Nelson Mandela to be laid to rest

Nelson Mandela will be laid to rest Sunday at a funeral reflecting the traditions of his tribe and the pride of the country he transformed as both dissident and president.

His burial in the rural village of Qunu where he spent his early childhood, closes the final chapter on a towering public figure whose courage and moral fortitude turned him into a global symbol of freedom and hope.

And it ends 10 days of national mourning during which hundreds of thousands of South Africans turned out in torrential rain and searing sunshine to grieve, remember and celebrate the life of their first elected black leader.

The funeral begins at 8:00am (0600 GMT) with a two-hour public ceremony for around 4,500 invited guests, including senior politicians and a posse of foreign dignitaries.

The public will be shut out of the interment itself, which the family has insisted will be a private affair with close friends.

The graveyard sits on the sprawling family estate Mandela built in Qunu after his release from prison in 1990, among the green, rolling hills of the Eastern Cape.

"It was in that village that I spent some of the happiest years of my boyhood and whence I trace my earliest memories," he wrote in his autobiography.

Organisers said around 450 people, including Mandela's widow Graca Machel and ex-wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, would participate in the private burial, which will be held according to traditional Xhosa rites.

Overseen by male members of his clan, the ceremony will include the slaughter of an ox -- a ritual performed through various milestones of a person's life.

During the ceremony, Mandela will be referred to as Dalibhunga -- the name given to him at the age of 16 after undergoing the initiation to adulthood

Mourners will wear traditional Xhosa regalia, with blue and white beaded head gear and necklaces.

Xhosa speakers are divided into several groups, including the Thembu people, of which Mandela is a member.

Although Mandela never publicly declared his religious denomination, his family comes from a Methodist background.

Funeral plans were briefly overshadowed by an outcry after Mandela's old friend and fellow Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu said he had not been invited to attend the funeral.

However late Saturday Tutu said he would be attending the funeral after all as government tried to brush off the confusion as a misunderstanding.

Tutu -- who baptised South Africa the "Rainbow Nation" has been a persistent critic of the government of President Jacob Zuma and has also spoken out against infighting in Mandela's family.

Over the years, the archbishop emeritus has presided over the funerals of some of the anti-apartheid movement's leading lights, including Steve Biko, Chris Hani and Walter Sisulu.

While Mandela had been critically ill for months, the announcement of his death on December 5 was still a shock for a country struggling to carry forward his vision of a harmonious multi-racial democracy of shared prosperity.

For the rest of the world, it marked the loss of that rarest of world leaders who are viewed with near universal respect and admiration.

Gushing tributes poured in from every corner of the globe, although Mandela himself had always stressed he was part of a communal leadership and resisted any move towards his public canonisation -- posthumous or otherwise.

"He is finally coming home to rest, I can't even begin to describe the feeling I have inside," said 31-year-old Bongani Zibi as the funeral cortege carrying Mandela's casket arrived in Qunu on Saturday.

"Part of me is sad but I'm also happy that he has found peace."

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