Ten days of both solemn and celebratory remembrance in South Africa came to an end on Sunday 15th December when Nelson Mandela was finally laid to rest. The man who spearheaded the anti-apartheid struggle for over 40 years; who journeyed from life as a farm boy to lawyer, revolutionary, prisoner, anti-violence ANC leader and South Africa’s first democratically elected president; who brought national reconciliation and racial equality to his country; who after stepping down from power became a peerless African statesman and who now, in death, unites people of every creed and color in tribute to him; has created a legacy that will never be forgotten.
The 95-year-old died at home on December 5th. Mourners gathered outside his home in Houghton, on the streets of Soweto and at every other major Mandela site across the country. A light installation depicting his image was projected on Table Mountain and millions shared South Africa’s grief around the globe.
The memorial service on December 10th at Soweto’s FNB Stadium, where Mandela made his last major public appearance during the 2010 Fifa World Cup, attracted a 95,000-strong crowd including celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey, Bono and Charlize Theron and over 100 former and current heads of state such as George W Bush, Francois Hollande, FW de Klerk and Robert Mugabe.
During his speech Barak Obama said: "We will never see the likes of Nelson Mandela again. While I will always fall short of Madiba, he makes me want to be a better man." UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon added: "South Africa has lost a hero, it has lost a father... He sacrificed so much and was willing to give up all he had for freedom and democracy." And Archbishop Desmond Tutu summoned the entire stadium of people to their feet for a united blessing.
Mandela’s body lay in state in Pretoria from December 11th to 13th, during which at least 100,000 people paid their respects and the ANC held a multi-faith ceremony. The coffin was then taken to his ancestral home in Qunu, Eastern Cape, for the state funeral on Sunday attended by around 4,500 people. Those inside the funeral marquee were greeted by his image behind 95 candles. Meanwhile outside well-wishers watched on big screens and Zulu men performed a traditional dance.
President Jacob Zuma, who sat between Mandela’s widow Graca Machel, and former wife Winnie Mandela, lead the audience in song before speaking of the future ahead for the country without him: "We wish today to express two simple words: thank you. Thank you for being everything that we wanted and needed in a leader during a difficult time in our lives. Whilst the long walk to freedom has ended in the physical sense, our own journey continues." Mandela's granddaughter Nandi also gave her personal insight. "He was a true servant of the people, his mission in life was to make lives better." Following the state funeral, the coffin was taken to his family’s burial plot for a private Xhosa ceremony.
Nelson Mandela’s own immortal words will always remain a lesson to us all. Rest in peace, Madiba.
“What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.” Nelson Mandela
Images: Chris Saunders, Getty