The burial of a chief

By Drum Digital
15 December 2013

Madiba’s funeral will be steeped in the traditions worthy of his status as a world leader – and an abaThembu chief.

Madiba’s burial in his beloved Eastern Cape will be fit for a chief. Even though the nation’s most admired son died without this title, it’s highly likely that he will be honoured in the same way as any chief in his tribe because of his status, says Chief MPG Manxiwa.

DRUM asked the chief and other Xhosa traditionalists about what process will  probably be followed before Madiba is buried – presumably in Qunu where he was raised as a member of the abaThembu royal household.

Madiba’s family, including his father Gadla Henry Mphakanyiswa, mother Nosekeni and his eldest son Makgatho are all buried in Qunu.

The former president apparently made it clear he wanted to be buried next to his ancestors.

When Madiba passed away, his next of kin and the royal household of the aba Thembu paramount chief were informed.

The news was also passed on President Jacob Zuma and the government, the SA National Defence Force, the people of South Africa and the world.

As with any royal’s death, a year-long period of mourning has started. During the next 12 months Madiba’s immediate family might wear black, his wife might cut her hair.

The Mandela family will start the mourning period with a ceremony called ukwamkelwa komphanga (the acceptance of the deceased’s passing) at the royal homestead.

An elder will begin the first mourning with a Christian prayer or if there is a traditional healer he will perform a traditional abaThembu ritual.

Furthermore senior family members would have met privately to discuss arrangements for the burial, including who will be chosen to dig the grave.

In the days leading up to the burial women are expected to wear traditional long skirts.On one day, decided on by the queen, local women will march in a procession to perform the traditional chore of gathering wood.

On the day of the burial, an ox will be slaughtered in the morning to wish the deceased well.

Later the body will be brought inside the house for the last time and taken into the courtyard.

The body will then be taken to the graveyard with all the fanfare reserved for chiefs.

Men on horseback will probably form a guard of honour along the road leading from the homestead, while soldiers might march as a sign of respect, accompanied by the convoy of cars.

The coffin, covered in animal skin, will then be carried to the grave by chiefs wearing the same skin draped over their shoulders. The graveside ceremony is attended by chiefs adorned in animal skins.

Before the chief is placed inside the grave, a counsellor (a local elder chosen by the

royal family) will enter the grave and bid a final farewell to the royal man for about five minutes before the body is finally laid to rest.

Hamba kahle, Madiba, our father.

-  Gershin Wanneburg

- Picture: Corrie Hansen

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