PRETORIA – Nelson Mandela’s funeral cortege has begun its solemn journey to the seat of South African government in Pretoria, where it will lie in state for three days.
A hearse carrying the casket of the former statesman — draped in a South African flag and led by a phalanx of motorcycle outriders — rolled out of the city’s 1 Military Hospital toward Union Buildings shortly after 7:00am (0500 GMT) on Wednesday.
Along the route South Africans formed a sombre guard of honour for their iconic leader.
Scores of soldiers in fatigues and wine-red berets mixed with flag-waving civilians who came to pay their last respects.
“I never met Mandela, so this is my only chance and it’s important I pay my respects. I’m South African — I have to be here,” said 28-year-old Vaughan Motshwene.
It is a journey laden with symbolism and replete with landmarks that carry resonance in Mandela’s own life.
The procession will pass the central prison where he was jailed in 1962 for incitement and leaving the country illegally.
Another landmark is the Palace of Justice, the court where Mandela famously stood trial in 1963-64 for treason and sabotage with 10 other co-defendants.
His conviction and subsequent life sentence marked the beginning of a 27-year jail stint, from which he finally emerged in 1990 as the structure of apartheid crumbled around its white minority supporters.
The cortege will also pass near the one-time home of Paul Kruger, the father of the Afrikaner nation.
“Oom (Uncle) Paul” was the president of the Transvaal, leading a resistance movement against British rule during the first Anglo-Boer War., which began in 1880.
That Afrikaner nationalism later morphed into support the National Party, which introduced apartheid.