Guests included veterans of the military wing of the African National Congress, the liberation movement that became the dominant political force after the end of apartheid, as well as U.S. Ambassador Patrick Gaspard and other foreign envoys. Britain’s Prince Charles, Monaco’s Prince Albert II, U.S. television personality Oprah Winfrey, billionaire businessman Richard Branson and former Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai were also there.
After the ceremony in the tent, a smaller group of guests walked to a family grave site.
Bayanda Nyengule, head of the Nelson Mandela Museum in Mthatha and Qunu, was one of the eyewitnesses to the private burial.
“I realized that the old man is no more, no more with us you know,” Nyengule said. “The moment when the coffin went down into the ground I felt too … emotional.”
Mandela was co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize along with F.W. de Klerk, the last president of the apartheid government, for his efforts at bringing about a peaceful transition in South Africa. He had emerged from prison in 1990 advocating forgiveness and reconciliation, and became president after South Africa’s first all-race elections, in 1994. He served one five-year term.
The burial ended 10 days of mourning ceremonies that included a massive stadium memorial in Johannesburg and three days during which Mandela’s body lay in state in the capital, Pretoria.
While South Africa faces many problems, including crime, unemployment and economic inequality, Mandela is seen by many compatriots as the father of their nation and around the world as an example of the healing power of reconciliation.