QUNU (AFP) – Perched above the pomp and ceremony of Nelson Mandela’s state funeral, villagers and visitors to his rural home said a final goodbye among the open spaces and grasslands of his boyhood.
A few hundred people watched a live broadcast on a big screen, framed by sweeping views overlooking Mandela’s home in Qunu village.
“I felt that I was a part of it,” said local Samora Makasi, 35, sitting in an open-walled tent as presidents, foreign dignitaries and celebrities gathered below.
“I could have watched it at home but I wanted to be around people,” Makasi said.
Qunu has, in the 10 days since his death was announced on December 5, been a hive of round-the-clock activity as funeral organisers rushed to construct a venue for the 4,500 people who wanted to attend the event.
The usual rural tranquility was interrupted by the constant thumping whir of military helicopters and convoys bringing in troops as the village was placed under a security clampdown.
“I’m sad. It’s unbelievable that Mr Mandela today is no longer with us,” said Qunu resident, photographer Monde Sikweza, 48, as the sound of a 21-gun salute echoed over the village.
“This long walk to freedom is gone now,” he said, holding a framed photograph of Mandela and fellow comrades in 1991.
Traditionally, funerals are open to anybody, but the South African government had limited the number of guests, citing security concerns and space constraints.
“I am happy watching this on television. My eyes are bad. I can see it better this way,” said villager Dickson Gangatele, 73.
Many watching in the viewing area had come from out of town.
“Ever since he passed away, I wanted to walk the journey with him,” said Pascal Moloi, 52, who came from Johannesburg to watch with Mandela’s fellow villagers.
Watching in the village, with a wide view of the valley below, made him “feel much more connected” to Mandela, he said, saying afterwards he thought the ceremony, which was over two hours long, was “brilliant”.
But local Nonkuleleko Mfoboza, 45, felt differently.
“We want to be there as residents, but now there is no space for us,” she said.
Several of the speeches drew standing ovations, but Mfoboza gave her stamp of approval to only a handful.
“Otherwise it was boring… too long,” she said.
While the formal section of the state funeral was broadcast live to the world, the burial rituals were closed to the public on the wishes of the Mandela family.
“We really don’t know whether there will be access to the grave. We are watching this from a distance,” said Milisa Manxiwa, 34, sitting on a chair next to the main road near the funeral, draped in a South African flag.
As Mandela’s final gun salutes rolled over the valley and an air force flypass thundered overhead, a group of men in traditional Zulu dress, carrying sticks and shields, cried out in succession.
“He was an old man, he deserves his rest, and I think it’s been overdue,” said Ntsika Madyibi, 35, who came from a neighbouring village to watch.