Johannesburg - Nelson Mandela lives on on Monday, when the biggest statute of him yet is unveiled on the grounds of the Union Buildings in Pretoria.
On Sunday, his remains were finally interred after 10 days of unprecedented mourning at home and abroad.
He had lain in state for three days at the seat of government before his coffin was flown by the Sa Air Force to Mthatha Airport on Saturday, then driven 60km in a military cortege to his ancestral homestead of Qunu, Eastern Cape.
The ceremony, beamed across the world, blended the old with the new, African tradition and western custom, as 4 500 mourners attended the funeral service under a specially built dome structure, before 450 specially selected mourners accompanied the coffin on its last 1 500m journey to the Mandela family gravesite at the icon’s beloved rural homestead.
Held in perfect mid-summer conditions, spear-brandishing warriors clad in traditional Xhosa garb chanted and danced their homage to Mandela as air force fighters roared past in the so-called missing-man formation.
Helicopters clattered overhead, trailing giant South African flags, in scenes reminiscent of Mandela’s inauguration as South Africa’s first democratically elected president 19-and-a-half years ago.
The unique funeral service was not without its glitches.
Mandela’s coffin was lowered to its final resting place almost an hour behind schedule, notwithstanding ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa’s earlier explanation that Xhosa tradition demanded that Mandela be buried at noon, “when the sun is at its highest and the shadows at their shortest”.
The invited mourners included 450 dignitaries from the continent and beyond, including Britain’s Prince Charles; Zambia’s inaugural president, Kenneth Kaunda; and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, who made a surprise appearance after publicly cancelling his airline reservation at the weekend over an apparent snub by the organisers.
The celebrity attendees, befitting a man of Mandela’s status and allure, included US talk-show mogul Oprah Winfrey, billionaire UK businessman Richard Branson and Monaco’s Prince Albert.
Mandela’s coffin arrived for the service draped in the national flag atop a gun carriage, before being wheeled in by senior warrant officers drawn from all arms of the SANDF, acting as pallbearers, to stand above a kaross of black and white cattle skins.
The service began with jubilant celebratory songs and dance outside the dome, but soon turned sombre as speakers delivered their eulogies to the departed icon.
Ahmed Kathrada, Mandela’s long-term prison mate on Robben Island, set the tone with a profoundly moving speech.
Chief Ngangomhlaba Matanzima, a representative of the Mandela family, said Madiba had played as great a role unifying warring families within the royal household as he had for South Africa and on the international stage.
He rebuked the people who had booed President Jacob Zuma at Tuesday’s memorial service at the FNB Stadium, saying this had been the antithesis of what Mandela stood for and had embarrassed the nation.
The service turned out to be a profoundly African affair, with only African leaders invited to pay tribute.
Malawi’s Joyce Banda said she had looked to Mandela for inspiration when she became president last year amid a national crisis.
“Leadership is about falling in love with the people you serve and about the people falling in love with you. It is about serving the people selflessly, with sacrifice and with a need to put common good ahead of personal interest,” she said.
Former president Thabo Mbeki was brought to tears as Tanzanian president Jakaya Kikwete recalled anecdotes of ANC leaders’ days in exile in Dar es Salaam, while Kaunda bid a fond and rambling farewell in which he dismissed the apartheid regime as “boers” but praised former president FW de Klerk for releasing Mandela.
He was cut short by Ramaphosa, who tried to keep proceedings on schedule and made mourners laugh with a joke about how Zuma recently offended Malawi in a diplomatic faux pas.
He, too, paid tribute to Mandela, remarking how countless South Africans had shared their favourite memories of the liberation icon in recent days.
“Each one of us, indeed millions of people around the world, have each had their Madiba moment… Today, the person who lies here is South Africa’s greatest son,” Ramaphosa said.
In his eulogy, President Jacob Zuma acknowledged the disquiet voiced in the past 10 days over the future of the democracy Mandela founded.
“We did not want to confront the reality of your mortality,” said Zuma.
“As your journey ends today, ours must continue in earnest. One thing we can assure you of today, Tata, as you take your final steps, is that South Africa will continue to rise. We pledge to take your vision forward.”\