QUNU, South Africa -- As 4,500 dignitaries bid farewell to South African Nelson Mandela at his state funeral Sunday, it was an old prison comrade, Ahmed Kathrada, who conveyed the nation’s devastating loss.
Mourners including members of the extended family, ANC stalwarts, African leaders and celebrities, started arriving just after dawn at his homestead in Qunu, Eastern Cape.
Choked with emotion, Kathrada said he lost a father when anti-apartheid hero Walter Sisulu died. “Now I have lost a brother. My life is a void. I don’t know who to turn to,” he said, his voice broken with grief.
But Nandi Mandela portrayed her loving grandfather as sometimes strict, sometimes mischievous.
She said her grandfather made sure every member of the extended family got a decent education. He put on a Christmas party for all the children in the village every year.
“We also want to do good because he has led by example and doing good,” she said.
She added that her grandfather was a great storyteller who entertained the family with tales that usually involved laughing at himself. One involved trying to spear a piece of chicken on a plate, in front of a girl he wanted to impress only to have it skid away repeatedly.
He once mischievously asked a young woman what he thought of her grandson. She replied he was too young.
At the back of the stage, 95 candles were lit before dawn, one for each year of his life.
African leaders and former leaders paid tribute.
South African President Jacob Zuma broke into song, and other mourners joined him, the music rising into the black domed roof of the marquee the size of a football field.
“Tata, it has been a long painful week for us your people, your comrades, your relatives, your friends,” he said paying tribute to the tens of thousands of people who queued up to see Mandela lying in state if just for a moment.
Zuma pledged to follow Mandela’s example and work to eliminate poverty and inequality.
“We want today to express two simple words: Thank you, thank you for being everything we wanted and needed as a leader during a difficult period of our lives,” he said.