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A final farewell: Nelson Mandela laid to rest

AP

Anti-apartheid hero and former South African president Nelson Mandela was laid to rest in his ancestral home of Qunu on Sunday. The private, traditional burial followed a state funeral which drew to a close 10 days of national mourning.

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The South African flag was removed from his casket, which was lowered into the ground ahead of a private traditional ceremony.

The burial attended by family members and South African leaders followed a state funeral service and closed 10 days of emotion-charged mourning for the anti-apartheid legend, who died on December 5 at the age of 95.

The televised funeral was a chance for South Africans to say goodbye to the man who reconciled the country in its most vulnerable period.

Several thousand guests, some singing and dancing, gathered in a huge, specially constructed marquee at the Mandela family compound.

A Xhosa hymn, "Fulfill Your Promise", sounded the start of the ceremony, organised to reflect the traditions of his tribe and the pride of the country he transformed as dissident and president.

Mourners also sang an emotional rendition of the national anthem in which some of them placed their fists over their chests.

Mandela's portrait looked over the assembly from behind a bank of 95 candles representing each year of his remarkable life.

His casket, transported to the tent on a gun carriage and draped in the national flag, rested on a carpet of cow skins below a lectern where speakers delivered eulogies.

“A great tree has fallen, he is now going home to rest with his forefathers,'' said Chief Ngangomhlaba Matanzima, a representative of Mandela's family. “We thank them for lending us such an icon.''

Moving tributes

Nandi Mandela said her grandfather went barefoot to school in Qunu when he was a boy and eventually became president and a figure of global import.

“It is to each of us to achieve anything you want in life,'' she said, recalling kind gestures by Mandela “that made all those around him also want to do good.''

In the Xhosa language, she referred to her grandfather by his clan name: “Go well, Madiba. Go well to the land of our ancestors, you have run your race.''

Ahmed Kathrada, an anti-apartheid activist who was jailed on Robben Island with Mandela, remembered his old friend's “abundant reserves'' of love, patience and tolerance. He said it was painful when he saw Mandela for the last time, months ago in his hospital bed.

“He tightly held my hand, it was profoundly heartbreaking,'' Kathrada said, his voice breaking at times. “How I wish I never had to confront what I saw. I first met him 67 years ago and I recall the tall, healthy strong man, the boxer, the prisoner who easily wielded the pick and shovel when we couldn't do so.''

Some mourners wiped away tears as Kathrada spoke, his voice trembling with emotion.

Mandela's widow, Graca Machel, and his second wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, were dressed in black and sat on either side of South African President Jacob Zuma.

Guests included veterans of the military wing of the African National Congress, the liberation movement that became the dominant political force after the end of apartheid, as well as US Ambassador Patrick Gaspard and other foreign heads of state.

Britain's Prince Charles, Monaco's Prince Albert II, US television talk show queen Oprah Winfrey, billionaire businessman Richard Branson and American civil rights activist Reverend Jesse Jackson were also in attendance.

Mandela spent 27 years in jail as a prisoner from apartheid, then emerged to lead a delicate transition to democracy when many South Africans feared that the country would sink into all-out racial conflict. He became president in the first all-race elections in 1994.

While South Africa faces many problems, including crime, unemployment and economic inequality, Mandela is seen by many compatriots as the father of their nation and around the world as an example of the healing power of reconciliation.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS and AP)

IN PHOTOS: Locals gather during Mandela's burial in Qunu
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