General News of Saturday, 14 December 2013
South Africa's first black president started his final journey to Qunu on Saturday, where he'll be buried at his rural home surrounded by lush green hills in the southeastern corner of the nation.
Though he dined with kings and presidents, Nelson Mandela maintained that he was always a country boy at heart.
He described his boyhood village of Qunu as the place where he felt most at peace.
"Look, he loved these hills. He really believed this is where he belonged," his daughter, Maki Mandela, told CNN in an exclusive interview.
His burial Sunday will end 10 days of mourning for the international anti-apartheid icon.
Before his journey home, the ruling African National Congress bid him farewell Saturday morning at an air force base in Pretoria.
Members of the ruling party stood around his flag-draped casket. They bowed, prayed and gently touched it.
"Icon of our struggle. Father of our nation," a giant poster with a smiling Mandela said. His wife,Graca Machel, sat on the front row, dabbing her eyes with a handkerchief.
"We will miss him. He was our leader in a special time," President Jacob Zuma said. "Go well, Tata. You've played your part. You've made your contribution. We'll always remember you. We'll always keep you in our hearts."
Tata is the word for father in Mandela's Xhosa tribe.
'He really wanted to die here'
From the airport in Pretoria, his black casket was put in a military plane for Qunu in the Eastern Cape province. Helicopters hovered overhead as soldiers marched it into the plane.
On arrival at Mthatha Airport, which is closest to the village, it will be placed on a gun carriage for the journey home.
Mandela has said he felt most at peace in the simple village with endless open fields and velvety green grass. It's where he herded cows and goats as a child; where his relatives are buried at the family farm.
"Even when my father was in jail, he had the most fondest memories of Qunu. And he really wanted to die here," Maki Mandela said.
Saying goodbye to a famous son
Throngs of mourners are expected to line the streets as the military takes his body home for the last time. Once in Qunu, the tributes will get more intimate.
The military will hand over his remains to his family. And to symbolize a return of one of their own, the national flag over his coffin will be replaced with a traditional blanket of the Xhosa people.
At dusk, ruling party leaders will join local chiefs and men in his family for a private night vigil to honor traditions of his native Thembu clan.
A funeral Sunday will end 10 days of mourning for the man considered the father of modern South Africa. Mandela died last week at age 95.
Events leading up to the burial included a memorial service Tuesday followed by three days of public viewing at Pretoria's Union Buildings, where he was sworn in as president in 1994.
About 100,000 people paid homage to Mandela in the three days he lay in state, government officials said.
Thousands are expected to make the trip to Qunu for the burial, thrusting the remote village into the international spotlight. The mourners will include dozens of foreign dignitaries making their way along the back roads of his rural resting place.
Notable names on the guest list include former U.S. President Bill Clinton and his family, Britain's Prince Charles and talk-show host Oprah Winfrey.
"It's been a challenge, it's been a serious challenge. But hey, my grandfather was born here," Tukwini Mandela said of planning the logistics. "It's a mix of emotions, some of us are very teary because this is where my grandfather told us who we were as the Mandelas."
About 400 family and close friends will walk to the grave site to bid a final farewell to the man who spent 27 years in prison and emerged to lead the nation out of its grim apartheid era.
He will be laid to rest in the afternoon when the sun is high in the sky.