General News of 2013-12-14

ANC pays final tributes to Mandela

Members of the African National Congress (ANC) have been paying final tributes to Nelson Mandela at a ceremony ahead of Sunday's funeral.

President Jacob Zuma and other ANC leaders attended the ceremony at a Pretoria airbase.

Mr Mandela's coffin, draped with the ANC flag, was taken there from a mortuary in the city.

After the farewell ceremony, the coffin will be taken to Mr Mandela's ancestral home in Qunu, in the Eastern Cape.

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. The 95-year-old former leader died on 5 December.

'Human chain'

More than 1,000 members of the ANC, which Mr Mandela once led, attended the ceremony at the Waterkloof air base.

US civil rights activist Jesse Jackson and Ireland's Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams were among the foreign guests invited.

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. After the ceremony the coffin will be flown to Mthatha airport in the Eastern Cape ahead of the burial in Qunu.

Chief mourners from Mandela's clan and family, as well as senior government officials, would accompany the coffin, army officials said.

However his widow Graca Machel, and former wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, will travel on a separate flight, in accordance with Thembu tradition.

A military guard of honour will welcome the flight in Mthatha, and the coffin will be placed on a gun carriage and transported to a hearse.

Local people will form a 'human chain' between Mthatha and Qunu as the procession passes. Once in Qunu, the Thembu community will conduct a traditional ceremony.

It will take place 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.

On Friday, the South African government said in a statement that "the third day closed with over 50,000 paying their respects to our national icon and first democratically elected president of our country".

Shortly before the lying in state came to an end, at 17:45 local time (15:45 GMT), hundreds of people towards the front of the queue pushed through in the hope to be one of the last through the door.

One police officer told the AFP news agency: "There are too many people. The whole of the Republic of South Africa wants to say goodbye."

Many people waited in the queue for 11 hours for the chance to see Nelson Mandela's body.

Some were angry more time had not been allowed for this ceremonial; others said even if they could not reach his coffin for a personal farewell it was enough simply to be there.