On a final journey to his home village where he had wanted to spend his final days, the remains of Nelson Mandela were honored amid pomp and ceremony on Saturday at an air base in South Africa’s capital before being loaded onto a plane.

Meanwhile, at the airport near Mandela’s simple village of Qunu in eastern South Africa, there was a buzz of activity, with military vehicles including SUVs and armoured personnel carriers driving around as anticipation built over the coming-home of South Africa’s most famous figure. Soldiers in full gear, male and female, were stationed on foot on either side of the road from the airport in Mthatha. Some civilians were also already lining route, shielding themselves from the sun with umbrellas.

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 in critical condition, suffering from lung problems and other ailments, until his death.

‘Tutu did not receive credentials’

There was a surprise announcement in the plans for Sunday’s funeral in Mandela’s home village of Qunu as retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s family said he would not be attending because he had not received credentials as a clergyman.

“The Archbishop is not an accredited clergyperson for the event and thus will not be attending,” Rev. Mpho Tutu, the archbishop’s daughter, said in a statement. She is chief executive of the Desmond and Leah Tutu Foundation.

Mac Maharaj, a spokesman for the South African presidency, said Mr. Tutu is definitely on the guest list. He said he hopes a solution will be found that allows Mr. Tutu to attend.

“Certainly he is invited,” Mr. Maharaj said. “He’s an important person.”

“This is not an event where you need credentials and I hope a solution can be found,” Mr. Maharaj said. “He’s an important person and I hope ways can be found for him to be there,” he added.

Mr. Tutu spoke earlier in the week at a memorial service for Mandela held at a soccer stadium in Soweto.

Military honour

At a solemn ceremony at Waterkloof air base in Pretoria that was broadcast live on South African television, a multi-faith service and a musical tribute to Mandela were held. President Jacob Zuma praised Mandela in a detailed recounting of the struggle against racist white rule. He also described Mandela coming to Johannesburg from the countryside as a young man and bringing discipline and vision to the long and difficult anti-apartheid movement.

Mr. Zuma led the group in song after his speech.

The flag-draped coffin was accompanied by a military honour guard as it was slowly transferred onto a military plane for transport to the Eastern Cape.

Mandela’s widow Graca Machel, wearing black, wept and wiped tears from under her glasses. Mandela’s former wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, looking stricken, was also there as well as Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and former South African President Thabo Mbeki. Other members of the extended Mandela family also attended.

Mandela’s favourite poem, “Invictus”, was printed on the back of the program.

Mandela’s casket is expected to arrive at Mthatha on Saturday afternoon, greeted by a full military ceremony. Rituals will also be performed before a motorcade takes the casket from Mthatha to Qunu.

The public has been invited to view the cortege as it makes its way to Qunu. The body will be taken to the Mandela homestead, where more rituals will be performed.

A night vigil by the ANC is planned at Walter Sisulu University in Mthatha on Saturday, with party leaders and government officials honouring Mandela on the eve of his burial.

The late president died in his Johannesburg home Dec. 5 at age 95.

Many were disappointed when they could not view his remains because long lines and traffic problems meant that thousands had to be turned away without paying their final respects.

More In: World | International | News