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Mandela Is Laid To Rest In His Beloved Village


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin.

Today was the final goodbye. South Africans and visitors from around the world, including world leaders and celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and Richard Branson, descended on the village of Qunu in South Africa's Eastern Cape to bury Nelson Mandela. Of the week long farewell to Mandela, this state funeral in a underdeveloped rural village was arguably the biggest logistical challenge.

NPR's Gregory Warner joins us from Qunu. This must have been quite an emotional day. Can you describe the scene for us?

GREGORY WARNER, BYLINE: Absolutely, Rachel. You know, today was a very different tenor than some of the other memorial events this week; certainly in stark contrast to Tuesday's memorial, which was held at a soccer stadium in Johannesburg and President Obama and other world leaders spoke. The mood was celebratory, almost frenetic. Today a very subdued, very emotional farewell in a private burial closed to cameras but preceded by a televised memorial service that was attended by about 5,000 people.

For an icon like Nelson Mandela that was a fairly private ceremony. And certainly he had asked that Qunu be the place where he'd be buried, and the family respected that wish.

MARTIN: As we mentioned, this funeral was a logistical challenge. The government was even at one point begging people to stay away and to just watch it on TV from home. Why is that? Why was this so hard?

WARNER: Well, Rachel, just to give you a sense of where I am right now. There is no hotel in Qunu. Reporters who wanted to stay in Qunu had to live with a family and that's what I'm doing. In fact, some of the ladies of the house had just hung some laundry on the fence. And beyond that is the pavilion which just looks so odd on this pastureland. It looks like a spaceship has landed.

MARTIN: And what about the funeral service itself? Were there particularly moving or poignant moments?

WARNER: There were some interesting moments they came out. One of his granddaughters, Nandi, spoke to the family. She praised Mandela's mischievous streak, his sense of humor but also thanked him for being a disciplinarian. He used to make sure the grandchildren picked their clothes up when they got ready for school. And this is an especially poignant, rare portrait of Mandela as a grandfather because as a father he was mostly absent. He was imprisoned for 27 years.

There were also moments where he was praised not only for his struggle for racial equality but also his commitment to the position of women in high office. And fittingly, the biggest applause of the morning came for Joyce Banda, who is the president of Malawi. And she gave a frank speech about being denied the presidency, and then having to come back and work with the very people who tried to deny her that position.

So let's just take a listen to what she said.

JOYCE BANDA: I had to forgive but I had to forgive without any effort, because my Madiba had prepared me.


MARTIN: So, Nelson Mandela's funeral and passing was, of course, taking place as South Africa gears up for an important election. How is his death playing into those politics?

WARNER: It plays in a very important way. 'Cause remember, the ruling party of South Africa, the African National Congress, is Mandela's party. And now, with this extended farewell all week, the ANC has really been trying to claim a Mandela's legacy in saying, we are the inheritors of his leadership. But that claim has not always been well received. So on Tuesday at the memorial, the president of the country, Jacob Zuma, was booed by a sizable section of the audience there.

And today, in the funeral, the family representative chided people for booing President Zuma and said that they had diminished Mandela's legacy. So there's going to be this debate going forward in South Africa where is it truer to Mandela's memory to vote for the ANC yet again? Or is in the spirit of Mandela to embrace political dissent and encourage a more multiparty democracy? That's going to be hard question for South Africans in the next year.

MARTIN: NPR's Gregory Warner speaking to us from Qunu. Gregory, thanks so much.

WARNER: Thanks a lot, Rachel.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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