By Lucas Mati

More than 5 000 mourners gathered to pay their last respects to the late Kaiser Daliwonga Matanzima.

The former president of the Transkei died in Queenstown a week ago at the age of 88 after a short illness.

Political analysts said the former leader ruled Transkei with an iron fist from 1963 to 1985, first as chief minister, then prime minister and finally as state president.

But for several hours on Sunday the region seemed to forget Matanzima's ruthless past.

Even President Thabo Mbeki praised the former leader.

He urged the nation to rally behind the government in realising Matanzima's dream of seeing all South Africans educated.

In a brief speech to tearful mourners at the Qamata Great Place, Mbeki said the best tribute to the Thembu chief would be education and the eradication of poverty.

Mbeki told the crowd he had last visited Qamata in 1951 when he was a pupil at a local school, before he went to study at Lovedale College near Alice.

He said Matanzima and his late father, Govan Mbeki, were good friends before their relations were severed, seemingly due to their political differences.

"Taking people out of their suffering would be a fitting tribute to Matanzima. Do things Matanzima dreamed of," he said.

He promised that the government would make Matanzima's wishes a reality and emphasised the need for traditional leaders to participate in the rebuilding of society.

Mbeki assured the bereaved family and the Thembus that the whole South African nation was mourning with them.

A flurry of tributes to Matanzima came from a number of high-powered mourners and organisations.

These included Home Affairs Minister Mangosuthu Buthelezi, amaMpondo King Xolilizwe Sigcawu, Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa president Phatekile Holomisa and National House of Traditional Leaders chairperson Chief Mpiyezintombi Mzimela.

However, former presidentNelson Mandela did not attend the funeral as he was in Ireland to grace the opening ceremony of the Special Olympics.

Matanzima and Mandela had apparently once been inseparable. They came from the same royal family and attended the University of Fort Hare together, lived in the Methodist hostel and participated in sporting activities.

But relations between Mandela and Matanzima soured in the 1950s after major disagreements over the notorious Bantu Authorities Act, which extended apartheid by giving chiefs more power locally, but kept them under the thumb of Pretoria.

Most speakers at the funeral praised Matanzima for bringing development to Transkei and for his courage in fighting for recognition of traditional leaders.