Thousands greet Mandela
Thousands greet Mandela

Around 4,500 guests, including foreign dignitaries, were at attendance at the funeral of Nelson Mandela in a grand Xhosa-style ceremony in his ancestral home of Qunu.

Mandela was buried in the rolling hills of the Eastern Cape after a week-long commemoration and a monstrous memorial service in Johannesburg on Tuesday, which was attended by almost 100,000 people, including more than 90 world leaders and celebrities.

The Nobel Peace Prize laureate, who suffered 27 painful years of imprisonment before emerging as the preacher of forgiveness and solidarity, was put to rest in a state funeral, mixed with the traditional rituals of his Xhosa abaThembu clan and military pomp, leaving South Africa with the daunting task of surviving a multi-racial democracy without the 'giant of history'. 

Mandela's body arrived on Saturday in Qunu, 700 km south of Johannesburg, after hundreds of thousands of people paid their respect to him in person at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, where he served as the first black president of South Africa the from 1994 till 1999, ending three centuries of white domination.

Mandela's Coffin
The coffin of former South African President Nelson Mandela is escorted aboard a military cargo plane after a send-off ceremony at Waterkloof Air Force base in Pretoria December 14, 2013

Mandela died on 5 December peacefully after months of fight against a lung infection that had plagued him from his prison time in Robben Island. His demise plunged 53 million South Africans and millions of others in the world into grief, triggering a torrent of eulogies and salutations from disconsolate well-wishers world over.  

When his body arrieved in Qunu, overjoyed locals welcomed him saying "Madiba - the clan name by which he was affectionately known as - has come home".

"After his long life and illness he can now rest," Victoria Ntsingo told Reuters, as military helicopters escorting the body of Mandela hovered overhead.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu Attended the Ceremony

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a long-time friend of Mandela, confirmed his presence for the ceremony, after having cancelled his flight for the function earlier, claiming he was not invited; a revelation that caused several rumours in the media.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Archbishop Desmond Tutu

The South African government had earlier said that though he was accredited, no formal invitation was sent to him, raising questions among people about the outspoken clergyman's strained relationship with the current government and ruling ANC party.

The state funeral started at 6 am GMT when the coffin was taken from Mandela's house to a huge white exhibition area, specially built for the day.

The Thembu community conducted a traditional Xhosa ceremony, which included recitation of poems and songs about his life-long achievements. A family elder stayed near the coffin which was draped in lion skin, in order to 'talk' to the body's spirit. An ox was also slaughtered; an integral part of the Xhosa customs.

Charles, Prince of Wales, American civil rights activists Reverent Jesse Jackson and several African presidents are among the many who attended the ceremony.

Mandela's coffin was flown from Waterkloof airbase in Pretoria on a C130 military aircraft. It was escorted by two fighter jets. The airplane later landed in Mthatha airport in the Eastern Cape just before noon on Saturday. 

The funeral cortege carrying the coffin of former South African President Nelson Mandela drives through Mandela's homeland just outside the village of Qunu December 14, 2013
The funeral cortege carrying the coffin of former South African President Nelson Mandela drives through Mandela's homeland just outside the village of Qunu December 14, 2013