UK & World News

  • 13 December 2013, 9:32

Nelson Mandela To Be Given Tribal Farewell

Xhosa elders are preparing to smooth Nelson Mandela's journey into the spiritual world in a traditional tribal farewell this weekend.

The family have insisted the rites are woven into the service on Sunday, which will also incorporate the formality of both a state and military funeral.

The Xhosa rituals involve the slaughtering of two oxen: one before his body arrives from Pretoria at his ancestral home of Qunu in the Eastern Cape, and another on the morning of the burial.

In between, the king of the abaThembu clan will offer salutations to the dead to stave off the wrath of the recently departed.

Nokuzola Mndende, a scholar of African religion, explained to the Associated Press news agency: "Mandela will be sent off into the spiritual world so that he is welcomed in the world of ancestors. And also so that he doesn't get angry."

Tribal elders are revered for their advice, even after death, and nearly half of all South Africans practise African religions according to a poll by the Pew Center - even those who regularly attend Christian services.

In the persistent drizzle, the giant white canopy designed to keep the VIPs and mourners dry is nearing completion.

We also watched as earth was dug out from the family compound, where Mr Mandela will be buried, away from the cameras at the family's insistence.

The security clampdown has taken many by surprise in this collection of colourful hamlets huddled on the undulating slopes of the province.

Complaints of heavy-handedness were clearly expressed to Sky News at a memorial to the former president in the nearby town of Mthatha organised by the ANC.

The party is keen to tie its familiar yellow and black flag to the memory of Mr Mandela, in the hope his sheen will continue to lure voters in next year's election.

One of the attendees told us: "I think in Mthatha the public is not being involved. The security is too tight."

Another added: "We feel a little left out because his body is only there in the Union Buildings and you can't get there. We just want to be involved because he came from here."

The media have also been grumbling about what they consider to be excessive road closures and exclusion zones designed to afford the family a private burial service.

Organiser Bantu Holomisa, a close personal friend of Mr Mandela, told us that the preparations for such an unusual event are going well.

"We have integrated all the requirements and you won't see (the join). From day one the rituals were conducted in their proper way in the culture of abaThembu," he told Sky News.

"We have been hammering this plan (together) from the day Madiba first had a health scare eight years ago."

On Saturday, a human chain is expected to form along the road on which Mr Mandela's body will travel from Mthatha airport to the family home.

The funeral service and burial will be conducted on Sunday morning.

It will be a fusion of traditional and formal farewells to one of the world's most revered leaders, in one of the world's remotest areas.

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