Mandela's body makes final journey home

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QUNU, South Africa -- Nelson Mandela came home Saturday.

A hearse carrying Mr. Mandela's body drove into his hometown in rural South Africa ahead of burial today, returning the country's peacemaker to the place where he had always wanted to die.

It was here in Qunu that Mr. Mandela roamed the hills and tended livestock as a youth, absorbing lessons about discipline and consensus from traditional chiefs. From here he embarked on a journey -- the "long walk to freedom" as he put it -- that thrust him to the forefront of black South Africans' struggle for equal rights that resonated around the world.

As motorcyclists in uniform and armored personnel carriers escorted the vehicle carrying Mr. Mandela's casket to the family compound, people lining the route sang, applauded and, in some cases, wept.

The vehicle carrying Mr. Mandela's casket, covered with a national flag, arrived at the family compound under cloudy skies at 4 p.m. It was accompanied by an enormous convoy of police, military and other vehicles, and a military helicopter hovered overhead.

According to Xhosa tribal tradition, Mr. Mandela was honored as a leader by placing an animal skin on the coffin, replacing the flag.

Mr. Mandela's final journey started Saturday with pomp and ceremony at an air base in the capital Pretoria before his casket was flown aboard a military plane to this simple village in the wide-open spaces of eastern South Africa.

At the Mthatha airport Mr. Mandela's casket was welcomed by a military guard and placed in a convoy for the 20 mile voyage toward Qunu. Residents and people who had traveled for hours thronged a road leading to Qunu, singing and dancing as Mandela T-shirts were handed out.

"We got up this morning at 2 a.m. and drove from Port Elizabeth -- it's about seven hours -- and we got here now. We're waiting on to show our last respects to Madiba," said Ebrahim Jeftha, using Mr. Mandela's clan name.

Mr. Mandela's widow, Graca Machel, and his former wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, tearfully embraced at Mthatha airport when the casket arrived.

His body lay in state for three days this week, drawing huge crowds of South Africans who mourned his death and celebrated his successful struggle against apartheid.

A problem that threatened to mar the funeral appeared to be resolved late Saturday night when Archbishop Desmond Tutu's spokesman said the Nobel prize-winning cleric would attend today's funeral in Mr. Mandela's home village of Qunu. Earlier Archbishop Tutu said that he would not attend because he had not been invited or accredited as a clergyman. Spokesman Roger Friedman did not say what brought about the change in ArchbishopTutu's plans.

Earlier, Mac Maharaj, a spokesman for the presidency, said Archbishop Tutu was on the guest list.

"He's an important person and I hope ways can be found for him to be there," Mr. Maharaj said.

In Qunu, residents expressed deep affection for Mr. Mandela, their beloved native son.

"Long live the spirit of Nelson Mandela," chanted a crowd on a highway near Mr. Mandela's compound.



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