Villagers in Mandela's boyhood home step back for state funeral

A mourner wearing a banner as a skirt showing the face of South African President Jacob Zuma observes the scene from a hilltop overlooking the burial site of Nelson Mandela in Qunu, South Africa Sunday, on Sunday, Dec 15, 2013. With their villag
A mourner wearing a banner as a skirt showing the face of South African President Jacob Zuma observes the scene from a hilltop overlooking the burial site of Nelson Mandela in Qunu, South Africa Sunday, on Sunday, Dec 15, 2013. With their village invaded by presidents, foreign dignitaries and marquee celebrities, many of Qunu's residents opted to view the state funeral of their most famous son from their own homes. -- PHOTO: AP

QUNU, South Africa (AFP) - With their village invaded by presidents, foreign dignitaries and marquee celebrities, many of Qunu's residents opted to view the state funeral of their most famous son from their own homes.

"I am happy watching this on television. My eyes are bad. I can see it better this way," said Dickson Gangatele, 73.

Mr Nelson Mandela's boyhood home has, in the 10 days since his death was announced on Dec 5, been a hive of round-the-clock activity as funeral organisers rushed to construct a venue for the 4,500 people who wanted to attend the event.

Qunu's rural tranquility has been interrupted by the constant thumping whir of military helicopters and convoys bringing in troops as the village was placed under a security clampdown.

Long-time Qunu resident Gangatele was sitting with his 27-year-old daughter Weziwe, as the sounds of a 21-gun salute signalled the arrival of Mr Mandela's flag-draped casket carried on a gun carriage.

"I am happy. He had been suffering for so long in hospital," an emotional Gangatele said.

"He is free now," he added.

While the formal section of the state funeral was broadcast live to the world, the actual burial was closed to the public on the wishes of the Mandela family.

"I'd like to watch, but they say we are not allowed. It's only the family," said Nolinda Ruba, who was preparing food for villagers for after the funeral.

Traditionally, funerals are open to anybody, but the South African government had limited guests at the public part of the ceremony, citing security concerns and space constraints.

Outside the gates of the guarded Mandela family estate, Nomvula Luphondo, 44, lingered in the hope of a final glimpse of her hero.

"Maybe they'll let me in," said Luphondo, 44, who spent the night on the back of an open pick-up truck outside the gates.

"It would be nice to say good-bye, but we'll probably have to go to the public viewing area," said Luphondo, who was wearing the jersey of South Africa's national rugby team, the Springboks.

Several hundred people gathered to watch the large screen at the nearby Nelson Mandela Museum, including Pascal Moloi, 52, who made the long drive from Johannesburg.

"We're in a position where we could have been accredited... but we always said that we're not going to sit with the VIPs," Moloi said.

"We wanted to be here amongst the people who live here," Moloi added.

Ndumiso Jaca, 49, rode his motorbike down from Pretoria, the seat of government, "only stopping for small breaks" in between.

"It will not be the same again," said Jaca, who had a large ANC flag pinned to the back of his motorcycle and a helmet painted in the ANC colours.

But the former commander in the now disbanded military wing of the ANC, called Mkhonto weSizwe (Spear of the Nation), which Mr Mandela set up in the fight against apartheid, also told AFP he was disappointed that he was not among those lucky enough to be inside.

Before the ceremony started, one of the invited guests Nomangezi Mbisa, Mr Mandela's niece, told AFP she was relieved his suffering was at an end.

"He has been ill for a long time. I am happy that it's over for him," Ms Mbisa said.