March 7, 2014
South Africa buries 'greatest son' Mandela
South Africa buried Nelson Mandela today, leaving the multi-racial democracy he founded without its living inspiration and still striving for the "Rainbow Nation" ideal of shared prosperity he had dreamed of.
The Nobel peace laureate, who was held in apartheid prisons for 27 years before emerging to preach forgiveness and reconciliation, was laid to rest at his ancestral home in Qunu after a send-off combining military pomp with the traditional rites of his Xhosa abaThembu clan.
As the coffin was lowered into the wreath-ringed grave, three army helicopters flew over bearing the South African flag on weighted cables, a poignant echo of the anti-apartheid leader's inauguration as the nation's first black president nearly two decades ago.
A battery fired a 21-gun salute, the booms reverberating around the rolling hills of the Eastern Cape, before five fighter jets flying low in formation roared over the valley.
"Yours was truly a long walk to freedom, and now you have achieved the ultimate freedom in the bosom of your maker," armed forces Chaplain General Monwabisi Jamangile said at the grave site, where three of Mandela's children already lie.
Among the 450 mourners at the private burial ceremony were relatives, political leaders and foreign guests including Britain's Prince Charles, American civil rights activist Reverend Jesse Jackson and talk show host Oprah Winfrey.
Mandela died aged 95 in Johannesburg on Dec. 5, plunging his 52 million countrymen and women and millions more around the world into grief, and triggering more than a week of official memorials to one of the towering figures of the 20th century.
Over 100,000 people paid their respects in person at Mandela's lying in state at Pretoria's Union Buildings, where he was sworn in as president in 1994, an event that brought the curtain down on more than three centuries of white domination.
When his body arrived yesterday in Qunu, 700 km (450 miles) south of Johannesburg, it was greeted by ululating locals overjoyed that Madiba, the clan name by which he was affectionately known, had "come home".
"After his long life and illness he can now rest," said grandmother Victoria Ntsingo. "His work is done."