South Africa today will sing the last song, cry, mourn and pray as the founding father of South Africa’s democracy, Nelson Mandela, is laid to rest.
His special place, where Madiba’s mortal remains will be committed, is 2.2m deep and is fortified by a special concrete mix that was poured into the grave to stop the soil from pushing up his coffin.
At 2pm on Sunday, after a funeral service and traditional rites that will last four hours, Mandela’s coffin, draped in the South African flag, will be lowered into the grave, watched by his grieving widow Graça Machel, his ex-wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Mandela’s last journey starts at 7am on Sunday, when the body would leave his Qunu house and make a two-hour procession along a 1.5km stretch to the koppie, or hill, where the funeral and burial were to take place.
More than 20 heads of state as well as the South African cabinet, led by President Jacob Zuma, were due to attend the service.
Mandela would be driven along the route, and there were to be stops to allow for cultural rituals. There would be translators on standby – in all 11 official languages, including English – to explain the significance of each ritual.
Mandela’s special funeral service was due to start at 9am, in a specially erected marquee.
At noon, the congregation was scheduled to make its way – very slowly – to the adjacent burial site. At 1pm a short service with the handing over of the flag would take place. At 1.40pm, the South African Air Force would deliver the armed forces’ farewell to their former commander-in-chief with a special fly-past, billed to be bigger and better than the day he was inaugurated. At 1.50pm all the cameras would be switched off as the body is lowered into the ground and the grave is closed.
At 2pm sharp, the live coverage ends to allow the family privacy.
The last act of the long farewell to Mandela will be the smallest of the many ceremonies, with around 400 gathering around the gravesite. There will be several dignitaries, Prince Charles and former Zambian president Kenneth Kaunda among them, and members of government, but the rest are those who may have been overshadowed by the international nature of events so far – his family, friends and tribal elders.
Mandela arrived in Mthatha airport on Saturday, in dramatic fashion, aboard a C-130 military plane, which was escorted by Gripen fighter jets and accompanied by the presidential plane.
The trip was preceded by an emotional ceremony at the Waterkloof Air Force Base, where the ANC formally said goodbye to Mandela and where Zuma took the final salute before Mandela left Gauteng for the last time.