, PRETORIA, Dec 13 – Anxious South Africans queued through the night for the chance to say a final farewell Friday to Nelson Mandela before his body is moved to his rural, boyhood home for burial.
Friday was the last opportunity to view the open-top casket with the body of South Africa’s first black president, lying in state in the grounds of the palatial Union Buildings the seat of government in Pretoria.
The response to the three days of public viewing has been overwhelming, and two hours after people began filing past the coffin Friday, the government warned that the backlog was already too large to be accommodated.
Many had camped out overnight to ensure an early spot and, as of 7:30am (0530 GMT), 50,000 were already standing in line waiting for buses to take them to the viewing venue.
“We urge people to please NOT make their way to the park and ride facilities,” the government information service said in a written statement.
Nosiswe Maduna and her 14 year old daughter were among thousands turned away Thursday after travelling 220 kilometres from Senekal in Free State Province and lining up for hours under a hot sun.
“It was my daughter who said we should sleep here and try again, because she didn’t want to go back without seeing him,” Maduna said.
They spent the night in the open at a petrol station and began queing at 3:00am so as not to be disappointed again.
Mandela’s body is scheduled to be taken to Waterkloof air force base early Saturday morning, for the two hour flight to his boyhood home of Qunu.
On Sunday, some 5,000 people, including foreign dignitaries and senior political figures, are expected to participate in a formal, two-hour ceremony beginning at 8:00am (06000 GMT).
But the actual burial will be a strictly private affair, barred to both the general public and the media, government spokeswoman Phumla Williams told AFP.
“The family has indicated they want to make the burial a family matter,” Williams said.
“They don’t want it to be televised. They dont want people to see when the body is taken down,” she added.
Around 3,000 members of the media have already descended on Qunu where a special stage and marquee have been erected for the invited guests.
The funeral will be held according to traditional Xhosa rites overseen by male members of Mandela’s clan.
The slaughtering of an animal a ritual performed through various milestones of a person’s life will form a crucial part of the event.
“A funeral is an intricate ceremony that involves communicating with the ancestors and allowing the spirit of the departed person to rest,” said Chief Jonginyaniso Mtirara of the Thembu clan that Mandela hails from.
“The spilling of animal blood is a very important part of the burial process,” he said.
During the ceremony, South Africa’s first black president will be referred to as Dalibhunga the name given to him at the age of 16 after undergoing the initiation to adulthood.
Although Mandela never publicly declared his religious denomination, his family comes from a Methodist background.
‘No one thought of us’
While Qunu residents are expected to benefit from the status that will be attached to their village as Mandela’s final resting place, some are upset they will not be given a chance to view the body before burial.
“No one thought of us,” said Nomakula Mfikeleli, 61, who like many others in the village could not afford the time or money to travel to Pretoria for the lying in state.
“We would have loved to be given a chance to bid him farewell like we have seen others doing on television,” Mfikeleli said.
Mandela always spoke nostalgically of what he remembered as an idyllic early childhood in the rolling hills around Qunu.
“From these days I date my love of the veld (grassland), of open spaces, the simple beauties of nature, the clean lines of the horizon,” Mandela wrote in his memoir “Long Walk to Freedom”.
He will be buried in the family estate he built there following his release from prison in 1990.