QUNU, South Africa — Villagers converged along the sun-kissed roads here Saturday, hoping for a glimpse of Nelson Mandela's flag-draped coffin as a fast-moving funeral procession moved by.
"Madiba! Madiba!" screamed thousands as a nearly 2.5-mile-long human chain formed along the road as a hearse carrying Mandela's body from Mthatha to Qunu passed by.
In the crowd, Qunu elders — wearing traditional funeral attire out of respect for Mandela and his family — sang old struggle songs and danced, while sweat dripped from their painted faces.
Nozolile Ngqengqe, 60, has never left this rural village where she was born, and she first met Mandela in 1999 at a community meeting.
"When we met we spoke about love, respect, dignity and doing things on your own," Ngqengqe said. "I always felt free, carefree and pleased when I was around him."
Ngqengqe said she was sad she couldn't attend the funeral — a private, family event taking place Sunday — but was happy to be part of bringing Mandela home to the village where he grew up.
Welile Sidloyiya, 57, echoed those sentiments, saying she was disappointed she could not attend the funeral of a man for whom she had so much respect.
"I am hurt that I cannot go, but will be happy to see the grave once everyone leaves. We never thought he would be buried here," Sidloyiya said. "Many of the elders, even older than me, are upset that they cannot attend the funeral, but they will be watching it on the television and are at least happy that he will be buried in Qunu."
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A woman shouts as troops rehearse for a funeral procession for former South African president Nelson Mandela at the airport on Dec. 13 in Mthatha. Mandela will be buried in the nearby village of Qunu on Dec 15. Schalk van Zuydam, APFullscreenNext Slide
The first time Sidloyiya met Mandela was in 1991, when he came to visit his hometown shortly following his release from prison after 27 years.
"He held my hand and spoke to me. We walked around the village," she recalled. "I remember him asking about people who stayed at certain houses who were no longer there as they had passed on."
Mandela's wife, Graca Machel, was part of the first motorcade so she could arrive home first to receive and accept his body. In accordance with a traditional ritual, Mandela's body will rest in his bedroom in his Qunu home Saturday night before he is buried Sunday afternoon.
Many were displeased Saturday with the fast pace of the procession, saying the villagers along the Eastern Cape did not have an appropriate amount of time to properly say goodbye.
"It was too fast, I sat here for five hours for just 10 seconds," Shauntane King said. "I am unhappy that it sped away so fast."
Those who caught a glimpse of the coffin became overwhelmed by the fact that Mandela was gone. As that reality sank in, some turned to celebration by singing and dancing while others were overcome by emotion, crying and sobbing uncontrollably.
One child, living just a short distance away from the Nelson Mandela Museum in Qunu, crafted her own Mandela poem called "Viva Mandela."
On Sunday, Mandela will receive a full military funeral that will include the singing of the national anthem, a brass band, jets flying overhead, a 21-gun salute and a guard of honor. A white dome-shaped tent is expected to house the 4,500 people who will be allowed to attend, including family, friends, kings, chiefs and other dignitaries from all over the world.