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Mandela laid to rest in native town

16 December, 2013

JOHANNESBURG: Nelson Mandela on Sunday laid to rest in a family plot, after political and religious leaders paid tribute to South Africa's first black president at a state funeral service.

Some 4,500 people - including foreign dignitaries - attended the service at Mr Mandela's ancestral home of Qunu. A close friend, Ahmed Kathrada, told mourners he had lost an "elder brother" who was with him for many years in prison on Robben island.

Mandela died on 5 December aged 95.

His casket was carried by the military, accompanied by family and friends, from a specially-erected marquee up a hill to the graveside.

The family had asked for only a few hundred guests to be present for the traditional Xhosa burial, unlike the much larger-scale, televised service.

South Africa's air force staged a fly-past of the gravesite as the coffin was lowered into the grave.

The final day of South Africa's 10-day commemoration for its late leader began with his coffin taken on a gun carriage from M Mandela's house to the giant marquee.

Members of the family had attended an overnight vigil, where a traditional praise singer is believed to have chanted details of his long journey and life.

Inside the marquee, Nelson Mandela's portrait stood behind 95 candles, representing one for each year of his life.

His casket, draped in the South African flag, was placed beneath a lectern where speakers paid their tributes.

Some guests sang and danced to celebrate Mandela's life as the service began.

After the national anthem, Nkosi Sikelel'I Africa (God Bless Africa) was sung, the service heard from a family spokesman, Chief Ngangomhlaba Matanzima, who thanked the army medical team that had treated Mr Mandela before he died.. "A great tree has fallen, he is now going home to rest with his forefathers. We thank them for lending us such an icon."

Kathrada's voice filled with emotion as he spoke of the difficulty of recent months and of how he had held his friend's hand the last time he saw him in hospital. "Farewell my dear brother, my mentor, my leader," he said.

Two grandchildren then addressed the congregation. Ndaba who read an obituary, and Nandi, who spoke fondly of her grandfather as a disciplinarian. "We shall miss you... your stern voice when you are not pleased with our behaviour. We shall miss your laughter."

Listening to the tributes were Graca Machel, his widow, and his second wife, Winnie-Madikizela Mandela, who sat either side of President Jacob Zuma.

Both women were praised for their love and tolerance, in an address by Malawi's President Joyce Banda. Grandson Ndaba Mandela reads an obituary.

African National Congress members, veterans of the fight against apartheid and foreign dignitaries - including several African presidents, the Prince of Wales - are among the guests.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu - a long-time friend of Nelson Mandela - is there, having earlier said he had cancelled his flight as he had not received an invitation. US talk show host Oprah Winfrey is also present. While the service took place, a 21-gun salute sounded far away in Pretoria.

End.

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