phumla Williams said on Friday: “(The family) don’t want it to be televised. They don’t want people to see when the body is taken down.”
The two-hour public funeral service is scheduled to begin at 8am local time (6am our time).
- additional reporting AFP 2013