Nelson Mandela Receives Hero's Welcome on Final Journey Home

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By Priya Joshi | December 15, 2013 7:04 AM EST

Crowds of mourners pay their final respects to Nelson Mandela.

Nelson Mandela has made his final journey home, as his coffin arrived at his home village of Qunu.

Moved to tears in their shared grief, Mandela's widow, Graca Machel, and his former wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, embraced when the coffin arrived at Mthatha airport.

The nation's first black president received full military honours as the coffin was escorted by a police and military convoy for the 20-mile final journey to his ancestral home Qunu.

The hearse, draped in the green and yellow ANC flag, made its way through the cheering crowds. Local people, many of whom were friends of the former South African president, lined the route, waiting up to nine hours for a final glimpse of their much-loved Madiba.

On sight of the coffin, there were chants of "Long live the spirit of Nelson Mandela," while others spontaneously broke into song, singing the South African National Anthem.

Other mourners were left even more heartbroken, reporting that the hearse sped by at 60km, denying them a chance to pay their final respects to the man who gave his life for their freedom.

"We feel like we're not respected by the government or by the Mandela family," one angry mourner told Sky News.  The discord comes after the controversy surrounding the snub of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who said he had not been invited to the burial service. 

The nation has been mourning for nine days since the death of the anti-apartheid icon at his Johannesburg home on December 5, with memorial ceremonies taking place throughout Johannesburg and Pretoria.

Mandela's body was lying in state at the Union Buildings in Pretoria for three days, during which more than 100,000 people queued for hours to bid a final farewell to the father of the nation.

Mandela's grandson, Mandla, expressed his thanks to the multitude of mourners who shared his personal sense of loss, and had come to pay their respects to the Nobel peace laureate.

"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 and I can assure the African National Congress today that the future of this country looks bright."

Nelson Mandela will be laid to rest on Sunday (15 December) with full military, ceremonial honours, in South Africa's first ever state funeral, in the presence of world leaders and royalty.  

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