Nelson Mandela’s body is being flown to South Africa’s Eastern Cape ahead of a funeral service for the former president.
His coffin, draped in the country’s national flag, was carried from a farewell service in Pretoria and onto a military plane, accompanied in clear blue skies by two fighter jets.
It is expected to arrive in Mthatha this afternoon before a final journey to the village of Qunu, Mr Mandela’s childhood home, where the anti-apartheid icon will be given a state funeral.
It comes amid speculation that Desmond Tutu, the former archbishop, will miss his close friend’s burial service, with some reports claiming he was not invited for political reasons.
The 82-year-old, who also missed a memorial service in Sowetto earlier this week, has been openly critical of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party.
His spokesman confirmed he was “not presently planning to attend” but refused to comment on the reasons for his alleged exclusion.
However, a spokesman for President Jacob Zuma told media in South Africa that Mr Tutu is “definitely on the invite list”.
The mostly sombre event in Pretoria was punctuated by song and dance, as the ANC paid tribute to its former leader.
Mr Zuma recalled the political achievements of his predecessor, saying he brought discipline and vision to the anti-apartheid movement.
“He did something that is not easy to do,” he said.
Mr Mandela’s grandson Mandla, who sat with his grandfather for three days while he lay in state in Pretoria, also attended the service.
He told the audience: “I have witnessed his army, I have witnessed his people, I have witnessed ordinary South Africans who walked this long walk to freedom with him.
“I can assure the ANC that today, the future of this country looks bright.”
Mr Mandela’s state funeral is a first for South Africa and means full military ceremonial honours will be laid on, led by the armed forces.
A 21-gun salute will ring out and the South African Air Force will perform a fly pass.
The centuries-old traditions of the Xhosa tribe will also be observed, with a ritual slaughtering of an ox before Mr Mandela’s body arrives at Mthatha airport.
A group of traditional leaders and Mandela elders, led by Buyelekhaya Dalindyebo, the AbaThembu king, will welcome him home to Qunu.
According to his memoirs, the village, with its rolling hills and dusty tracks, was where he spent “the happiest days” of his childhood.
Zwelonke Sigcau, the Xhosa king, told Sky News: “The Xhosa people believe Nelson Mandela is not leaving us. It is just his body which is going into the ground. His spirit will remain.”
Source : Sky News