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A message pinned to the fence at the Durban City Hall where mourners gathered to watch the funeral of Nelson Mandela. Photo: Dinesh Balliah.

The final scene in the story of a giant’s life took place today in Qunu, Eastern Cape. Ten days of mourning came to a climatic end, as Nelson Mandela was laid to rest in the place of his birth.

Mandela’s casket was transported on the back of a military truck, after days of back and forth movement when lying in state at the Union Buildings in Pretoria to be viewed by the public and a further journey to Qunu for the funeral.

Ninety five candles representing each year of Mandela’s life were lit on the stage, “to remember the years he was on earth and more especially the contribution that he made to our country,” said Cyril Ramaphosa, the programme director and ANC deputy president.

Ahmed Kathrada, close friend to Mandela gave an emotional and heartfelt tribute to his friend as he recalled memories of their long friendship. Kathrada ended his speech by bidding farewell to his “elder brother” without whom he did not know which way to turn. Kathrada said Mandela has now left to join the “A-team” of the ANC, including Govan Mbeki, Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo and many others.

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Friends and family bade an emotional farewell to the first democratic president of South Africa Nelson Mandela. Photo: Dinesh Balliah.

“He is no more in terms of this life but he is still our leader”

Malawi’s first woman president, Joyce Banda paid tribute to Mandela by saying he paved the way for people like herself to be where they are today. Banda spoke about practicing the lessons taught by Mandela instead of just speaking about them.

“Leadership is about falling in love with the people that you serve and the people falling in love with you. It’s about serving the people with selflessness, with sacrifice and with the need to put common good ahead of personal interest,” said Banda.

Tanzanian president Jakaya Kikwete reminded those in attendance and those watching across the world of the lengths and depths countries across the continent took to protect exiled leaders and assist in fighting the oppressive apartheid regime. Kikwete also highlighted that the South Africa’s grief was shared by Tanzania and the rest of the country.

One of the highlights at the service came when former Zambian president, Kenneth Kaunda took to the podium to speak, or rather ran to the podium to speak. He spoke candidly and honestly about the oppressive masterminds of the apartheid regime in South Africa. He urged South Africans to remain united by way of honouring Mandela’s legacy. “He is no more in terms of this life, but he is still our leader… Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” ended Kuanda.

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Mourners at the Durban City Hall watched the live feed of the funeral on a big screen. Photo: Dinesh Balliah.

About 4 500 guests were in attendance at the funeral service which played out over two hours starting at eight in the morning. Cyril Ramaphosa read a list including heads of state, former heads of state, traditional leaders, ANC leadership and others to indicate who was allowed to proceed to the burial, only 450 or so guests were allowed to proceed to the gravesite after the service. Those who stayed behind watched on big screens under the marquee where the service took place.

The hope was for Mandela to be laid to rest at exactly 12 noon, when the sun was at its highest and its shadow at its shortest, honouring a traditional belief that people of great stature must be laid to rest at this time. Unfortunately that did not materialise, with the casket only lowered into the ground closer to 1pm. This last moment was a private one for the Mandela family, that was not shown on television. Robala ka khutso Tata.

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