South Africa's ruling party bids farewell to Mandela

South African President Jacob Zuma (left), and Mandela's ex-wife Winnie Mandela Madikizela attend a farewell service for former South African president Nelson Mandela, on Saturday, Dec 14, 2013, at the Waterkloof air force base in Pretoria. South Afr
South African President Jacob Zuma (left), and Mandela's ex-wife Winnie Mandela Madikizela attend a farewell service for former South African president Nelson Mandela, on Saturday, Dec 14, 2013, at the Waterkloof air force base in Pretoria. South Africa's ruling African National Congress (ANC) gave a tearful farewell on Saturday to its beloved former leader, in a song-filled ceremony led by Mr Zuma. -- PHOTO: AFP 

PRETORIA (AFP) - South Africa's ruling African National Congress (ANC) gave a tearful farewell on Saturday to its beloved former leader Nelson Mandela, in a song-filled ceremony led by President Jacob Zuma.

The party's gold, green and black colours adorned the democracy icon's coffin, which until then had been covered in the national flag for ten days of national mourning that ends with the burial on Sunday.

Party members wiped away tears and sang revolutionary songs in between speakers hailing the democracy icon as a man of peace, integrity and reconciliation.

The memorial gathering of family and African National Congress members took place at a Pretoria air force base from where the body will be flown to Mr Mandela's childhood village of Qunu.

"This country was lucky to have a man of that calibre," said Mr Zuma, while old friends and party colleagues took turns flanking the coffin in a guard of honour.

"Yes, we will miss him. He was our leader. He was our father, he was our guardian, he was something special," said the President.

Mr Zuma, his own integrity under question amid persistent claims of corruption and self-enrichment, hailed Mr Mandela's honesty and commitment to unity, freedom, peace and democracy, and said the party must work on producing new Mandelas.

"The question is can we produce as the ANC other Madibas?" he said, using the clan name by which the revered statesman is fondly known.

"We need to ponder and say how can we do it today... because we need more Madibas so that our country can prosper."

Mr Mandela was elected president of the ANC in 1991, the year after his release from 27 years in prison.

He had first joined the party in 1944, and launched its armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation) in 1961 to take up the armed struggle against the racist apartheid system.

The ANC flag that had been draped over the coffin was folded and presented to Mr Mandela's widow Graca Machel, who wept in the front row of seats.

Mr Mandela's old friends and fellow political prisoners Ahmed Kathrada and Andrew Mlangeni were among the pallbearers who carried the coffin towards the aircraft that will take the remains to Qunu.

The ceremony took on a slight political tinge when Mr Zuma urged party members not to abuse Mr Mandela's name to settle scores.

"I'd be very happy if, as we mourn and celebrate Madiba, we do not abuse his name," said Mr Zuma, who is president both of the party and the country.

"We should not think that Madiba's passing on is a time for us to indirectly settle scores."

Last week, Mr Zuma's predecessor Thabo Mbeki, said the icon's death raised leadership questions in South Africa.

Mr Mbeki - who succeeded Mr Mandela as president in 1999 and was eventually ousted by Mr Zuma in a party coup - questioned whether current leaders were living up to Mr Mandela's values.

"I think to celebrate his life properly we need to ask ourselves a question about the quality of leadership," Mr Mbeki had told a prayer gathering in Johannesburg.

Mr Zuma expressed the nation's thanks to Mr Mandela for his leading role in forging South Africa's new democracy.

"We would like to say, go well Tata (father). You have played your part and you have made your contribution," he said.

"We are now sending you back to your village, in Qunu, we want you to rest in peace there."