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Mandela's body reaches hometown in rural South Africa

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South Africans dance during a celebration on Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013, in Mthatha of the life of former President Nelson Mandela while waiting for his funeral cortege to pass by on its way to his home town of Qunu.

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By The Associated Press
Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013, 6:39 p.m.
 

QUNU, South Africa — A hearse carrying Nelson Mandela's body drove into his hometown in rural South Africa on Saturday.

As motorcyclists in uniform and armored personnel carriers escorted the vehicle carrying Mandela's casket to the family compound, people lining the route sang, applauded and, in some cases, wept.

The vehicle carrying Mandela's casket, covered with a national flag, arrived at the family compound under cloudy skies at 4 p.m. It was accompanied by an enormous convoy of police, military and other vehicles, and a military helicopter hovered overhead.

According to Xhosa tribal tradition, Mandela was honored as a leader by placing a leopard skin on the coffin, replacing the flag.

“Long live the spirit of Nelson Mandela,” chanted a crowd on a highway near Mandela's compound.

The anti-apartheid hero will be buried on Sunday.

Mandela had longed to spend his final months in his beloved rural village, but instead he had spent them in a hospital in Pretoria and then in his home in Johannesburg where he had remained until his death.

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