By Farai Diza
QUNU, SOUTH AFRICA — Former South African president Nelson Mandela was finally laid to rest in his rural home of Qunu on Sunday at a high-profile funeral that attracted dignitaries from all corners of the globe who included his Royal Highness Prince Charles, Jesse Jackson, Hollywood celebrity Idriss Elba, Business magnate Richard Branson, Malawian president Joyce Banda, and famed U.S. talk show hostess Oprah Winfrey.
Four thousand local and international journalists were accredited to cover the class-one funeral that is the highest honor in South Africa, and it was broadcast in over 100 countries. Mandela passed away a week ago at his Houghton home in Johannesburg after a long fight with a recurring lung infection, and his funeral was unarguably the biggest state funeral in world history.
Mandela’s influence in Africa goes far beyond the borders of South Africa, and he is regarded across the continent as the father of democracy. Mandela stopped racism, apartheid and other controversies between the Whites and Blacks. He
fought for equal rights between the Whites and Blacks and wanted peace throughout South Africa. He fought for his country and the well-being of others.
Before Mandela became the first Black, democratically elected leader of South Africa, Africans were uniformly repressed by a White minority. His election, therefore, served as a key turning point for contemporary Africa that was reeling through colonial rule. The man who became the world’s greatest icon was born in Mvezo and was a mirror image of the continent’s liberation.
His coffin was carried in procession to marquee on the Mandela family farm and only 500 guests were allowed at the final burial site. Mandela is survived by his wife Graça, three daughters, 18 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.
The funeral was led by the Methodist church where Mandela fellowshipped. Reverend Vuyani Nyobole described the late revolutionary leader as a God-fearing person who practiced discipline and led the nation using Godly principles.
Family representative Chief Ngangomhlaba Matanzima spoke about how Mandela’s legacy will forever live on in South Africa’s history.
“There are scars in our hearts today because of the sacrifices that Mandela made. He contributed so much in ensuring that this country becomes a rainbow nation,” said Matanzima. “We would like to acknowledge and thank the doctors who cared for Mandela throughout his suffering. Your good work can never be ignored. May you rest in peace Tata Mandela ’til we meet again.”
Mandela’s close friend Ahmed Kathrada spoke about how he spent years with Mandela at Robben Island.
“What I saw in [the] hospital was a man reduced to a shadow of his former self. He has now joined the A-team of ANC veterans and struggle heroes. We are deeply grateful to Madiba for restoring dignity to all South Africans,” said a tearful Kathrada as he struggled to contain his grief.
“We are mindful of our gains but know we have a long road ahead. I don’t [just] consider Mandela my friend, but he was my elder brother. Farewell my leader and brother.”
The crowd then stood up with a rousing applause before his granddaughter Nandi Mandela delivered a tribute from his children and grandchildren. “Madiba was a true servant of the people. For many years he made sure the children of Qunu got a better Christmas. He was a great storyteller and had a wonderful sense of humor. He provided for his family and extended family. Mandela cared tremendously for the underprivileged,” she testified.
Malawian president and SADC chairperson Joyce Banda and Tanzanian president Jakaya Kikwete also spoke highly about Mandela. Kikwete recounted how the ANC, under the leadership of Mandela, found a new home in Tanzania during apartheid.
“Mandela is our hero, father and icon. We mourn the loss of a great leader. Mandela had no passport in 1962 and used a Tanzanian passport for his movements,” said Kikwete.
South Africa’s current president, Jacob Zuma, obviously traumatized by the booing he got at Mandela’s memorial at the FNB stadium, then delivered his eulogy and praised the thousands of mourners who converged at the Union Buildings in Pretoria where Mandela’s body lay in state for three days.
We thank you
Zuma said, “We wish to express two simple words to you today, Tata Mandela. We thank you. Your long walk to freedom has ended, but our own journey continues. We will continue building the society we fought for. We will take your legacy forward. We cherish your lessons in reconciliation, forgiveness and compassion. You forgave those who took away most of your adult life. As you take your final steps, we assure you South Africa will continue to rise.”
He pledged to take Mandela’s vision forward for education, health, housing and jobs. He also thanked Winnie Madikizela Mandela’s contribution to the struggle before thanking Graça Machel for taking care of Mandela until his last breath.
Former Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda then delivered his vote of thanks before Mandela’s body was taken to its final resting place. Religious leaders and the military led the procession to Mandela’s final resting place.
A massive memorial service was held at FNB stadium in Soweto last Tuesday. The service was attended by 91 heads of state and included speeches by Cuban President Raul Castro and United States President Barack Obama.
“As you take your final steps, we assure you South Africa will continue to rise.”
Farai Diza is the South Africa media representative for The AfricaPaper, a news syndication and network of professional journalists. The AfricaPaper welcomes reader comments to [email protected].