MTHATHA, South Africa - Nelson Mandela embarked on the final leg of his exceptional 95-year journey on Saturday, as his remains were transported to his rural childhood home for traditional burial.
A C-130 Hercules carrying Mandela's flag-draped casket and escorted by two fighter jets landed in Mthatha, in Mandela's native Eastern Cape province, to thousands of waiting mourners and a full military guard of honour.
From Mthatha, Mandela's remains will be carried by a funeral cortege on the short drive to his boyhood home of Qunu.
Military personnel lined the route, along with small groups of people singing anti-apartheid songs and songs in praise of the iconic statesman.
"He is finally coming home to rest, I can't even begin to describe the feeling I have inside," said 31-year-old Bongani Zibi.
"Part of me is sad but I'm also happy that he has found peace."
Sunday's interment will bring down the final curtain on 10 days of national mourning and global tributes for the prisoner-turned-president who transformed his country and inspired the world.
Tens of thousands had packed a soaked stadium in Soweto for a memorial service Tuesday and up to 100,000 people filed past Mandela's open-casket for the three days it was displayed at the Union Buildings in Pretoria.
The same venue had witnessed his inauguration as South Africa's first black leader two decades earlier.
Mandela's flag-draped casket was flown to Qunu in Eastern Cape province after a send-off organised by the ruling African National Congress (ANC) which he once led.
President Jacob Zuma, flanked by Mandela's widow Graca Machel and ex-wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, said South Africa needed "more Madibas" - using Mandela's clan name - in order to prosper.
"Yes we are free but the challenge of inequality remains," Zuma said, citing the twin blights of poverty and unemployment on the country's economic progress.