Mthatha - Hundreds of people carrying a huge South African flag marched down Nelson Mandela Drive in Mthatha, following the procession bearing the former president's body.
“It was very emotional when I saw the hearse pass,” Dolly Smiley said.
“I feel we have lost an icon indeed.”
Andile Lolo, another mourner who turned out to watch the cortege pass on its way to Qunu, hailed Mandela as South Africa's hero and liberator.
“There is nothing we can do except release him so that he can rest in peace.”
Members of the public and marshals joined hands along the route that the procession took from Mthatha.
Nokubonga Molondolo said: “Even in death, he united people from different backgrounds. We all took hands.”
Soldiers in armoured vehicles followed in the cortege's wake and people danced and sang struggle songs.
A C-130 Hercules military aircraft transported Mandela's body from the Waterkloof Air Force Base in Pretoria to Mthatha Airport, where it touched down shortly before 2pm.
Half an hour later, the cortege set off from the airport with soldiers on motorcycles leading the way.
At 3pm, cheering and cathedral bells greeted the procession at the intersection of York Street and Nelson Mandela Drive, Mthatha. People lining the streets sang and excitedly snapped photographs as it went by.
The cortege is making the 31km trip to Mandela's childhood village Qunu, where the international peace icon will be laid to rest on Sunday.
Mandela died at his Houghton, Johannesburg, home at the age of 95 last Thursday. - Sapa