A farewell service in Pretoria is taking place for Nelson Mandela who will soon return to his rural childhood home in Qunu, Eastern Cape, to be buried on Sunday.
The coffin – draped in a national flag – has been transported to Waterkloof Military Airbase for the final African National Congress ceremony.
Mr Mandela’s casket is expected to arrive in the Eastern Cape later this afternoon and will be greeted by a full military ceremony.
The return of Mr Mandela’s body to his ancestral homeland is not just for sentimental reasons – it is part of Xhosa tradition that those who pass away are returned to the soil from where they came.
This weekend sees a stark shift in tempo, organisation and ceremony as the state funeral meshes with the centuries-old traditions of Mr Mandela’s countrymen and women in the rural Eastern Cape.
“We feel very represented by Nelson Mandela,” Mandisi Tshaka, a young Xhosa man, resplendent in his traditional robes and big beaded necklace told me.
“Everyone in the world knows the Xhosa tribe because of him and we’re saluting him.”
The South African government has announced the former president’s state funeral is a “first for the country” and means full military ceremonial honours will be laid on and led by the armed forces.
There will be 21 gun salutes and a fly-over by the South African Air Force.
But there is a strong importance being put on performing the Xhosa rites as Mr Mandela is laid to rest.
There will be a ritual slaughtering of an ox in the early hours before receiving Mr Mandela’s body at Mthatha airport in the Eastern Cape.
The AbaThembu king, Buyelekhaya Dalindyebo, is expected to lead a group of traditional leaders as well as Mandela elders in welcoming him home to the village of Qunu where he spent much of his childhood.
Xhosa custom dictates a welcome ritual is performed to ensure the ancestors are iinformed of the arrival of Mr Mandela’s remains… see more