Nelson Mandela Laid to Rest in Ancestral Village

South Africa's first black president, anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela, has been buried in his home village near Qunu, in Eastern Cape Province. Several thousand family members and close friends attended the funeral.

Nelson Mandela was laid to rest Sunday among the hills of his ancestral homeland, eulogized by friends, family and admirers.

His longtime friend, Ahmed Kathrada, called Mandela his older brother and moved the 4,500 participants with memories from the decades of struggle against apartheid and prison.

"The last time I saw Madiba alive was when I visited him in hospital. I was filled with an overwhelming sadness and emotion and I cried. He held my hand and it was profoundly heart-breaking and it brought out all the emotions in me," he said.

Mandela's granddaughter, Nandi Mandela, recalled lighter stories about the family patriarch known to all by his clan name, Madiba.

She concluded in Xhosa saying, "Go well Madiba. Go well to the land of your ancestors. You have run your race."

President Jacob Zuma led the crowd in a struggle song, singing we the black people are crying for our land, which was taken by the white people.

Zuma went on to say the day marked the end of Madiba's remarkable 95-year journey of life and that South Africans would cherish every moment spent with him.

"You were indeed an extraordinary human being," he said. "You will remain our guiding light, illuminating the path as we continue the long journey to build the South Africa of your dreams. We shall not say goodbye, for you are not gone. You will live forever in our hearts and minds."

Residents of Qunu gathered on a nearby hill to view the ceremony on a large screen television and pay their respects.

Zolani Mxabo said he was feeling mixed emotions. "There's a side that is happy that he's finally getting a rest after all the troubles that he went through. But at the same time I'm also feeling sad because he's now resting, not dead, he's just resting. His soul will always be with us. We'll always feel the will," said Mxabo.

Sibongile Mfocwa met Mandela as a teenager after he was released from prison more than 20 years ago. She says he taught her humility and other values that she tries to pass on to her four children.

"When I talk of Nelson Mandela I tell them that perseverance pays. Nelson Mandela is one of those strongest icons I know. He's one of those guys who stood up for what is right," she said.

After the ceremony a smaller group of mourners accompanied the coffin to the family cemetery, where traditional and ecumenical rites were performed before the body was lowered into the ground.

VOA News / Dec. 16, 2013 08:01 KST