Mandela's body flown to home village ahead of funeral
Published 14/12/2013 | 13:13
Tributes have been paid to Nelson Mandela during a ceremony at an air base in the capital of South Africa ahead of his funeral on Sunday.
After the ceremony, his remains were taken on board a military plane and flown to his home village.
At the airport near his home village in Qunu there was a buzz of activity, with military vehicles driving around as anticipation built over the arrival of South Africa's most famous figure.
Residents and people who had travelled for hours thronged a road leading to Qunu, singing and dancing as Mandela T-shirts were handed out.
"We got up this morning at 2am and drove from Port Elizabeth - it's about seven hours - and we got here now. We're waiting to show our last respects to Madiba," said Ebrahim Jeftha, using Mandela's clan name.
Mr Mandela had been imprisoned for 27 years for opposing racist apartheid and emerged in 1990 to forge a new democratic South Africa by promoting forgiveness and reconciliation. He became president in 1994 after South Africa's first all-race democratic elections.
Soldiers in full gear were stationed on foot on either side of the road from the airport in Mthatha. Some civilians were also already lining the route, shielding themselves from the sun with umbrellas.
Mr Mandela had longed to spend his final months in his beloved rural village but instead he had spent them in a hospital in Pretoria and then in his home in Johannesburg where he had remained in a critical condition, suffering from lung problems and other ailments, until his death.
There was a surprise announcement in the plans for Sunday's funeral in Mr Mandela's home village of Qunu as retired archbishop Desmond Tutu's family said he would not be attending because he had not received credentials as a clergyman.
"The archbishop is not an accredited clergyperson for the event and thus will not be attending," Rev Mpho Tutu, the archbishop's daughter, said in a statement. She is chief executive of the Desmond and Leah Tutu Foundation.
A spokesman for Mr Tutu refused to elaborate and said he himself would not be commenting. Mr Tutu, who like Mr Mandela was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for resisting apartheid, has been an occasional critic of the current government.
Mac Maharaj, a spokesman for the presidency, said Mr Tutu is on the guest list and that he hopes Mr Tutu will attend. He said he was surprised by the statement and was looking into it for possible solutions.
"This is not an event where you need credentials and I hope a solution can be found," he said. "He's an important person and I hope ways can be found for him to be there."
Milly Viljoen, 43, drove 12 hours through the night with a friend to stand on the roadside overlooking Mandela's compound in Qunu.
"'It's befitting to see him to his final resting place," she said.