The body of Nelson Mandela has arrived in his Eastern Cape home province ahead of his state funeral on Sunday. South Africa's retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu has revealed he was not invited and will therefore not attend.
The remains of anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela were transported on a C-130 Hercules military aircraft on Saturday to an airport in Mthatha in Mandela's native Eastern Cape province
Mandela's widow Graca Machel, ex-wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and other dignitaries were waiting to escort the body in a procession to his rural childhood home village of Qunu, 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) away, where his state funeral is to take place on Sunday. Military personal lined the street along the route where thousands of mourners had gathered to see the convoy pass.
The plane departed from South Africa's capital Pretoria where members of South Africa's ruling African National Congress (ANC) gathered hours earlier for a remembrance service.
Top government officials including President Jacob Zuma joined ANC members for the ceremony alongside foreign guests including US civil rights activist Jesse Jackson. Mandela's widow Graca Machel, his ex-wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and other family members also attended the multi-faith and musical memorial, which was broadcast live on South African television.
Qunu is to be the former president and anti-apartheid hero's final resting place. An estimated 50,000 people are expected to attend his funeral on Sunday, including Britain's Prince Charles. It will be held according to traditional Xhosa rites overseen by male members of Mandela's clan. His burial is to be a private affair, barred to both the public and the media.
In a surprise announcement on Saturday retired Archbishop and Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu said he could not attend the funeral of his friend, having not received an invitation.
"Much as I would have loved to attend the service to say a final farewell to someone I loved and treasured, it would have been disrespectful to Tata to gatecrash what was billed as a private family funeral," he said in a statement.
Earlier the former archbishop's daughter and chief executive of his foundation said he had not received credentials as a clergyman for the event.
"The Archbishop is not an accredited clergyperson for the event and thus will not be attending," Rev. Mpho Tutu said in a statement.
However a spokesman for the presidency refuted the claims, saying he was "taken aback" by the reports.
"The Arch is not an ordinary church person, he is a special person in our country and he is definitely on the list," Mac Maharaj said. "If there's any problem we will try to iron that out, but I can assure you that he is on the program."
Like Nelson Mandela, Tutu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for resisting apartheid. He was also an occasional critic of the current government.
Public outpouring of grief
Sunday's service will be the culmination of 10 days of memorial events for Mandela, who died on December 5 aged 95. His death has sparked mourning and expressions of grief both in South Africa itself and in the international community, where he was widely seen as an icon of reconciliation after apartheid and a moral authority.
On Tuesday, tens of thousands of people, including politicians and dignitaries from more than 90 countries attended a memorial service at Johannesburg's FNB Stadium - also known as Soccer City.
His body then lay in state for three days at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, where Mandela was inaugurated as South Africa's first black president two decades earlier. Up a 100,000 people were reported to have lined up for several hours to file past Mandela's open casket.
The huge numbers of people waiting in line on the final day on Friday, meant thousands had to be turned away without paying their respects prompting clashes with police.
ccp/kms (AFP, AP)