Qunu - Sunday marked the end of a 95-year journey of life for former president Nelson Mandela, President Jacob Zuma said at his state funeral in Qunu.
“It is the end of 95 glorious years of a freedom fighter, a dedicated, humble servant of the people of South Africa, a fountain of wisdom, a pillar of strength and a beacon of hope,” he said during his oration.
“We are truly honoured to be part of the final journey of this great son of our country and the founding president of a free and democratic South Africa.”
He said that when Mandela became critically ill last year, people had not wanted to confront the reality of his mortality, but that it had come to pass.
Zuma said it had been a long and painful week for the country and Mandela's family, friends, and comrades since his death last Thursday.
People around the country had expressed their grief in various ways.
“What truly stands out is the spectacular display of admiration by the thousands that descended to the Union Buildings to just spend one minute with you as you lay in state.”
People lined the streets of Pretoria, some silent, some signing, and some crying. When people saw the goodness in Mandela, they responded by reflecting goodness back to others, he said.
“We wish today to express two simple words. Thank you. Thank you for being everything we needed and wanted in a leader during a difficult period in our lives.”
Zuma undertook to take forward Mandela's legacy.
He said Mandela had made tremendous strides in gender equality, giving it prominence and seriousness under his presidency.
“[This led] to an increase in the number of women in public office, especially Parliament and Cabinet,” Zuma said.
“We dare not reverse your achievements in this regard.
“As your journey ends today, ours must continue in earnest. One thing we can assure you of today Tata is, as you take your final steps, is that South Africa will continue to rise.”
Mandela's abiding revolutionary spirit would prevail on the country not to rest until the poor and working class had truly benefited from the material fruits of freedom and democracy for which he had fought.
“Therefore, today we undertake to take forward the [promise] of an improved quality of life for all,” the president said.
“We commit to work more intensely to deal a decisive blow against persisting poverty, unemployment, and inequality.
“We pledge to take your vision forward for good schools, hospitals, quality housing, utilities, decent jobs and working conditions as well as efficient and accountable public service.”
Learning from Mandela, education would continue to be used as a weapon to improve the quality of life and bring about change through investing in the development of children and the youth.
“You love children dearly,” Zuma said.
Zuma thanked Mandela's family for sharing him with South Africa and the world.
“We acknowledge the suffering of your own children who had an absent father and a father who was called a dangerous man and a terrorist by the apartheid regime,” Zuma said.
“They are no doubt truly proud today to be brought to this planet by a man so great and yet so humble.”
Zuma thanked Mandela's first wife Evelyn Mase, who died in 2004, for raising Mandela's children under difficult conditions.
The biggest praise went to Mandela's ex-wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.
The crowd at the funeral applauded when Zuma acknowledged Madikizela-Mandela as the person who had kept Mandela's name alive and provided support and strength.
“When the ANC was banned, she refused to be silent and carried on the struggle with amazing bravery,” he said.
“She was persecuted severely for standing by you [Mandela] and for remaining resolute.
“We are proud of the contribution that she has made to the struggle for the liberation of the country as an activist and leader in her own name and right.”
Zuma also thanked Mandela's widow Graca Machel.
“We thank your dear wife Mama Graca Machel, who has been at your side providing love.
“The last year has not been easy for her during your ill health. She made sure you were cared for and comforted in your final moments,” said Zuma.
He said Mandela and Machel both had a passion for children.
"The two of you made a formidable pair for the benefit of children," said Zuma.
He said that in Mandela's memory, South Africa's children should grow up in a country that is not only politically free, but free of violence, crime, disease, and indignity.
"You said: 'I hate race discrimination most intensely and in all its manifestations'.
"You forgave those who took you away for most of your adult life and dehumanised the majority of your compatriots...
"Tata, as your triumphant journey comes to an end, we sincerely thank you for dedicating your life to building... a free South Africa," said Zuma. - Sapa