Funeral for Nelson Mandela under way

15 December 2013 7:33 AM

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Updated: 20:25, Sunday December 15, 2013

Nelson Mandela's funeral service has begun with the singing of the Xhosa hymn Lizalis' idinga lakho - 'Fulfil your promise'.

An estimated 4500 people filled a marquee in Mandela's boyhood town of Qunu, where he is being laid to rest on Sunday.

This was followed by the singing of the national anthem. Bishop Dabula of the South African Methodist Church offered the opening devotions.

The specially constructed marquee venue held 4500 people, with pride of place going to Mandela's family, including his widow Graca Machel and ex-wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.

Top government officials and foreign dignitaries and celebrities, ranging from Britain's Prince Charles to US talk show queen Oprah Winfrey, were also in attendance.

Mandela's flag-draped casket was brought to the ceremony on a gun carriage as the 21-gun salute rang out over the surrounding hills of Eastern Cape province.

He was followed by Chief Ngangomhlaba Matanzima of the Thembu people, which is part of the Xhosa nation.

He will be followed by Ahmed Kathrada, an anti-apartheid activist and Mandela's fellow political prisoner, who will deliver the opening eulogy followed by the reading of an obituary.

Chief Ngangomhlaba thanked military doctors who were part of the medical team that took care of Mandela during his hospital stays and at his home in the final months of his life. He asked them to stand up. Mourners applauded.

'You did a great job in taking care of our father. We can't thank you enough for that,' Matanzima said.

Mandela's granddaughter Nandi Mandela shared memories of her grandfather as a young man. She was followed by Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, who represented the African Union.

Kathrada, 84, who was released from prison in 1989, a year before Mandela, said his life was now 'a void'. He recalled 'the tall healthy strong man, the boxer, the prisoner who easily wielded the pick and shovel when we couldn't do so.

'And now the inevitable has happened, he has left us to joint the A team of the ANC (African National Congress),' Kathrada said, going on to list other deceased stalwarts of the anti-apartheid struggle, such as Walter Sisulu and Oliver Tambo.

'When Walter died, I lost a father and now I've lost a brother,' Kathrada told guests at the funeral in Mandela's ancestral village of Qunu, his voice breaking. 'My life is in a void. And I don't know who to turn to,' he concluded.

President Joyce Banda of Malawi, who is the chair of the Southern African Development Community, paid tribute to Mandela, saying Africa had learned the lessons he taught.

She was followed by President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania and South African President Jacob Zuma who led the audience in singing an old anti-apartheid song.

President Zuma told a country mourning its founding father that it was incumbent on everyone to carry on his legacy.

'Today marks the end of an extraordinary journey that started 95 years ago,' he said.

Former Zambian president Kenneth Kaunda was a surprise speaker at the funeral. The organisers tried to get him to speed up his eulogy as the service ran over the allotted time.

Tribal tradition demands Mandela must be buried at noon when the sun is at its highest.


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