Tears at Mandela procession

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Mourners march before the funeral procession of former South African President Nelson Mandela through the center of Mthatha December 14, 2013. Mandela will be buried in his family homestead in Qunu on Sunday after a state funeral combining military pomp and traditional rites of Mandela's Xhosa abaThembu clan.

Mthatha - The passage of Nelson Mandela's funeral cortege through the streets of Mthatha in the Eastern Cape on Saturday evoked a range of emotions from those who turned out to bid the struggle icon goodbye.

An emotional Zoliswe Nxele told Sapa that her heart was pumping and that she was both happy and sad.

“I am happy to be here, but sad that they (the cortege) moved so fast,” she said, with tears rolling down her face.

“I am in shock.”

Comforting her, friend Lumka Mabongo said the Mandela family should know that as the former statesman was there for South Africa, South Africans would be there for his family.

“Remember, he is still alive in us all. The spirit of Tata Madiba will live on in South Africa and we are here for you,” she said, wiping away tears with a South African flag draped around her shoulders.

Cheering and the tolling of cathedral bells earlier marked the journey of the procession through the town.

Many of those watching used their cellphones to take pictures or make a video recording of the event.

As it passed, led by military outriders, many people began running after it along the sides of the road, shouting: “Nelson Mandela!”

Two military helicopters circled above, while a police helicopter hovered nearby.

After the procession had left, one group of women shouted that they had driven too fast.

“We did not see anything; you could have just (as well) flown him to the farm (Mandela's Qunu homestead),” a woman shouted.

“People came to see Tata. We stood in the sun all morning, and we saw nothing but lights.”

Several people told Sapa they were upset that the people in Qunu and surrounding areas, including Mthatha, did not get a chance to view the body and say goodbye.

“This was a very emotional experience, but the hearse was moving too fast. We didn’t get a chance to say goodbye, or even have a moment of silence,” Hazel Majuqwana said.

“People in Pretoria were given more opportunity, but this is where he grew up.”

Bambihlelo Majuqwana agreed, and said he was close to the family after he received a scholarship - to study in the United Kingdom - from the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

He said traditionally funerals were usually open to people, but, because it could not be, the government should have provided the people of Qunu and Mthatha a chance to stay goodbye.

“This was a very emotional day. In a way the public were denied an opportunity to say goodbye, but we appreciate the chance to see the procession. Just a pity they drove so fast.”

Earlier, hundreds of people carrying South African flags marched down Mthatha's Nelson Mandela Drive behind the procession, singing struggle songs.

Nokubonga Molondolo said: “Even in death, he united people from different backgrounds. We all took hands.”

Her friend Zuky Nkawu said being there was an overwhelming experience and she had been overcome with excitement and sadness as the hearse passed.

Another friend, Pelisa Nongwe, said Saturday was the perfect Mandela experience.

“This is perfect for people who didn’t know Madiba or the impact he had. Different people from everywhere connected here today for a great man,” she said.

“We are sad that we could not see him, but we understand there is a big crowd here and anything can happen. But this day is written in history and in our hearts.”

The military opened roads in Mthatha to traffic about 10 minutes after the procession exited the town. - Sapa

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