The airforce C-130 Hercules aircraft carrying former president Nelson Mandela’s body touched down at the Mthatha airport after 1.30pm today. As the plane and the two jets escorting it flew over the Mthatha city centre, crowds of people jumped up and down, screaming and cheering with excitement. The convoy carrying Mandela’s body was expected to drive through the streets of Mthatha before being taken to Qunu, about 31km away. Speaking in Qunu earlier, 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 progress of the journey. The person would address Mandela as if he was still alive, said Holomisa. “This is because his spirit lives.” Members of the Mandela family arrived just before noon. The family stepped off the plane and got into cars parked on the runway. Mandela’s widow Graça Machel was escorted into the terminal by Nelson Mandela’s granddaughter, Ndileka Mandela, who was holding her arm. Machel was followed by ex-wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. Young and old gathered on the streets of Mthatha in the Eastern Cape. Armed soldiers lined Nelson Mandela Drive, which runs through the centre of the town, watching one group of more than 300 people singing and dancing in adjoining York Street. The soldiers stopped the singers from entering the main thoroughfare. Marshals in yellow and orange reflective jackets stood along parts of the route where the crowds were gathered. The plane carrying Mandela’s coffin left Waterkloof Air Force Base in Pretoria this morning. He will be buried in Qunu, where he spent much of his childhood, tomorrow. He died at his Houghton, Johannesburg, home last Thursday at the age of 95.