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Traditional ritual and full military honours as Mandela is laid to rest

NELSON Mandela has been buried in the African ground he loved after a funeral ceremony that included a 21-gun salute and fly-overs by military aircraft as well as a eulogy by a tribal leader.

CEREMONY: Soldiers stand to attention around Nelson Mandela's casket, which was draped in the South African flag. Picture: Elmond Jiyane/AP
CEREMONY: Soldiers stand to attention around Nelson Mandela's casket, which was draped in the South African flag. Picture: Elmond Jiyane/AP

Military pallbearers carried Mandela's casket to the family grave site in the hills of Qunu, the rural village in eastern South Africa that was the childhood home of the anti-apartheid leader who became the country's first black president.

South African television showed the casket at the grave site, but the broadcasting was stopped just before the coffin was buried at the request of the Mandela family.

It was South Africa's final goodbye to the man who reconciled the country in its most volatile period.

Several hundred people attended the burial. Earlier, more than 4000, some singing and ­dancing, gathered for a funeral service in a huge tent at the family compound of Mandela, who died on December 5 at the age of 95 after a long illness.

Mandela's portrait looked over the assembly in the white tent from behind a bank of 95 candles representing each year of his remarkable life. His casket, ­transported on a gun carriage and draped in the national flag, rested on a carpet of cow skins below a lectern where speakers delivered eulogies.

"A great tree has fallen - he is now going home to rest with his forefathers," said Chief Ngangomhlaba Matanzima, a representative of Mandela's family. "We thank them for lending us such an icon."

The tent ceremony was broadcast on big screens in the area. Several hundred people gathered there, some wearing the black, yellow and green of the African National Congress (ANC), the liberation movement turned political party that Mandela had led - and occasionally breaking into song.

Nandi Mandela said her grandfather went barefoot to school in Qunu when he was boy and eventually became president and a figure of global import.

"It is to each of us to achieve anything you want in life," she said, recalling kind gestures by Mandela "that made all those around him also want to do good".

In the Xhosa language, she referred to her grandfather by his clan name: "Go well, Madiba. Go well to the land of our ancestors, you have run your race."

Ahmed Kathrada, an anti-apartheid activist who was jailed on Robben Island with Mr Mandela, remembered his old friend's "abundant reserves" of love, patience and tolerance. He said it was painful when he saw Mandela for the last time, months ago in his hospital bed. "He tightly held my hand, it was profoundly heartbreaking," Mr Kathrada said, his voice breaking at times.

"How I wish I never had to confront what I saw. I first met him 67 years ago and I recall the tall, healthy strong man, the boxer, the prisoner who easily wielded the pick and shovel when we couldn't do so."

Some mourners wiped away tears as Mr Kathrada spoke, his voice trembling with emotion.

Mr Mandela's widow, Graca Machel, and his second wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, wore black Xhosa headwraps and dresses. ­

Mourners included veterans of the ANC's military wing.

The Prince of Wales, Monaco's Prince Albert II, US TV star Oprah Winfrey, businessman Richard Branson and former Zimbabwean prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai were also there.

The burial ended 10 days of mourning that included a massive stadium memorial in Johannesburg and three days during which ­Mandela's body lay in state in the capital, Pretoria.

In the final benediction, shortly before Mandela's casket was lowered into the earth, the chaplain general of the South African military, Brigadier General Monwabisi Jamangile, said: "Yours was truly a long walk to freedom and now you have achieved the ultimate freedom in the bosom of your maker, God almighty. Amen."

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