Mandela 'returns home' to final resting place
Nelson Mandela's remains were returned to his beloved rural childhood village on the eve of a traditional burial Sunday, the final leg of his exceptional 95-year journey.
A funeral cortege with his flag-draped casket entered the gates of Mandela's homestead in the remote village of Qunu, accompanied by a phalanx of military vehicles Saturday.
Mandela will be buried near the homestead, ending 10 days of national mourning and global tributes for the prisoner-turned-president who transformed his country and inspired the world.
"This is history," said Ndumiso Jaca, 49, as the cortege drove out of view through the gates.
"The world will never be the same again."
Sunday's funeral will begin at 8:00 am (0600 GMT) with a two-hour ceremony for 5,000 people, with foreign dignitaries expected to include Britain's Prince Charles.
But Mandela's friend and fellow Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu is unlikely to attend, the archbishop's office said Saturday. Tutu has been openly critical of the government and members of Mandela's family.
"Had I or my office been informed that I would be welcome, there is no way on earth that I would have missed it," Tutu said in a statement.
Amid public anger, the ANC scrambled to douse the flames, with Minister in the Presidency Collins Chabane saying: "Archbishop Tutu's name was submitted by a list of guests we received from church leaders for accreditation."
Tutu was "number six" on the list and was accredited for the Qunu funeral, Chabane said.
"Whether he comes or not is his choice. He's accredited, if he wants to come, he's welcome."
Earlier a C-130 Hercules escorted by two fighter jets carried Mandela's casket from the capital Pretoria to his native Eastern Cape.
The homecoming of Mandela's body was greeted by thousands of waiting mourners and a full military guard of honour.
A sombre mood soon changed to cheers as the crowd -- many dressed in free T-shirts bearing Mandela's face -- welcomed the return of their hero with joy and pride.
"I'm just telling him welcome, welcome home!" said Mxhasi Mpikwa, in upper Qunu, born in the same month of 1994 that saw South Africa's first all-race vote and Mandela's election as the first black president.
Military personnel lined the route, along with small groups of people singing anti-apartheid songs and songs in praise of the iconic statesman.
"He is finally coming home to rest, I can't even begin to describe the feeling I have inside," said 31-year-old Bongani Zibi.
"Part of me is sad but I'm also happy that he has found peace."
'Go well, tata'
Sunday's interment will see Mandela laid to rest in the open spaces of the village that he so longed for during his years in apartheid prison.
Since Mandela died on December 5 at his home in Johannesburg, South Africans have turned out in the pouring rain and blistering sun to pay their respects.
Tens of thousands had packed a soaked stadium in Soweto for a memorial service Tuesday and up to 100,000 people filed past Mandela's open casket for the three days during which it was displayed at the Union Buildings in Pretoria -- the same venue of his presidential inauguration two decades ago.
There were scuffles Friday on the final day of the lying in state, as police had to turn away tens of thousands of frustrated mourners who were unable to get in to view the body.
Mandela's casket left Pretoria with a send-off organised by the ruling African National Congress (ANC) which he once led.
President Jacob Zuma, flanked by Mandela's widow Graca Machel and ex-wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, said South Africa needed "more Madibas" -- using Mandela's clan name -- in order to prosper.
"Yes we are free, but the challenge of inequality remains," Zuma said, citing the twin blights of poverty and unemployment on the country's economic progress.
"We would like to say, go well, tata (father). You have played your part and you have made your contribution," he added.
Mandela's grandson Mandla recalled how as a young child he would hear people in the then blacks-only township of Soweto shouting Amandla! (power) and "Viva Mandela".
"I thought I must be a very popular kid," he joked.
A traditional, private burial
The burial itself will be a strictly private affair, barred to both the public and the media, at the wishes of the Mandela family.
"They don't want it to be televised. They don't want people to see when the body is taken down," government spokeswoman Phumla Williams told AFP.
The funeral will be held according to traditional Xhosa rites overseen by male members of Mandela's clan.
The slaughtering of an animal -- a ritual performed through various milestones of a person's life -- will form a crucial part of the event.
During the ceremony, Mandela will be referred to as Dalibhunga, the name given to him at the age of 16 as he entered adulthood.
Although Mandela never publicly declared his religious denomination, his family comes from a Methodist background.
On Saturday night, in line with tradition, several vigils were being held around Qunu, with the first funeral-goers expected to arrive as early as 2:00 am (0000 GMT).
© 2013 AFP