Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Mandela laid to rest in Qunu, ending a journey that transformed South Africa

By Faith Karimi and Marie-Louise Gumuchian, CNN
December 15, 2013 -- Updated 1728 GMT (0128 HKT)
Three helicopters fly over the grave site of former South African President Nelson Mandela as his family lays his body to rest in his hometown of Qunu, South Africa, on Sunday December 15. Mandela's body traveled from Pretoria by air to Mthatha in Eastern Cape province, and then by road to Qunu, where was buried Sunday. Mandela died December 5 at his home in Houghton at the age of 95. Three helicopters fly over the grave site of former South African President Nelson Mandela as his family lays his body to rest in his hometown of Qunu, South Africa, on Sunday December 15. Mandela's body traveled from Pretoria by air to Mthatha in Eastern Cape province, and then by road to Qunu, where was buried Sunday. Mandela died December 5 at his home in Houghton at the age of 95.
HIDE CAPTION
The funeral of Nelson Mandela
The funeral of Nelson Mandela
The funeral of Nelson Mandela
The funeral of Nelson Mandela
The funeral of Nelson Mandela
The funeral of Nelson Mandela
The funeral of Nelson Mandela
The funeral of Nelson Mandela
The funeral of Nelson Mandela
The funeral of Nelson Mandela
The funeral of Nelson Mandela
The funeral of Nelson Mandela
The funeral of Nelson Mandela
The funeral of Nelson Mandela
The funeral of Nelson Mandela
The funeral of Nelson Mandela
The funeral of Nelson Mandela
The funeral of Nelson Mandela
The funeral of Nelson Mandela
The funeral of Nelson Mandela
The funeral of Nelson Mandela
The funeral of Nelson Mandela
The funeral of Nelson Mandela
The funeral of Nelson Mandela
The funeral of Nelson Mandela
The funeral of Nelson Mandela
The funeral of Nelson Mandela
The funeral of Nelson Mandela
The funeral of Nelson Mandela
The funeral of Nelson Mandela
The funeral of Nelson Mandela
The funeral of Nelson Mandela
The funeral of Nelson Mandela
The funeral of Nelson Mandela
The funeral of Nelson Mandela
The funeral of Nelson Mandela
The funeral of Nelson Mandela
The funeral of Nelson Mandela
The funeral of Nelson Mandela
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
39
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Mandela is laid to rest in his childhood village
  • NEW: "Now you have achieved the ultimate freedom in the bosom of God," officiator says
  • NEW: At the request of the family, the lowering of the casket is closed to the media
  • NEW: Zuma thanks Mandela's family for sharing him with the world

(CNN) -- With military pomp and traditional rituals, South Africa buried Nelson Mandela on Sunday, the end of an exceptional journey for the prisoner turned president who transformed the nation.

Mandela was laid to rest in his childhood village of Qunu.

Tribal leaders clad in animal skins joined dignitaries in dark suits at the grave site overlooking the rolling green hills.

As pallbearers walked toward the site after a funeral ceremony, helicopters whizzed past dangling the national flag. Cannons fired a 21-gun salute, its echoes ringing over the quiet village.

Mandela's widow, Graca Machel, dabbed her eyes with a handkerchief as she watched the proceedings.

"Yours was truly a long walk to freedom. Now you have achieved the ultimate freedom in the bosom of God, your maker," an officiator at the grave site said.

Military pallbearers gently removed the South African flag that draped the coffin and handed it to President Jacob Zuma, who gave it to Mandela's family.

At the request of the family, the lowering of the casket was closed to the media.

A peek into Mandela's memorial garden abloom with symbolism

Qunu, South Africa

The funeral ceremony

Before making their way to the grave site, mourners attended a service in a tent set up at the family compound. They wept, sang and danced in what has become a familiar celebration of his life.

Mandela's coffin, draped in his country's flag, lay atop black and white cattle skins in front of a crescent of 95 candles, each marking a year of his life.

As the national anthem "Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika" or "God Bless Africa" drifted over the village, a giant picture of Mandela looked down with a smile. Mourners placed their fists on their chests, some with tears streaming down their faces.

