Nelson Mandela Laid To Rest In Hometown

Thousands gathered in Nelson Mandela's rural homestead of Qunu as the anti-apartheid hero, Nobel laureate and South Africa's first black president was laid to rest.

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ARUN RATH, HOST:

It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Arun Rath.

Nelson Mandela was given a private burial today with full military honors in a family plot in his childhood village in Qunu. After a week devoted to Mandela's public roles as resistance fighter and icon, South African President Jacob Zuma paid tribute to the more personal sacrifices made by Mandela's family.

PRESIDENT JACOB ZUMA: We acknowledge the suffering of your own children who had an absent father and a father who was called a dangerous man and a terrorist.

RATH: Hi granddaughter, Nandi, unveiled a rare glimpse of Nelson Mandela late in life as family man.

NANDI MANDELA: He made my younger cousins, Mbuso and Ndaba, pick up clothes after they'd finished preparing for school or for bed. He was a disciplinarian who prepared us to be better people in our lives with or without him.

RATH: It was a quiet and reflective end to an historic week in South Africa that has run the full gamut of emotions. NPR's Gregory Warner takes us back through South Africa's extended farewell to Nelson Mandela.

GREGORY WARNER, BYLINE: To the surprise of many, the week of goodbyes began with a song of celebration.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing in foreign language)

WARNER: As soon as the news broke of Mandela's passing, South Africans turned his former home in Soweto into a shrine where people sang and danced, and not just outside the home. Victor Sekgansto(ph) was sitting down to lunch at a nearby restaurant when the diners around him just broke into song.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing in foreign language)

VICTOR SEKGANSTO: You don't know if they're happy, they're sad or whatever.

WARNER: You don't know if they're happy or sad.

SEKGANSTO: Or sad.

WARNER: They look happy.

SEKGANSTO: They look happy to me, but it's a sad day, man. We just lost an icon.

WARNER: This frenzy of feeling, a cathartic release after six months when Mandela lay in critical condition, culminated in a Tuesday gathering at a soccer stadium in Johannesburg where more than 50,000 people, undeterred by the wind and the rain, came to cheer foreign dignitaries and pay tribute to the man that President Obama then called the last great liberator of the 20th century.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: It took a man like Madiba to free not just the prisoner, but the jailer as well.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

WARNER: After world leaders had their say, ordinary South Africans wanted their Mandela moment. As Mandela's body lay in state in Pretoria, people cued for hours to file past the casket and pay their last respects. The slow-moving lines reminding some of that historic first election in 1994 that brought Mandela, former prisoner, to the presidential seat.

MONICA MODIERI MOLOTO: I've just come from seeing our leader, the father of the nation. I've just seen his body there. My heart is really sore.

WARNER: Monica Modieri Moloto(ph) came with her granddaughter, Lethabo(ph).

LETHABO: I'm 14 years old, and I just saw Nelson Mandela, who just, like, without him, I wouldn't have been here and get the education and be where I am. I wouldn't even know how to speak English without him.

WARNER: Today's funeral introduced a new mood of sorrow and reflection. Inside a 5,000-seat pavilion erected on the rolling hills of Mandela's childhood home of Qunu, tributes were paid to Mandela, the family man; Mandela, the anti-apartheid icon; and Mandela, the civil rights fighter who successfully pushed for increased representation of women in high office.

Mandela's old Robben Island prison mate, Ahmed Kathrada, spoke of the indignity of his friend's last illness as Mandela, the former boxer and leader, was unable to speak or stand. Only the grip of his hand remained strong and warm.

AHMED KATHRADA: And now, I have lost a brother. My life is in a void. And I don't know who to turn out.

WARNER: After the service, Mandela was laid to rest in a private burial next to his deceased children in a family plot in the village where, as a child, he used to graze the family cows. Gregory Warner, NPR News.

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