QUNU, South Africa (NNPA)—With a rich mixture of ceremonial military pomp and ancient tribal customs, Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first democratically elected president, was buried here Dec. 15 in the village of his youth, culminating 10 days of national mourning. Mandela died on Dec. 5 at age 95.

The Nobel Prize-winner, in accordance with his wishes, was buried in a family graveyard high in rolling green hills where other close relatives are buried, including his father, Makgatho Mandela, who died in 2005; his eldest son, Madiba Thembekile, who died in an automobile accident in 1969; and Makaziwe Mandela, his first daughter, who died as an infant in 1948.

In his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela described Qunu as a place where “I spent the happiest years of my boyhood and whence I trace my earliest memories.”

Leaders and celebrities from around the world made their way to this bucolic community in the eastern section of the country to share their memories of the global icon. Among those attending were Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu; media mogul Oprah Winfrey, who was escorted by longtime beau Stedman Graham; civil rights leader Jesse Jackson; Britain’s Prince Charles; and British actor Idris Elba, who plays Mandela in the movie, “Long Walk to Freedom.”

Because seating was restricted to 4,500 accredited guests, many local residents complained that they were forced to watch the funeral of their most celebrated son on television. To ease complaints about exclusion, the government set up 16 broadcast viewing areas across the country for viewing and collective mourning.

The state funeral and parts of the burial were broadcast live in South Africa and around the world.

The funeral followed a memorial service Dec. 8 and three days of Mandela lying in state in Pretoria. His body was viewed by more than 100,000 people. Because of long lines and hours too short for the occasion, at least twice as many people might have viewed the body if they had been given the opportunity.

After a final ceremony Dec. 14 at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, Mandela’s coffin was flown to Mthatha, where it was met by a military escort and greeted by locals with three shouts of “Aaah! Dalibhung,” a reference to Dalibhunga, the name given to Mandela at 16 upon being initiated into adulthood.

His remains were transported to Quna, 37 miles away. There, military officials handed them over to village elders. The South African flag that draped his coffin was replaced with a lion skin, a traditional symbol of the Xhosa people. Tribal leaders and men in his family held a private vigil at dusk in keeping with traditions of Mandela’s Thembu clan. His remains stayed in his bedroom throughout the night, overlooking his future grave site.

The Dec. 15 event was an all Africa affair.

“As your journey ends today, ours must continue in earnest,” said President Zuma, who delivered the eulogy with Mandela’s flag-draped casket resting in front of him. “One thing we can assure you today, Tata, as you take your final steps, is that South Africa will continue to rise. We pledge to take your vision forward.”

As the first president elected with the participation of Black voters, Mandela is considered the father of the country, hence the numerous references to “Tata,” which means father. He is also referred to as Madiba, his clan name.

Malawian President Joyce Banda praised Mandela at the funeral as an ideal leader.

“Leadership is about falling in love with the people you serve and about people falling in love with you. It is about serving the people selflessly with sacrifice and a need to put good ahead of personal interest.”

Kenneth Kaunda, Zambia’s first post-colonial president, praised Mandela as “South Africa’s greatest son.”

When African National Congress (ANC) Deputy President Cryil Ramaphosa tried to shorten Kaunda’s speech by slipping him a note, the former president told the audience, “This boy is trying to control me. He doesn’t know that I fought the Boers.”

Uncontrolled, Kaunda continued, “As we go on without Madiba, he’s no more in terms of his life, but he is still with our leaders. His lessons remain with us, to guide us. Remember, Madiba also told us to love our neighbors as you love yourself.”

Only 450 people, most of them international leaders and high-ranking ANC officials, were allowed to attend the burial.

Helicopters adorned with South African flags hovered above. About a dozen Pilatus PC-7 aircrafts streaked across the clear skies in formation.

South African National Defense Force Chaplain Rev. Monwabisi Jamangile prayed, saying: “Yours was truly a long walk to freedom and now you have achieved the ultimate freedom in the bosom of your leader, God Almighty.”

See more at afro.com.

George E. Curry

NNPA Editor-in-Chief