Nelson Mandela: Coffin arrives in Qunu for burial

Nelson Mandela's coffin has been flown to the Eastern Cape from the capital Pretoria - the BBC's John Simpson reports

Nelson Mandela's coffin has arrived in his childhood home in Qunu in the Eastern Cape region of South Africa, the final leg of its journey.

Large numbers of people lined the roads in the rural region to pay their respects as the cortege passed by.

A state funeral will be held on Sunday for Mr Mandela, who died on 5 December.

At least 100,000 people saw the former South African president's body lying in state in Pretoria over the last three days, but some had to be turned away.

Last respects

Start Quote

It has been a momentous week in South Africa - of mourning, celebration, chaos, patience, booing and reflection. But what happens now?”

End Quote

The coffin was flown from Waterkloof airbase in Pretoria on a C130 military aircraft, escorted by two fighter jets.

In line with tribal custom, Nelson Mandela's grandson Mandla accompanied him on the journey, speaking to his coffin to tell him he was on his way home to rest.

It arrived in Mthatha, 700 km (450 miles) away, shortly before 14:00 local time (12:00 GMT).

To solemn music, the coffin draped in a South African flag was moved by a military guard of honour and placed in a hearse to begin the 32km journey to Qunu, where Mr Mandela had wanted to spend his final days and where he will be buried.

People waving flags and cheering and singing - in places 10 to 12 deep - lined the route taken by the cortege through Mthatha town to pay their last respects.

Tears as well as smiles could be seen on the faces of onlookers.

"He is finally coming home to rest, I can't even begin to describe the feeling I have inside," 31-year-old Bongani Zibi told AFP news agency.

"Part of me is sad but I'm also happy that he has found peace."

Funeral cortege drives through Qunu (14 Dec 2013) Nelson Mandela always said he wanted to be buried in his childhood home of Qunu
Xhosa women in traditional dress wait for the coffin to pass in Qunu (14 Dec 2013) His funeral will be conducted according to the traditions of the Xhosa people, from which he comes

However, some people expressed their frustration that the convoy did not stop, so they had no chance to view the coffin as people in Pretoria had.


"Come home Mandela, the sun has set." These were the painful wails of a woman who was part of a crowd of villagers who welcomed Nelson Mandela's coffin back to his ancestral home of Qunu.

They had been waiting along the highway leading to his home all day. Women dressed in traditional Xhosa clothing danced and sang songs about Madiba, asking him to watch over them from the spirit world.

One of those gathered said she believed his presence back home would bring good fortune to this modest village. But some expressed unhappiness that they would not be allowed to attend the ceremony because of a strict guest list.

"How can you have a guest list for a funeral, that is unAfrican," an elderly woman told me. According to local traditions, everyone is welcome at a funeral and the more, the better.

Another woman who lived a few houses away from Mr Mandela's home said she would miss his generosity. "At Christmas time Tatomkhulu (grandfather) would give us clothes for our children".

"He was our Christ," she said crying.

There are mixed emotions here, a sense of deep loss, punctuated by a sense of pride that a global icon was born of these simple people.

The cortege then drove through the gates of the Mandela homestead in Qunu, where it will rest overnight in the grounds of the royal house of Thembu.

The BBC's Milton Nkosi in Qunu said it was a powerful moment for the local community to see their liberator coming home.

The Thembu community will conduct a traditional Xhosa ceremony - including songs and poems about Mr Mandela's life and his achievements - in a giant white marquee that has been specially erected.

Some 4,000 people - including presidents from Africa, several prime ministers, the Iranian vice-president, and the Prince of Wales - are expected to attend.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu - a long-time friend of Nelson Mandela - has now confirmed he will attend the funeral, having earlier said he had cancelled his flight as he had not received an invitation.

The South African government had earlier said the archbishop was accredited, but that no formal invitations had been sent out.

'Towering figure'

Ahead of the flight to the Eastern Cape, members of the African National Congress paid final tributes to Nelson Mandela at a ceremony in Pretoria.

President Jacob Zuma, other ANC leaders and more than 1,000 members of the organisation which Mr Mandela once led, attended the event at the Waterkloof air base.

It included a multi-faith service and a musical tribute.

Mourners heard President Zuma pay his own tribute to Nelson Mandela, calling him a "towering figure", "a man of action" and a "democrat who understood the world."

"Yes, we will miss him... He was our father, he was our guardian. He was something special."

"We'll always keep you in our hearts," Mr Zuma said.

Officers carry Nelson Mandela's coffin on to a C130 military transport plane The coffin was flown to Mthatha aboard a C130 military transport plane, after a special ANC ceremony to bid farewell to Mr Mandela
ANC supporters at the ceremony in Waterkloof airbase (14 Dec 2013) About 1,000 members of the ANC, which Mr Mandela once led, attended the special celebration at Waterkloof airbase
President Zuma flanked by Graca Machel (L) and Mandela's ex-wife Winnie Mandela Among them were President Zuma, members of Nelson Mandela's family, his ex-wife Winnie Mandela (R) and his widow, Graca Machel
People queue for busses before heading to the Union Buildings in Pretoria, South Africa During three days of public viewing to see the coffin, long queues of people formed
Mandela funeral map

Are you in South Africa? Will you be paying your respects to Nelson Mandela? Please send us your comments using the form below.

Send your pictures and videos to or text them to 61124 (UK) or +44 7624 800 100 (International). If you have a large file you can upload here.

Read the terms and conditions

If you are happy to be contacted by a BBC journalist please leave a telephone number that we can contact you on. In some cases a selection of your comments will be published, displaying your name as you provide it and location, unless you state otherwise. Your contact details will never be published. When sending us pictures, video or eyewitness accounts at no time should you endanger yourself or others, take any unnecessary risks or infringe any laws. Please ensure you have read the terms and conditions.

Terms and conditions

More on This Story

Mandela's death

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

More Africa stories



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.