"Today marks the end of an extraordinary journey that began 95 years ago," Zuma said during the ceremony. "It is the end of 95 glorious years of a freedom fighter ... a beacon of hope to all those fighting for a just and equitable world order."

The president thanked Mandela's family for sharing him with the world and said his memory will live on.

"We shall not say goodbye, for you are not gone," Zuma said. "You'll live forever in our hearts and minds."

About 4,500 people gathered in the tent, including Machel, who sat next to Mandela's ex-wife, Winnie Mandela.

In other major cities including Johannesburg, crowds watched the funeral at special screenings in stadiums.

'I've lost a brother'

Inside Nelson Mandela's home
Mandela Photographer Reflects
'Fake Interpreter' may have criminal past

Mourners represented all spheres of Mandela's life. There were celebrities, presidents, relatives and former political prisoners.

"You symbolize today and always will ... qualities of forgiveness and reconciliation," said a tearful Ahmed Kathrada, a close friend who served time in prison with Mandela for defying the apartheid government. "I've lost a brother. My life is in a void, and I don't know who to turn to."

Talk show host Oprah Winfrey, Prince Charles and business mogul Richard Branson were also among the attendees.

Final chapter

The funeral and burial cap 10 days of national mourning for a man whose fame transcended borders.

"Nelson Mandela was our leader, our hero, our icon and our father as much as he was yours," Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete said, regaling mourners with tales of a secret visit Mandela made in 1962 to Dar es Salaam to gather support for his party, the African National Congress.

During his fight against apartheid, Mandela fled to Tanzania, which housed the headquarters of the ANC. The white minority government had banned it in South Africa.

In sharp contrast to the days of apartheid, the events honoring Mandela included a great deal of pageantry, as well as state honors.

Mandela's body arrived Saturday in the tiny village in the Eastern Cape province, where he grew up surrounded by lush, tranquil hills and velvety green grass.

Before arriving in Qunu, the body lay in state for three days in Pretoria. After an emotional service at the air base there, which included the handing over of his body to the ruling African National Congress, it was put in a military helicopter for the final leg of his journey.

Though he dined with kings and presidents in his lifetime, the international icon relished his time at the village. He herded cows and goats there as a child, and always said it's where he felt most at peace. Some of his children are also buried there.

"He really believed this is where he belonged," said his daughter, Maki Mandela.

Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years for defying the racist apartheid government that led South Africa for decades. He emerged from prison in 1990 and became South Africa's first black president four years later, all the while promoting forgiveness and reconciliation.

His defiance of white minority rule and his long incarceration for fighting segregation focused the world's attention on apartheid, the legalized racial segregation enforced by the South African government until 1994.

Years after his 1999 retirement from the presidency, Mandela was considered the ideal head of state. He became a yardstick for African leaders, who consistently fell short when measured against him.

"Thank you for being everything we wanted and needed in a leader during a difficult period in our lives," Zuma said.

