Pretoria - The coffin of former president Nelson Mandela was draped in the ANC colours as it was brought in for the handover ceremony from the SA National Defence Force to the ANC at the Waterkloof Air Force Base in Pretoria on Saturday.
“We would like to thank the family for giving us the opportunity to bid farewell,” African National Congress treasurer general Zweli Mkhize said, before leading those present in a farewell song.
Mandela was praised on Saturday by a number of religious leader at a ceremony at the Waterkloof Air Force Base in Pretoria before his body was to be transported to the Eastern Cape.
"We love you," said Sheik Habib, representing the Muslim faith.
"Our former president stands out as a beacon of freedom, humanity, and equality," he said.
A representative of the African traditional faith, speaking in Ndebele, told Mandela: "Go well my brother and send our regards to the others who have departed. You have done your part."
A Christian chaplain and a representative of the Hindu faith also delivered their prayers.
Previously, the coffin was draped in a South African flag as it was transported during the three days Mandela's body lay in state at the Union Buildings in Pretoria.
In the front row at the ceremony on Saturday morning, President Jacob Zuma was flanked on one side by Mandela's widow Graca Machel, and on the other by his ex-wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.
Mandela's coffin will be transported from the airbase to the Eastern Cape ahead of his state funeral in Qunu on Sunday.
Former president Thabo Mbeki, ANC Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, ANC chairwoman Baleka Mbete, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, ANC stalwart Frene Ginwala, and former Ekurhuleni metro police chief Robert McBride were among those present at the airbase, as were US civil rights activist Jesse Jackson and TV personality Dali Tambo.
ANC officials and members, many dressed in party colours, sang and danced in the hangar, set up with a stage, ahead of the handover ceremony.
According to the programme for the send-off ceremony, Zuma will address the crowd and the Mandela family will give a vote of thanks.
Representatives of the Congress of SA Trade Unions, the SA Communist Party, and the SA National Civic Association will also speak.
Mandela's favourite poem “Invictus” was printed at the back of the programme.
The stage for the ceremony was lined with flowers and parachute material was draped across the ceiling. - Sapa