Madiba to Houghton before Qunu - chief

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Struggle veterans carry the coffin of former president Nelson Mandela during a send-off ceremony at Waterkloof Air Force base in Pretoria. Photo: Yves Herman

Pretoria - Former president Nelson Mandela's body should first be taken to his Houghton home in Johannesburg before being flown to the Eastern Cape on Saturday, for traditional reasons, AmaHegebe chief Phathekile Holomisa said.

“On departure for his Qunu homestead the body would be taken first to his Johannesburg house where his soul parted with the body; he would be told that he was being taken home,” he said.

“His spirit would be requested to come along, as to fail to do so would leave it wandering about and miss out on getting home.”

He said to assist, a branch of a sacred tree called “umphafa”, usually mixed with certain herbs, would be used to symbolically carry his spirit.

The person given this responsibility was required not to utter a word until they arrived in Mthatha.

Holomisa said that before the plane left the Waterkloof Air Force Base in Pretoria, and throughout the journey, the body would be kept informed. When speaking to Mandela's body, an elder or senior male member of the family would address him as if he was still alive, Holomisa explained.

“This is so because his spirit lives.”

Holomisa said elders and senior members of the clan would receive the body at the Mthatha airport and accompany it to the Qunu homestead.

“In turn the reception entourage would welcome the body and thank those accompanying it for a job well done. Upon arrival at his homestead the family would be called to the main house and be told of the journey. Dalibhunga [Mandela] would, of course, be informed of his arrival at his homestead in the same way as before.”

Holomisa said that after the reception, the body would be taken to a special room where it would be with selected men of the clan for the night.

On Sunday morning, after the prayers had been said, the body would be informed that it would be taken to the funeral service.

“In the course of the service, and in-between speeches, “imbongi” [praise singers] would be expected to recite poems in honour of Dalibhunga.

“These imbongi carry out their task without being invited. They do it as the spirit moves them,” Holomisa explained.

After the service, members of the clan and soldiers would place the body in the hearse and taking it to the grave site.

When the military processes were over and the priests had concluded their prayers, but before the grave had been filled with soil, a senior lord of the Thembu would address the body, informing it that Dalibhunga was now being put in his final resting place, he explained.

The chief would commend him to his ancestors, whose names he would recite, asking him to report to them on the state of the nation that he left and reminding him to continue to look after his family.

“Thereafter the same lord would lead the men in rendering the royal salute three times, saying, ‘Ah! Dalibhunga', thereby bidding him farewell,” Holomisa explained.

“The 'mphafa' branch would either be placed inside the grave with the coffin or placed on top of the grave, its job having been finally done.” - Sapa


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