Tens of thousands of people celebrated the life of Walter Sisulu Saturday and paid their last respects to the man eulogized in a state funeral as the selfless anchor of the anti-apartheid struggle.
Hours before the hearse arrived Friday at a soccer stadium with a military band playing mournful music, thousands danced in the stands and sang old liberation songs about Nelson Mandela, the late struggle leader Oliver Tambo and Sisulu.
Sisulu has been hailed as the quiet giant of the anti-apartheid struggle, the strategist and the confidant of such leaders as Tambo and Mandela. He died on May 5 at the age of 90, after a long illness.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu called Sisulu "heroically humble" and said he found it ironic that a man considered public enemy no. 2 in the apartheid era was now being mourned by tens of thousands.
"I want to declare loud and clear that after a life so exemplary, so inspiring ... we are filled with deep thankfulness," Tutu said in a eulogy. "We have come to celebrate a wonderful life poured out so unselfishly on behalf of others."
Four black and four white soldiers later placed Sisulu's coffin on an olive drab gun carriage and took him to a Soweto cemetery, where he was buried.
A popular but quiet liberation hero, Sisulu was an anti-apartheid fighter for more than 60 years. He brought Mandela into the African National Congress (ANC) and co-founded its militant youth league with Mandela and Tambo.
He was jailed repeatedly in the 1950s and 1960s before being sentenced to life in 1964 alongside Mandela and other ANC leaders for plotting anti-government sabotage.
Sisulu spent more than 25 years in jail before his release in 1989.
The white hearse carrying his coffin, draped in a South African flag, traveled slowly from his Soweto home to the stadium several kilometers away.
Mourners lined the route, each raising a fist in the air and singing the traditional mourning song of the guerrilla wing of the ANC.
Mandela, who had been Sisulu's close friend for over 60 years, described him as "one of the greatest among a generation of great freedom fighters."
"From the moment when we first met, he has been my friend, my brother, my keeper, my comrade," Mandela said
"The African colossus that lies in front of us might have fallen, but he has not died," South African President Thabo Mbeki said. "Walter Sisulu's life had meaning not because he lived but because he gave new life to the millions who are proud to call themselves Africans."
In the crowd at Orlando Stadium, old struggle fighters mixed with teenagers who only learned about Sisulu after his death. Many journeyed long distances to pay their respects.
"He was our role model and he fought for this country ... we must pay tribute," said Sylvia Mtongana, 53, who traveled a day and half by train from Port Elizabeth to be at the special funeral.