'What's to become of us now he's gone?'
Extended funeral procession to finish today with burial in Qunu
So the long journey is nearly over. The body of Nelson Mandela will be buried at last today, in the village of Qunu in the Eastern Cape, the place he always thought of as home.
Security will be tight and the location is remote. For most South Africans, the last chance to say a personal goodbye was in Pretoria, where his body lay in state for three days.
To see it was both a privilege and a shock. One young black man who was overcome by tears rubbed his face with his cloth cap as he walked away, and used the Xhosa word for father when he said to himself: "That was not Tata."
The face under the glass coffin cover had the waxy skin of a corpse, of course. Puffier than expected, it did not look serene or at peace, as people often do after death when they have been prepared for viewing.
If anything, Mandela looked troubled. After seeing so many images of his smiling, youthful face on T-shirts, caps and flags over the past few days, the reality brought a surge of emotion, a twist in the gut.
It was all too much for an elderly white lady, who had to be comforted by a policewoman as she cried: "What's going to become of us now that he's gone?"
Nelson Mandela the man was 95 years old when his body finally gave up on the evening of Thursday, December 8, at his home in Houghton, a suburb of Johannesburg. The life-support had been removed and he was breathing on his own as the end approached.
Around his bedside were his second and third wives Winnie and Graca, his grandson and tribal heir Mandla, and his eldest daughter Makaziwe, who said there was time enough to say goodbye: "What I call his 'transition' was very beautiful."
In Houghton, the military arrived at midnight with a coffin, and the family stood to see it go, singing as he left.
Last Monday night, a small group of his closest allies gathered at the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory a few blocks from his home. Among them was Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the other boy from the same street in Soweto to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Remembering the days when they risked their lives to fight Apartheid, he urged his old friends to consider again the miracle wrought in their lifetimes.
"It is unbelievable," he said. "Don't you believe that God actually loves us South Africans? Everyone was saying that we would have gone up in flames [without Mandela]. He was like a magician with a magic wand, turning us into those glorious multiracial rainbow people. We are not there yet . . . but yay!"
He did a little jig that brought a smile to George Bizos, Mandela's lawyer for half a century. He probably saved his client's life at the Rivonia trial in 1964, by persuading Mandela to amend the declaration that he would willingly die for a free South Africa. Adding three words -- "if needs be" -- gave the judge the freedom to issue a sentence of life in prison, rather than death.
Despite his intimacy with Mandela, Mr Bizos found himself facing two of the daughters in court earlier this year, as they tried to remove him from the boards of family trusts.
The Mandela family went to war with itself while the man himself was on life support. Winnie and Maki jostled to be seen as the voice of the Mandelas, while Mandla the grandson tried to force the rest of the family to bury his grandfather in his own village, to his own potential gain.
But all that was put away when the end actually came. Mandla took up his duties as tribal heir, remaining with the body throughout the period of mourning, all the way to Qunu. And the family managed to present a united front at the huge memorial event held at the FNB Stadium in Soweto last Tuesday, sitting together in a covered enclosure near the stage.
Graca Machel had not been seen in public since her husband's death, and it was evident why. Her face was fixed in an expression of deep sorrow. She sat close to Winnie, both women dressed in black.
There has been a chill between them in the past, but they shared a hug and members of the family called them both "our mothers". (The forgotten woman in all of this was the late Evelyn Mase, his first wife and mother to four of his six children.) The grief of the Mandelas was in striking contrast to the intended mood of the memorial, which was held at the site of his last public appearance, made at the end of the vibrant World Cup of 2010.
This was meant to be a bright, happy, celebration of a long and great life, and those who slept out overnight to be sure of seats in the stadium did their best to make it so. But they had to battle against terrible, unseasonal weather.
This was Zuma's chance to present himself as the leader
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of a happy, harmonious people. Instead the event was a painful reminder of what had been lost: Mandela the national hero, the man who held South Africa together for so long, sometimes by sheer force of personality.
Speech after speech was drowned out by rival political factions high in the covered stands that taunted and jeered at each other but reserved their loudest, angriest boos and cries for when Zuma's face appeared on the giant screens. The Mandela grandchildren found it hard to get through what they had to say, and even Barack Obama was unsettled by the noise.
The troubles that beset the ruling African National Congress were forcing their way to the world's attention. The ANC swept to power with Mandela in 1994 and has ruled ever since, but the party is now exhausted and bitterly divided. Having been so happy to get the vote, many people are now frustrated at how little it has achieved in recent times.
Millions are still in poverty, the Aids crisis continues, the rich are getting richer and they include President Zuma, who faces accusations of corruption, both personally and in his party.
Many of those jeering loudest at the memorial were followers of Julius Malema, self-appointed commander in chief of the Economic Freedom Fighters and a big fan of Robert Mugabe. Lately, he has praised Mandela for his time as the leader of an armed struggle.
A rowdy crowd in a half-empty stadium was embarrassing to Zuma. So was the revelation that the sign-language interpreter standing a few feet away from some of the most powerful men and women in the world was an apparent fake, who did nothing more than make a few unintelligible hand gestures.
The 90 world leaders at the stadium had come to honour Mandela the global icon.
But the real Mandelamania -- the insistence on seeing him as a great prophet of peace and reconciliation -- is not a product of South Africa. The legend is being driven by people outside the country, mostly Americans and Europeans who want to see him in an uncomplicated way, as a light to humanity.
Still, almost everyone I spoke to felt a powerful gratitude towards him, for real, gritty reasons. He saved their country from war and changed their own individual lives profoundly.
"I had to come and sleep over so I can be closer. I want to say thank you," said Mashuda Musekwa, 42, as she waited in the street to see her lost leader's coffin come past. We were outside the Union Buildings in Pretoria, where he would lie in state and she was carrying a yellow rose for him.
"The changes that he brought into my life are so many. It was not easy for us to develop ourselves academically, but through Madiba's efforts we were able to do this," she said. "I am a professional nurse because of Madiba."
When the black Mercedes came by, carrying the coffin wrapped in the national flag, she threw her rose.
Just across the street was Letitia Loots, 39, who had brought her three young children. "He changed everything," she said, having grown up at the time of Apartheid among Afrikaners who were ready to fight for what they had. "When they told us at school one day that the blacks would be allowed on the bus, we were very scared."
She looked down at her 10-year-old son Marcel, who was holding a flag up with his friend Oratile, nine, who was black. "This would not have been possible if he didn't make everyone aware that even if you are black or white you still have a heart, you can still have love for each other," said Mrs Loots.