Ah! Dalibhunga it's time to rest

2013-12-15 14:00

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SA prepares to say goodbye to Mandela as the beloved global icon’s flag-draped casket embarks on the final leg of its long and winding journey to its resting place.

On his final journey home to his beloved village, Nelson Mandela was all things to all people?–?a South African icon, one of the ANC’s greatest leaders and abaThembu royalty.

The Hercules C-130 aircraft he travelled on was much larger than the small twin-propeller craft he regularly flew on as president between Mthatha and Pretoria.

Mandela’s body was carried to the aircraft, which had been draped in black for the occasion, by eight pallbearers – all major generals representing the SA National Defence Force’s branches.

Jurgens Prinsloo (44) was the pilot on Mandela’s final flight. Like all those who transported the elder statesman in death, he had flown him in life.

When he was informed of his final honour this week, he says he got “goosebumps”.

“This is a moment I will never forget. This is a big occasion for me. It is an honour and a privilege to fly him,” he said in the waiting area at the air force base before takeoff.

“He was the greatest leader in the world and he would always want to know what was happening in your life. His legacy of peace and forgiveness will live on forever.”

Early yesterday morning, Mandela’s body was driven the 10km from 1 Military Hospital to the Waterkloof Airforce Base by a man who had driven him for the past three years.

Corporal Thando Mangxangaza (30) had driven Madiba’s body from the hospital mortuary to the Union Buildings and back for three days.

It was the final duty of the medical orderly who had watched him lose his grip on life.

“Tata preferred older medical staff and always called me ‘young man’?...?When I realised for the first time in Mthatha in December 2011?...?I was going to help look after him, I had tears in my eyes,” he said.

“I never thought such a privilege would ever come my way, just a youngster from Kokstad.

“The night before we took him to the Union Buildings for the first time, I couldn’t sleep because I had the keys of the hearse in my pocket. I was so worried that I might oversleep and Tata would be late.”

ANC leaders, close family and struggle comrades Ahmed Kathrada and Andrew Mlangeni bade Madiba farewell at an emotional party memorial service at Waterkloof to honour its most famous son. His favourite poem, Invictus, by William Ernest Henley was printed on the back of the programme.

The flags that were draped over his coffin became a metaphor for his life. First the South African flag, which symbolised his status as the country’s former president, which was replaced by the ANC flag that covered his casket which was set in front of the stage before the mourners.

The ANC flag was replaced with the South African flag and presented to his widow Graça Machel, who wept when she received it.

Before Prinsloo took off, a smaller passenger plane carrying Machel, Mandela’s second wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, his granddaughter Ndileka Mandela, ANC treasurer-general Zweli Mkhize, struggle stalwart Ruth Mompati, Cabinet ministers Jeff Radebe and Bathabile Dlamini, and members of the ANC Women’s League flew ahead.

SA National Defence Force’s chaplain-general, Reverend Monwabisi Jamangile, led the march to the plane as Mandela’s grandsons, President Jacob Zuma and deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe stood on the runway to salute the casket.

A guard of honour of 100 soldiers stood nearby as the army band played the national anthem.

As only male relatives can accompany the plane according to abaThembu tradition, his grandsons Mandla, Ndaba and Zondwa Mandela travelled with the body.

In Mthatha, Machel and Madikizela-Mandela were waiting to receive him.

AbaThembu king Buyelekhaya Dalindyebo waited on the tarmac to receive the body and then fell to his knees before Machel and Madikizela-Mandela.

Then Mandela’s body began its final journey to Qunu.

Among those forming a human chain along the route of his final journey home was Qunu resident Sivuyile Mayekiso (16).

“I am so happy that we, his Qunu people, can finally say a proper goodbye to our father.”

Many had placed chairs next to the N2 highway.

Nomava Njemla (23) said: “We love him and we are sad, but it is good to be here and to say goodbye.”

In the village of Qunu, residents who had been singing all day grew quiet as the funeral cortege carrying Madiba’s body drove into view.

Volunteers in white T-shirts and bibs held back the crowd as children ran through the human chain to get a closer view.

Madiba’s casket, draped in the national flag, came into view for a few seconds and the crowd scrambled to take a look.

And then he was gone?–?the gates of his home closed behind the cortege.

Last night, Mandela’s body was handed to senior abaThembu leaders for traditional ceremonies and an all-night vigil.

Added to the flag was a leopard skin which Dalindyebo had honoured him with as a symbol of his royal rank.

Close family friend and funeral organiser Bantu Holomisa said he had been working on the arrangements for a while now.

“We started with plans eight years ago when Madiba had his first scare. Then, President Thabo Mbeki said we needed to be ready and prepared for when this day comes,” he said.

Madiba’s ultimate trip will be on a gun carriage which will take him to the pavilion where his funeral service will be held and then onto his gravesite 300m away where he will be buried at noon.

“When he is laid to rest there at the gravesite a family elder will speak to the spirit to say: ‘Tata we are now putting you in your final resting place. Please rest now and join the other ancestors,’” Holomisa said.

“It has been very painful for the family to watch him so weak and helpless. It is hard now that he is gone, but they have learnt to accept it.” – Additional reporting by Athandiwe Saba, Marida Fitzpatrick and Erika Gibson

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