South Africans look to Qunu as Mandela is buried | Africa | DW | 15.12.2013
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South Africans look to Qunu as Mandela is buried

Nelson Mandela was given a traditional Xhosa burial on Sunday (15.12.2013) in his home village of Qunu in South Africa's Eastern Cape. The funeral capped off 10 days of mourning after the freedom icon died at 95.

An atmosphere of calmness and solemnity descended on the village of Qunu, where the final funeral service of South Africa's freedom icon and first democratic president - Nelson Mandela - was held early on Sunday.

In Qunu, thousands of neat little cottages lie alongside elegant brick houses. The locals, dressed in the green, gold and black colors of South Africa and wearing Nelson Mandela t-shirts, were busy trekking along the roads to several viewing points.

Subry Govender and other journalists at the media center in Qunu

DW's Subry Govender was one of the 2,000 journalists in Qunu covering Mandela's funeral

In Mandela's Eastern Cape province alone, 18 viewing centers were set up for the local people. VIPs and motorcades transported dignitaries from nearby Umtata to the service in a constant flow. Security was very tight.

Journalists were directed to the Nelson Mandela Museum complex, where they were catered to at a massive media center. All the leading television networks - including ARD, CNN, BBC, Skynews and Al Jazeera - and major radio and print outlets were present. The South African Government accredited more than 2,000 television, radio and print journalists to cover Mandela's burial.

Man of the people

Some locals also walked toward the huge marquee where the ceremony was held, before the burial of Mandela took place a short distance away from the main Mandela homestead.

"We are very very, sad today because Madiba has done a lot for us in this village and the country as a whole," said 51-year-old schoolteacher Tahle Mabiyaka. He was one of the hundreds who were walking to a viewing site near the Mandela homestead.

"He built us schools, roads, electricity and a hospital," Mabiyaka said. He said they loved Mandela because he was the country's first black president. "As youngsters we are so sad because we have lost a father, grandfather that we loved. He fought for our freedom, united people," he added.

Young girls in Qunu

Mandela was also remembered by local children as a caring provider

One of the young people who helped with the catering at the official funeral service was Yonele Samsika, a 22-year-old university student. She's studying accounting and wants to become successful, as Mandela advised.

"He was more than a parent to the children in this area," Samsika said. "He did a lot of things for the people in this rural areas like Qunu … during Christmas when we were still young we would go to his place and he would give us presents and he shake our hands."

Moving words

The official ceremony was officiated by two high-ranking officials of the ruling ANC: Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and Baleka Mbeta, the national chairperson.

They introduced some of the dignitaries who were among the 5,000 family members, government ministers, and international political leaders invited as guests.

Dignitaries included prominent US civil rights activist Reverend Jesse Jackson; Malawian President Joyce Banda, who represented the Southern African Development Community (SADC); Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, who represented the African Union; and Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete.

One of the veterans who paid a glowing tribute to Mandela was Ahmed Kathrada, who spent 26 years on Robben Island as Mandela's fellow political prisoner. The 86-year-old became emotional when he described the frail condition Mandela was when he last saw him a few months ago.

Kathrada said Mandela's legacy of bringing all people together must live on. "What do we say to you Madala in these days - the last final moments together before you exit the public stage," he said.

Funeral at arena in Qunu

Numerous dignitaries also attended the Qunu funeral

"Your abundant reserves of love, simplicity, honesty, service, humility, care, courage, foresight, patience, tolerance, equality, justice - continually served as a source of enormous strength to many millions of people in South Africa and around the world."

President Jacob Zuma also thanked Mandela for leading the way in promoting peace, democracy and justice in South Africa. He said South Africans were now committed to continuing the Mandela legacy.

"Whilst the long walk to freedom has ended, we have to continue building the type of society you worked tirelessly to construct," Zuma said. "We will always remember you as a man of integrity who embodied the values and principles that your organization the ANC promotes."

Impact on Africa

Desalegn praised Mandela's commitment. He said Mandela had infused a sense of determination into the continent as a whole.

"In the face of atrocities," he said, "Mandela told us that if we remain committed to the ideals of justice, liberation, and above all the sanctity of human dignity, we can ultimately prevail over the evil no matter how the roads are stepped against us."

Neo Phiri and family

Phiri, left, traveled with family members from afar to pay her last respects

Neo Phiri, a 31-year-old brand manager, traveled more than 800 kilometers to pay her last respects. Phiri told DW in an interview that she would now try to promote Mandela's values in her community, and in South Africa.

"For me as a young person," she said, "as I look to the future of South Africa to be reminded of the sacrifices of this great icon, it makes me really refocus my life," she said. She's been thinking about what impact she wants to make to South Africa and in her community, she added.

Emotional send-off

After the official ceremony at Mandela's homestead, the casket containing his body was driven in great dignity and humility to the gravesite. Soldiers and the air force gave a final salute.

It was an emotional send-off that brought tears to thousands - including to some of the journalists at the media center.

His legacy - it seems - will live on forever. The Nelson Mandela Museum in Qunu is one project that will insure that the life of Mandela remains a constant reminder to the world.

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