Cape Town - Nelson Mandela’s neighbours in Qunu - at least 500 of them - should be allowed to attend his funeral on Sunday, say traditional leaders who are concerned the villagers won’t make it on to the 4 000-strong guest list.
Former Congress of Traditional Leaders of SA (Contralesa) president and chief of the Gebe tribe in the Eastern Cape, Nkosi Phathekile Holomisa, said funerals were traditionally open to all.
“They are taking (Mandela) away from his people… The people from Qunu, the people who made him, have been denied the opportunity to be with him.”
Nkosi Mfundo Mtirara, spokesman for the Thembu royal house, said that once the family was in Qunu there would be consultations about Sunday’s funeral to ensure all would unfold smoothly.
The funeral will be a careful balancing act between official protocol demanded of such state occasions and the honouring of Xhosa funeral traditions and practices.
Traditionally, funerals are open to anyone and everyone to pay their final respects, say cultural experts and commentators, and often people travel from far and wide to attend burials.
But attendance at Sunday’s state funeral is limited to 4 000, including the family and dignitaries, who must be officially accredited to be accommodated in the giant marquee set up for the occasion.
By Thursday, the Cape Argus had learnt that villagers of Qunu were meeting to decide on the names to be put forward for accreditation for Sunday’s proceedings. Preparations were also under way for local women to cater for the villagers attending the funeral.
A glimpse of sensitivities around funeral customs emerged on Thursday when, following consultations, an official appeal was made for parents not to take their children to view Madiba lying in state at the Union Buildings in Pretoria until later on Friday.
Nokuzola Mndende, director of the Icamagu Institute, said that in Xhosa culture children were informed of a death and that the person would not return, and were kept away from viewing the body.
However, images on TV on Thursday showed children, some carried by adults, passing Mandela’s coffin.
Close Mandela family friend Bantu Holomisa, the United Democratic Front leader who is assisting on the family side with the Qunu funeral preparations, said: “The ancestors are on the ground. The programme is in course as are preparations inside Madiba’s house.”
Preparations at Houghton were also in place, Holomisa added.
Meanwhile, as part of the state’s arrangements for Sunday’s funeral, Government Communication and Information System has confirmed that it is setting up television screens for those who may arrive on the day without accreditation.
This comes in the wake of messages, understood to have been broadcast on radio, regarding the limitations on attendance.
“It worries me that people from surrounding areas are not allowed to attend. That is totally wrong,” Mndende said, adding that Madiba always invited his neighbours, or visited them, in Qunu and therefore at least 500 of the 4 000 should be villagers.
“People must be there. People must sing the songs.”
According to Mndende, Nkosi Holomisa and another source, in terms of traditional funeral practices, Mandela’s journey to Qunu starts at the Houghton home where he died, with an elder talking to Madiba’s body, telling him that the journey is starting.
Each time the body of Mandela is moved, the oldest male descendant in his family will, as part of custom, explain to him what is happening so that his spirit “does not wander”.
That duty is expected to be assigned to his grandson, Mandla Mandela.
Nkosi Holomisa said that the day Mandela died, an elder from the family would have spoken to him before his body was removed from his home.
“It (would have been) explained to him that he was no longer alive and that he was going to be moved away from the house and also told of his next destination, which was in this case the mortuary,” he said.
“On arrival, it (would have been) explained to him what he was doing there.”
Mandela would also have been told of this before his body left the mortuary.
“When the destination is reached, he will again be told. As part of the custom, his body will also have to be taken past his other homes in Johannesburg,” Nksoi Holomisa said.
“When he is at the airport on the way to Qunu, he will be informed.”
Following the funeral, a series of rituals will unfold, including cleansing ceremonies and, after the end of the mourning period, the “bringing back”, or ukubuyiswa, to return the spirit of Madiba, according to one source, for the protection of his children.
According to the official state programme, from Saturday the SANDF will be in charge of the body’s transport to Qunu and will perform ceremonies, among them with guards of honour.
The ANC leadership will be joined by Cosatu leaders for a private ceremony at Waterkloof Air Force Base early on Saturday before the journey to Qunu begins.
This week the Mandela family again acknowledged the tributes and support from South Africans, the continent and the world.
“Our mothers, Mama Graça Machel and Mama Winnie Mandela, are strengthened by the knowledge that as they begin to prepare to accompany Madiba on his Long Walk to Qunu, South Africa, Africa and the world are at their side,” said Mandela family spokesman Themba Matanzima.
“It is our conviction that on this last mile, this nation will pull together and bid farewell in the most dignified and disciplined manner possible that Madiba would have expected of us.”