African traditions, military pomp for Mandela burial

Thu Dec 12, 2013 12:46pm EST
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By Xola Potelwa

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Nelson Mandela will be laid to rest on Sunday in an elaborate ceremony combining a state funeral and all its military pomp with the traditional burial rituals of his Xhosa clan to ensure he has an easy transition into the afterworld.

Many South Africans will revere Mandela, who during his life became a global symbol of peace and reconciliation, even more now that he has died, since ancestors are widely believed to have a guiding, protective role over the living.

Around 46 percent of the population practices traditional African religions, according to a 2010 survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, a Washington-based research center.

Mandela, of the abaThembu people and South Africa's first black president, died a week ago at the age of 95. Thousands of people have filed passed his body as it lies in state in Pretoria this week.

He will be buried by his family following their traditional burial rites on Sunday in Qunu, their ancestral home in the rural Eastern Cape province, 700 km (450 miles) south of Johannesburg.

If the rites are not carried out, the abaThembu believe the dead will come back in spirit to demand they are performed.

"We as Africans have rites of passage, whether it is a birth, marriage or funeral. Mandela will be sent off into the spiritual world so that he is welcomed in the world of ancestors. And also so that he doesn't get angry," said Nokuzola Mndende, a scholar of African religion.

"His wrath won't be on the state if these ceremonies don't take place, it will be on his children," Mndende said.   Continued...

Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad pays his respects to former South African President Nelson Mandela as Mandela lies in state for the second day at the Union Buildings in Pretoria December 12, 2013. REUTERS/Markus Schreiber/Pool