Mandela shrine recreates his 'long walk': architect

JOHANNESBURG (AFP) - Nelson Mandela was buried on Sunday in a garden with a winding path designed to lead visitors along the icon's "long walk" to freedom, the architect who created it said.

Mr Greg Straw designed and built Mandela's final resting place at the top of a hill overlooking the village of Qunu where the anti-apartheid hero spent his boyhood and much of his retirement.

A path stretches about 1.2km from the foot of the hill to Mandela's final vantage point.

"Every time you go and pay your respects you walk through the life and times of Madiba," Johannesburg-based Straw told AFP by telephone from Qunu after the burial.

"You walk along a flat portion of the hill while everything was calm and then when he got incarcerated, it turns the corner and the pathway starts winding up the hill through the times of the struggle and it gets to the top of the hill when he got released," Mr Straw said.

"So the pathway tells the story, and physically tells the story."

Mandela's remains were interred away from prying public eyes and media cameras on Sunday, and not much is known about the grave's design or whether it was intended to remain a private family shrine.

According to Straw, the 3.2-hectare garden will eventually be turned into a memorial for people to pay their respects, complete with a museum at the foot of the hill.

The idea for the winding path has inspired by Mandela's autobiography Long Walk to Freedom, published after he was freed from 27 years in prison under the apartheid regime's oppressive racial laws.

A film of the same title was released just weeks before the icon's death.

"You know the old man went through so much," and after walking the path, "people will turn around and say 'Wow, that's a long way to walk'," Mr Straw said.

He spoke of the challenges of converting a plot of cattle pasture bereft of trees or plants into a memorial site befitting one of the world's greatest statesmen.

He travelled many times between Qunu and Mvezo, Mandela's birth village about 20km away, to collect plants for the garden - everything from aloes and acacias to varietals of wild grass.

"I collected plants from where he used to play and bring them into his garden," Mr Straw said. "I brought them to Qunu and rearranged them so that I could recreate a piece of Mvezo in Qunu."

The museum and some other features of the memorial garden, started a few years ago, have yet to be completed, as it would have been insensitive to finish the project while Mandela was still alive, Mr Straw said.

The political giant was buried with full honours on Sunday in the family burial plot, about 2km from his rural home.

The burial ground includes his parents and three of his four children from his first wife Evelyn Ntoko Mase.

They died in 1948, 1969 and 2005.

He had another two children with Mrs Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.

Mandela spent much of his retirement in Qunu until his health took a turn for the worse last year and he was transferred to Johannesburg where he also had a residence.

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