Andrew Austin is the Herald's former chief reporter and current editor of Hawke's Bay Today. He travelled to his home country to attend Nelson Mandela's memorial service.

South Africa put on a display of military might as Nelson Mandela was laid to rest in his home village of Qunu.

With all the pomp and ceremony befitting the first state funeral of a democratic South Africa, members of the three arms of the South African National Defence Force marched in full dress uniform, accompanied by military bands.

When Mandela was finally laid to rest, there was fly past by the air force to salute their former Commander in Chief. Three helicopters carrying South African flags flew over the rolling Transkei hills in the midday African sun.

The highlight was a fly past of fighter jets in the falling man formation, where one jet broke from the others and flew high into the atmosphere before dropping down, symbolising the death of Mandela.


Cannons positioned on the hill near the burial plot fired a 21 gun salute as close family and some specially invited guests, including US civil right leader Reverend Jessie Jackson, British billionaire Richard Branson and US television magnate Oprah Winfrey, witnessed the private burial.

Other guests, including British heir to the throne Prince Charles and Britain's former arch enemy, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, remained in a big white marquee, where a service had been held earlier.

A solemn procession of soldiers leading the gun carriage bearing Mandela's coffin draped in a South African flag, had made its way to the burial site a few hundred metres from the marquee. Mandela's grandson, Mandla Mandela, wearing a traditional Xhosa headdress of beads, walked alone behind the coffin, with family and friends following.

Earlier, in a moving service in which Mandela's wife Graca Machel and his former wife, Winnie Madikizela Mandela, both dressed in black, sat quietly on either side of South African President Jacob Zuma. Mr Zuma carried the title of chief mourner, because this was a state funeral. Friends and colleagues made moving tributes to the man the nation has been calling Tata (Father) Madiba.

Long-time fellow prisoner on Robben Island, Ahmed Kathrada said: "When Walter Sisulu died, I lost a father. Now I have lost a brother." He said these were voids that could not be filled.

Mr Zuma, who has been under fire for his leadership, said it had been a difficult week for everyone. After his address, he led the congregation in song.

Mandela's one time protégé, Bantu Holomisa, who he expelled from the ANC many years ago, spoke on behalf of the family. He thanked the heads of states and companies who had given gifts to the family.

Mr Holomisa also thanked "Tata" for having faith in him.


The mood over the village was sombre in keeping with the morning of a funeral.

Mourners wearing black had earlier made their way into the village. Ushers for the service, dressed in white shirts and black trousers had walked in single file the half a kilometre to the marquee.

Security cordons blocked all the entrance points to the village and were strictly controlled by police and traffic officers. Most media were kept at bay on a hill overlooking the village. Journalists form all around the world, from China to Brazil, had slept where they could or arrived early to get prime positions.

Early morning mist cleared into a hot African day. Vendors set up stalls and Nelson Mandela t-shirts and other memorabilia were being sold.