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Ancient traditions return Mandela to the earth

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Celebrations as Mandela arrives in home village

Body of South Africa's first black president, Nelson Mandela, arrives in the village of Qunu ahead of Sunday's funeral.

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Qunu: After the tears of friends, the roar of jets, the tributes of dignitaries, finally, Nelson Mandela has been laid to rest in the peace of a grassy hill overlooking the land he loved.

His funeral took place on Sunday morning in the tiny rural village of Qunu, where his first memories were formed and where his family farm is situated.

In the end he had to wait just a little bit longer than planned, as speeches went overtime, his friends desperate not to let him go, old colleagues rehearsing old fights and old anecdotes, and politicians plotting a course for his legacy.

Malawi's President Joyce Banda talking during the funeral service of late former South African President Nelson Mandela in his childhood village of Qunu.

Malawi's President Joyce Banda talking during the funeral service of late former South African President Nelson Mandela in his childhood village of Qunu. Photo: AFP

The delay made many in his wider clan anxious, as tradition states that a leader must be buried before midday.

Guests at the 4500-strong congregation included African politicians and heads of state, church leaders including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Mandela family, Winnie Mandela and his widow Graca Machel.

International visitors included Prince Charles, Rev Jesse Jackson, Gerry Adams, Oprah Winfrey, the Clintons and actor Idris Elba, who played Mandela in the new film Long Walk to Freedom.

Celebration: Youngsters dance nearby the house of Nelson Mandela in Qunu where his coffin arrived on December 14.

Celebration: Youngsters dance nearby the house of Nelson Mandela in Qunu where his coffin arrived on December 14. Photo: AFP

South African minister Collins Chabane said the state funeral had been planned by the government in consultation with the family.

“The family told us, when we want to come home, we want our private peace and space,” Mr Chabane said.

Mandela was born a leader of his tribe, the abaThembu of the Xhosa nation, destined to be an adviser to kings. He was baptised into the Methodist church.

Passing by: South Africans watch the hearse carrying the coffin of Nelson Mandela on its way to Qunu.

Passing by: South Africans watch the hearse carrying the coffin of Nelson Mandela on its way to Qunu. Photo: AFP

When the funeral began his flag-draped coffin left the family home, where it had rested overnight with family members standing vigil.

It was taken to a huge white marquee next to the family home and sat before a stage filled with 95 candles, representing the years of Mandela’s life, centred on a portrait of the former president and freedom fighter.

The service began with the popular hymn Lizalis’ idinga laKho (Fulfill your promise), “Zonk’ iintlanga, zonk’ izizwe/Ma zizuzeusindiso. (All races, all nations must be saved)”.

Old ways: Xhosa youths sit on a hillside overlooking Qunu before his funeral cortege arrives.

Old ways: Xhosa youths sit on a hillside overlooking Qunu before his funeral cortege arrives. Photo: Getty Images

Methodist Bishop Don Dabula led devotions with the parable of the good and faithful servant.

Mandela’s granddaughter Nandi Mandela spoke on behalf of his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

She recalled his generosity, as every Christmas he gave a gift and a meal to thousands of children who flocked to his home inQunu.

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, left, Nelson Mandela's former wife, left and Nelson Mandela'?s widow Graca Machel stand over the former president's casket during his funeral service in Qunu, South Africa, Sunday, December 15, 2013.

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, left, Nelson Mandela's former wife, left and Nelson Mandela'?s widow Graca Machel stand over the former president's casket during his funeral service in Qunu, South Africa, Sunday, December 15, 2013. Photo: AP

“His gestures of kindness made those around him want to do good,” she said.

She recalled his sense of humour, and his fondness for storytelling, often making fun of himself. And she recalled his sense of mischief, his strictness with his children, and his care for the less privileged.

“He was driven by common decency,” she said. “[Grandfather] we shall miss your voice, we shall miss your laughter [and] we will carry the lessons you taught us throughout our lives.”

Candles are lit under a portrait of Nelson Mandela before his funeral ceremony.

Candles are lit under a portrait of Nelson Mandela before his funeral ceremony. Photo: Reuters

One of Mandela’s oldest friends Ahmed Kathrada told the congregation the last time he saw Mandela, he held hands with him in hospital.

“I was filled with an overwhelming mixture of sadness and pride,” he said.

Mr  Kathrada is an Indian South African who fought against apartheid and spent 26 years imprisoned with Mandela.

Local women sit on chairs at a public viewing point near the burial ground.

Local women sit on chairs at a public viewing point near the burial ground. Photo: Reuters

His voice shaking with grief, he addressed his friend directly, thanking him for his love, humility, patience and courage.

“Farewell my dear brother, my mentor, my leader,” he said. “When Walter [Sisulu] died I lost a father, and now I have lost a brother. My life is a void and I don’t know who to turn to.”

President Joyce Banda of Malawi said she had learned from Mandela that leadership was about falling in love with your people and your people falling in love with you.

People gather in Mthatha to wait for the funeral cortege to pass by on its way to Mandela's rural family home. Click for more photos

Madiba returns home

Scenes as Nelson Mandela's body made its way to the Eastern Cape before being taken to his ancestral home of Qunu, South Africa on Sunday. Photo: Getty Images

South African President Jacob Zuma said the country had been gripped with fear and anxiety when Mandela became ill last year.

“We did not want to confront the reality of your mortality,” he said, adding the country had to take Mandela’s legacy forward.

“We will not say goodbye … you live forever in our hearts and minds.”

After the service 450 VIPs – mainly family and traditional leaders – went a little way up the hill overlooking the farm. No media or public were allowed to witness the actual burial, at the request of the family.

From that vantage point, likely to become a place of pilgrimage, the grass bends in the wind and the only sounds are the distant bleats of the town’s herds of sheep and goats.

On a neighbouring hillside about a kilometre away, people from the region and even further away had gathered to watch on big TV screens that were relaying the service.

Hundreds watched the ceremony, singing impromptu hymns and beaming with pride.

A group of Zulu warriors in traditional dress, carrying spears and shields, danced one by one, kicking the air as their comrades clapped and sang. They were joined by Xhosa men in a symbol of tribal unity.

"He was the father of a nation," said Musa Ngubane, one of the Zulu. "We are celebrating his spirit."

Some locals were bitter that they had not rated an invitation to their neighbour and friend’s funeral.

But another mourner with a small flag perched in her hair said she was not disappointed that she could not get closer to the ceremony.

"We are not complaining," she said, gesturing to the landscape around her. "Inside or outside, his spirit is here and all around us. I am honoured to be here."

The crowd watched on the big screen as the coffin was laid by the grave, surrounded by white flowers, and the flag removed.

There was a short prayer, then helicopters and jets flew over the gravesite. Guns saluted Mandela, and the Last Post played.

Then the TV feed to the site was cut, and the rest proceeded in privacy.

The last steps of Mandela’s long walk home were to be an intimate secret.

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