Mandela procession met with wild cheers in Mthatha

Kwanele Sosibo

Cheering greeted the procession bearing former President Nelson Mandela's coffin on Saturday afternoon, however, some were disappointed.

Thousands cheer at funeral procession. (Delwyn Verasamy)

Members of the public and marshals formed a human chain on both sides of Mthatha's main thoroughfare where the procession bearing the body of former president Nelson Mandela passed on Saturday afternoon.

Cathedral bells rang as the cortege, preceded by military outriders, drove down Nelson Mandela Drive, where it was greeted by wild cheers from those assembled to pay homage to the man who guided South Africa to democracy.

A C-130 military aircraft carrying the freedom icon's coffin touched down in Mthatha, 45km away, under heavy rain clouds after leaving Waterkloof Air Force Base where the ANC paid farewell to the man that led it to power.

Some disappointed 

However, the funeral procession zipped past Nelson Mandela Drive without the expected 15 minute stop, dashing the hopes of thousands of onlookers who had gathered around the Shell Ultra City for several hours. "Is this fifteen minutes, is this fifteen minutes," a disappointed man in a miniature ANC flag complained seconds after the procession passed sometime around 3.20pm.

The Eastern Cape had been preparing for days for former state president Nelson Mandela’s body to arrive. In Mthatha, for the past few days, streets were being swept clean and sand was being shovelled from the sidewalks by groups of women working into the rainy nights. At the Shell Ultra City intersection near the Walter Sisulu University, where the hearse carrying Mandela’s coffin was to stop for a few minutes, signboards advertising small businesses in the area were being uprooted from the grassy verge where they had stood, in some cases, for years. People from neighbouring villages such as Payne and Qweqwe had been waiting on streets since the morning.

Bongani Ndletyana from Qweqwe said: "The coffin is not the thing, just watching this respectable person pass by is going to be a huge thing for me, may his soul rest in peace. I'll wait until he passes by even if it's at three or four, I'll pass up whatever function I had today."

The procession, although coming in drips and drabs was somewhat of an anti-climax, with the actual hearse slipping past among the motorcade, almost inconspicuously as it made its way to Qunu. A photographer remarked how some of the people were looking like they were still waiting for Madiba to file past, long after motorcade had passed.

Ndletyana said even though he was not from Qunu, he often drove there with a friend of his who delivered for a bakery and had heard the residents complaining about being left out of the proceedings surrounding the funeral such as the viewing of the body. "The one woman there said Mandela had been circumcised with her cousin, but now she was not even going to be able to speak about Mandela." Ndletyana said he was unemployed and his community was increasingly beset by crime, especially housebreaking, but he would never betray the ANC regardless of its checkered service delivery record. "Our mothers and sisters are not working, so they can survive from the grant money – even our brothers survive from that ‘dankie’ money (pension). Because there are no jobs."

Doing it for Madiba

Hours earlier, in Payne, a community on the outskirts of Mthatha, ANC regional deputy secretary Lawrence Mambila dressed in a black ANC golf T-shirt handed out white ANC T-shirts bearing Mandela’s face from the back of a white Ford Ranger. The t-shirts read "Nelson Mandela, father of our nation". Young and old clamour for shirts until they run out. Explaining the T-shirt distribution, he said: "It is simply because we’re waiting for umzimba ka Tata. So it’s for people to see him and be visible in the process." Disappointed, without a T-shirt, 18-year-old Anathi Jack said she had caught a glimpse of Madiba as a young student at the East London airport.

"I'm here because this is my last chance of seeing him before he is buried." Asked how Mandela's passing would affect the ANC at the polls. Mambila said, "It will be a boost because as part of celebrating Madiba's life, you'll make it a point to vote ANC, to salute his role in the liberation struggle." Referring to his own T-shirt, inscribed at the back with the words: "Vote ANC, do it for Nelson Mandela". Mambila said: "We’re not canvassing now, but we're saying let's do it for Tata Madiba."

Funeral in Qunu

From Mthatha, the convoy and coffin is expected to proceed to Qunu, where the body would be handed over to the Mandela family by the military.

Speaking in Qunu, AmaHegebe chief Phathekile Holomisa said that before the plane left and throughout the journey, an elder or senior male family member would talk to the body and keep it informed of the journey's progress. The person would address Mandela as if he was still alive, Holomisa explained.

"This is so because his spirit lives." The funeral will mark the end of 10 days of mourning for Mandela that has brought some 100 international leaders to South Africa to pay their respects, with US President Barack Obama eulogising him as a "giant of history" at the main memorial in Soweto on Tuesday. 

Twenty-six heads of state and government, their representatives, and royalty have confirmed they will attend the funeral of former president Nelson Mandela in Qunu. – Additional reporting by Sapa

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