Mandela en route to Eastern Cape

2013-12-14 13:16
(AP)

(AP)

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Pretoria - Former president Nelson Mandela began his final journey home to Qunu in the Eastern Cape on Saturday as an air force plane carrying his casket took off from Pretoria, where tens of thousands of mourners have viewed him lying in state this week.

Members of Mandela's family accompanied his remains to the village where he will be buried on Sunday in a state funeral incorporating Xhosa burial rites.

The Hercules C-130 and two fighter jets left Waterkloof Air Force Base after a send-off ceremony organised by the African National Congress, making the occasion a final ANC tribute to the man who led the movement to power.

Embattled President Jacob Zuma, who was booed by mourners at Mandela's official memorial at FNB Stadium in Soweto on Tuesday, said the party needed more people of Mandela's stature to meet the problems facing the country some two decades into democracy.

"We need more Madibas so that our country can prosper... Yes, we are free, but the challenge of inequality remains," he told an audience packed with liberation struggle veterans, including former president Thabo Mbeki.

Mbeki, who was ousted by Zuma in a political coup five years ago, made headlines this week when he suggested the country needed better leadership,

In a speech of some 40 minutes, Zuma said Mandela's death was not the moment to settle political scores.

"We should not think that Madiba's passing is a time for settling scores... it means you do not understand Madiba and you will never understand him, because he was a man of honesty."

Mandela's grandson Zondwa thanked the party for a "glorious send-off", before wishing it good luck for next year's general elections. He said he was sure his grandfather would remain a party member for eternity, at which Zuma broke into a smile.

The coffin was draped in a green, black, and gold ANC flag, that was later folded and handed to Mandela's widow Graca Machel by Zuma.

Machel wept as she looked down at the flag, and again as a woman sang the pop song "Greatest Love of All".

After the ceremony, two of Mandela's closest friends and struggle comrades, fellow Robben Island prisoners Ahmed Kathrada and Andrew Mlangeni, helped wheel his coffin onto the runway. It was loaded into a hearse and driven to a waiting C-130 Hercules plane.

The aircraft was due to touch down at Mthatha after 14:00. From there Mandela's remains would be taken to Qunu, where he spent most of his childhood.

Speaking in Qunu, AmaHegebe chief Phathekile Holomisa said that before the plane left and throughout the journey, an elder or senior male family member would talk to the body and keep it informed of the journey's progress. The person would address Mandela as if he was still alive, Holomisa explained.

"This is so because his spirit lives."

Compared to Tuesday's official memorial in Soweto where US President Barack Obama led foreign tributes for Mandela, the funeral is set to be on a relatively intimate scale with some 5000 people in attendance.

Controversy arose on Saturday when it emerged that Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu would not be there, despite his close friendship with Mandela.

Tutu's daughter Mpho Tutu told the Saturday Star he was "not an accredited clergy person and will thus not be going to Qunu", she was quoted as saying.

The newspaper said there was speculation that Tutu had been snubbed because of his outspoken criticism of the current government.

Tutu was left off the official programme for the memorial in Soweto, but was asked at the last moment to bless the crowd.

 - The Eastern Cape is set to welcome Nelson Mandela home. Are you in Mthatha or Qunu? Share your photos with us, by e-mailing or uploading.

- SAPA

Read more on:    nelson mandela  |  desmond tutu  |  jacob zuma
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