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Mandela's funeral in ancestral home under way
December 15, 2013, 10:02 am

The funeral for Nelson Mandela has begun in his ancestral village of Qunu, ending a week of commemorations for the man whose tortured struggle for freedom helped end white-minority rule, paving the way for him to become South Africa's first black president.

Mandela, who died on December 5 after battling a chronic lung infection for months, will be laid to rest after a state funeral mixing military pomp with the traditional rites of his Xhosa abaThembu clan in his ancestral village of Qunu.

The ceremony in the rolling hills of the East Cape province began at 7.55am and will be attended by 4,500 guests, ranging from relatives to South African leaders and foreign dignitaries, including Britain's Prince Charles and US civil rights activist Reverend Jesse Jackson.

Mandela's coffin was carried on a gun carriage, making its way to the marquee that accommodated mourners.

Nkosi Sikelel, South Africa's national anthem with lyrics from several languages, incorporated at Mandela's insistence, was sung by mourners, followed by a prayer led by Bishop Don Babula, a Mandela family chaplain.

Baleka Mbete, the chairperson of the governing African National Congress, which Mandela led to power for the first time in 1994, said all efforts had been made to ensure the funeral reflected the values the former president stood for.  

 As many as 100,000 people paid their respects in person to Mandela's lying in state at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, where he was inaugurated as president in 1994, an event that brought an end to centuries of white domination.

The ANC paid tribute to him on Saturday, with President Jacob Zuma hailing him as a "man of action" who "combined theory and practice".

Hours later, his coffin, draped with the national flag, was flown by a military plane to East Cape, arriving to a full military guard of honour.

When his body arrived on Saturday in Qunu, 700km south of Johannesburg, it was greeted by ululating locals overjoyed that Madiba, the clan name by which the Nobel laureate was affectionately known, had "come home".

"After his long life and illness he can now rest," said grandmother Victoria Ntsingo, as military helicopters escorting the funeral cortege circled overhead.

"His work is done."

Mandela served just one term as leader of Africa's most powerful nation, and formally withdrew from public life in 2004.

He was jailed for 27 years on Robben Island by the white-minority racist regime which he opposed, emerging from prison in 1990 and becoming president after the country's first multi-racial elections in 1994.

A year before he was elected president, he won the Nobel Peace Prize, along with FW de Clerk, South Africa's last apartheid-era president who helped negotiate the end of racial segregation with Mandela.

Mandela's last appearance in public was at the 2010 World Cup final in Johannesburg's Soccer City stadium, waving to fans from the back of a golf cart.

Yet such was his influence as the architect two decades ago of the historic reconciliation between blacks and whites that his passing has left a gaping hole in the heart of South Africa.

With an eye on elections in five months, the ruling African National Congress (ANC) has seized on his death as a chance to shore up popularity that is ebbing even in its black support base.

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