Mandela's body brought home ahead of funeral tomorrow
Thousands throng streets to welcome beloved leader home writes Peter Murtagh in Qunu
Singing and dancing Mthatha residents awaiting the arrived of the hearse carrying former South African president Nelson Mandela’s body to his childhood village of Qunu where he will be buried tomorrow. Photograph: Peter Murtagh
Nelson Mandela was back in his home village tonight after a tumultuous welcome from thousands of people in the streets of Mthatha and along the road to his village Qunu where he will be buried tomorrow.
His formal funeral, before a congregation of 4,500 inside a large domed marquee, will be conducted according to the rites of the Methodist Church, a South African government minister, Colin Chabane, told The Irish Times tonight.
He said he also expected that traditional funeral rites would be observed at the funeral but that ultimately was a matter for the Mandela family. Mr Mandela was of the Xhosa nation and a member of the Madiba clan. He was also associated, through his father and his own upbringing, with the Thembu royal household.
Traditional funeral rites of the Xhosa would include the slaughtering of an ox early on the day of the funeral and it being eaten it its entirety by the guests. The body would also be wrapped in an animal skin and, given Mr Maldela’s high station, this could be a leopard skin. A family elder will also remain with the body, talking to its spirit in the hours leading up to interment.
Burial will take place in a Thembu graveyard on raised ground behind the Mandela family home in Qunu for 450 of the 4,500 funeral congregation only. They are expected to be comprised of family and close friends. No filiming of the interment is to be allowed.
The 4,500 funeral guests, who include family and friends, government and others associated with the African National Congress, and foreign dignitaries, must be inside the marquee by 7am with the doors closing at 7.30. The funeral is due to begin at 8am local time and be over around mid-day.
There is controversy here surrounding retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu of Cape Town, a close friend and campaigner against apartheid with Mr Mandela, who says he will not be at the funeral despite wanting to be because he says he was not invited.
“Much as I would have loved to attend the service to say a final farewell to someone I loved and treasured, it would have been disrespectful to Tata [Mandela] to gatecrash what was billed as a private family funeral,” he said.
“Had I or my office been informed that I would be welcome there is no way on earth that I would have missed it.”
Last night, Mr Chabane sought to wash the government’s hands of the matter, saying the government had not issued invitations to anyone but rather responded to lists supplied by various groups, of which the church was one. He implied that Archbishop Tutu’s name was not church submitted list but said that anyone with a pass to the earlier State Memorial Service, at which Archbishop Tutu spoke, could come to Qunu.
Local people in Qunu, a village of kraal-style farms, modest homes some of them traditional round houses known as roundvells, with enclosures for crops and animals, continue to express dismay that they have not been invited to the big marquee despite feeling that the funeral is very much of one of their own.
Responding to this, Mr Chabane told a press conference that previous South African presidents had been buried in a state plot. He implied that in interring Mr Mandela in his boyhood village, the government was going a long way to meeting the aspirations of the villagers in the context of a new South Africa.
Later speaking to The Irish Times, Mr Chabane said he understood village life but it was the duty of village elders to inform people and explain to them. “We hope that has been done,” he said.
In order to meet the desire to watch the funeral, the government has erected around 30 large screens, in addition to the 150 already up across the country, in locations in the traditional kingdom.