Thembu tribe prepares the final farewell for Nelson Mandela

December 14, 2013 1:19 PM

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Thembu tribe prepares the final farewell for Nelson Mandela

As part of preparations, Nelson Mandela's casket was moved to a military hospital ahead of Sunday's funeral in Qunu, where he grew up. Hundreds tried to move past police to pay their last respects. Via The Foreign Bureau. (Photo: AP)

THE kings and chiefs of the Thembu tribe are preparing to tell their ancestors to make room for a new arrival in their sacred afterlife kingdom, Chief Nelson Mandela.

Mandela will today be buried in a traditional ceremony in the grounds of his family's estate in the village of Qunu, in the Eastern Cape, after a cow is slaughtered and shared among family and tribal leaders.

Mandela's Thembu tribe is part of the wider Xhosa people, pronounced "kosa" with a click, who make up the indigenous majority in the Eastern Cape of South Africa.

Mandela never claimed to be a tribal king but he was from a line of chiefs and will be accorded the full rights of Thembu royalty.

Tradition dictates that an important person be wrapped and buried in the skin of the cow, but it is believed the skin will be symbolically placed under Mandela's coffin.

He will also be prayed over by Methodist reverends, whose church gave him his missionary education.

Mandela, who died last week at the age of 95, is already the most significant cultural leader of our times, but he will remain directly involved with the Thembu people in death.

"We believe in our ancestors," said Xhosa man Sandile Matebese, who was attending yet another event to celebrate Mandela's life at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth, in the Eastern Cape.

Tens of thousands of mourners turned out as Nelson Mandela's flag draped casket journeyed through the streets of Pretoria for his final day of his lying in state. Rough Cut (no reporter narration)

"If you die, it is not the end of yourself," he said. "We call our almighty god Qamata. Because our ancestors are the closest to god, we appeal to our ancestors to relay messages to almighty god."

Mr Matebese said Mandela would become a potent ancestral figure to Thembu and Xhosa people more generally. He also said he believed that future generations would rank Mandela with Jesus Christ, being ordinary men who became exceptional.

The purpose of the burial ritual, which will be conducted under strict military security, with 4,500 invited guests, including Prince Charles, the Reverend Jesse Jackson and South African President Jacob Zuma, is to advise the ancestors that Mandela is coming.

"They have to appease the ancestors, telling them, 'We are sending one of your sons to you,'" Mr Matebese.

"He will become part of the spiritual family, he will be joining the kingdom of the Thembu tribe."

Already there are reports of anger among the ordinary villagers of Qunu, who will not be permitted to join the ceremony and pay their last respects.

But they may get another opportunity in days to come, after the eyes of the world turn away from Qunu, at a second ceremony involving the slaughter of another cow.

This event will see the Thembu tribe inviting Mandela's soul back, to take a spiritual presence among the family to offer protection and guidance.

There have been reports that the man expected to conduct the ceremony, Thembu King Buyelekhaya Dalindyebo, has refused to perform the ritual if Jacob Zuma, who was jeered roundly at the stadium ceremony in Soweto on Tuesday, attends.

Even before Mandela died, he was the subject of an unseemly power play by his grandson, Mandla, who dug up the bodies of three of Mandela's children and shifted them to his own property 20km south of Qunu at Mvezo, where Mandela was actually born.

Mandla built a museum and hotel in anticipation of his grandfather's death, but was ordered by a court in July to return the bodies to Qunu, where Mandela wished to be buried.

Chief Mandla, who sat by his grandfather's side at the public viewing of the coffin at Pretoria's Union Buildings, is his tribal successor.

It is believed that Mandela's coffin will not be fully covered with earth. If tradition is followed, he will be placed in a cavern to the side, while awaiting the arrival of his wife.

It is expected that place will go to Mandela's widow, Graca Machal, who was also the widow of the Mozambican president, Samora Machel. Even though she is from foreign lands, Xhosa people said there was no issue with her sharing Mandela's grave.


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