In keeping with tradition, Mandela was laid to rest in the afternoon, when the sun is at its highest.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 15, 2013 -- Updated 1728 GMT (0128 HKT)
Candles are lit under a portrait of Neslon Mandela before the funeral ceremony of South African former president Nelson Mandela in Qunu on December 15, 2013.
As 95 candles glowed in the background, mourners gathered for Nelson Mandela's state funeral Sunday.
December 15, 2013 -- Updated 1136 GMT (1936 HKT)
One candle burns for each year of Nelson Mandela's life, as family, friends, dignitaries and celebrities gather in his ancestral home, Qunu.
December 15, 2013 -- Updated 1036 GMT (1836 HKT)
CNN's Robyn Curnow is inside the Mandela family compound in Qunu as the state funeral service is ongoing.
December 15, 2013 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
Don't expect the man who fought to end apartheid and then led South Africa as its first black president to spend eternity pushing up just daisies.
December 15, 2013 -- Updated 0350 GMT (1150 HKT)
Not only is Nelson Mandela the former president of South Africa, but he is also a father, grandfather and even a great-grandfather.
December 15, 2013 -- Updated 0413 GMT (1213 HKT)
Nelson Mandela once said his wife, Graca Machel, makes him "bloom like a flower."
December 15, 2013 -- Updated 0849 GMT (1649 HKT)
South African pays tribute and thanks Nelson Mandela at the former leader's funeral in Qunu.
December 15, 2013 -- Updated 0845 GMT (1645 HKT)
South African President Jacob Zuma sings at the funeral of Nelson Mandela.
December 15, 2013 -- Updated 0725 GMT (1525 HKT)
Anti-apartheid veteran Ahmed Kathrada spent 26 years imprisoned with his close friend and confidant Nelson Mandela.
December 15, 2013 -- Updated 0408 GMT (1208 HKT)
The coffin carrying Nelson Mandela's body arrived Saturday in his ancestral village of Qunu, where he'll be buried.
December 14, 2013 -- Updated 2128 GMT (0528 HKT)
Crowds gather as Nelson Mandela's funeral convoy arrives at Mthatha Airport in South Africa's Eastern Cape.
December 13, 2013 -- Updated 1932 GMT (0332 HKT)
Beloved icon Nelson Mandela will be laid to rest on the farm where he grew up. CNN's Robyn Curnow gives an inside look.
December 13, 2013 -- Updated 1644 GMT (0044 HKT)
It might be timely to put aside out-of-date and ill-informed views of Africa, and see it the way Africans seem to: With a high level of optimism.
December 6, 2013 -- Updated 0440 GMT (1240 HKT)
Mandela emerged from prison to lead his country out of racist apartheid rule with a message of reconciliation that inspired the world.
December 6, 2013 -- Updated 1632 GMT (0032 HKT)
The late South African President reflects on his imprisonment and his fight against apartheid.
December 10, 2013 -- Updated 1457 GMT (2257 HKT)
Nelson Mandela, hailed for leading South Africa out of apartheid, wanted to be remembered as part of a collective and not in isolation.
December 6, 2013 -- Updated 1803 GMT (0203 HKT)
Nelson Mandela
From revolutionary to revered statesman, Nelson Mandela left his inspirational mark on the world.
December 5, 2013 -- Updated 2324 GMT (0724 HKT)
The only known footage of Nelson Mandela while at Robben Prison shows inside his cell and the former president in 1977.
December 6, 2013 -- Updated 1745 GMT (0145 HKT)
Mandela spent almost three decades in jail. But he had two Indian goddesses and a 17th century playwright for company.
December 6, 2013 -- Updated 1252 GMT (2052 HKT)
He was loved and admired the world over, profiled in books and movies. But even he has little-known facts buried in his biographies.
December 5, 2013 -- Updated 2300 GMT (0700 HKT)
A file photo showing South African Nelson Mandela taking the presidential oath on May 10, 1994 during his inauguration at the Union Building in Pretoria.
April 27, 1994, was the crowning moment in Nelson Mandela's life -- the day South Africa held its first elections open to citizens of every race.
From a village birth, to political activism, to prison and emergence as a worldwide leader.
December 5, 2013 -- Updated 2340 GMT (0740 HKT)
"No one is born hating another person ..." and more from Nelson Mandela in his own words
December 6, 2013 -- Updated 1347 GMT (2147 HKT)
South African former President Nelson Mandela holds the Jules Rimet World cup, 15 May 2004 at the FIFA headquarters in Zurich.
"Sport has the power to change the world," Nelson Mandela once said -- and eloquently supported his claim.
June 27, 2013 -- Updated 0148 GMT (0948 HKT)
Browse through intimate images of Nelson Mandela, including the earliest known photograph believed to be taken in 1938.
December 6, 2013 -- Updated 1326 GMT (2126 HKT)
The Special AKA's "Free Nelson Mandela" became anti-apartheid anthem, and led to Mandela's release from prison after 27 years.
How will you remember Mandela? Send us your stories, memories and photographs.
ADVERTISEMENT