TODAY   |  December 15, 2013

'A very important Papa': Nelson Mandela laid to rest

South Africa gave an emotional farewell to its legendary leader Nelson Mandela, who was buried Sunday in his home village of Qunu. NBC's Richard Engel reports.

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>>> south africa bid a final farewell to its legendary former leader nelson mandela just hours ago. an emotional funeral at his final resting place , his home village of qunu. our chief foreign correspondent richard engel is there.

>> reporter: good morning, lester. ten days of mourning are now over, nelson mandela returned to the rolling hills where he grew up. many south africans said it felt like they were burying their father, the father of this nation. it was the last leg of a long journey, to the resting place where nelson mandela asked to be buried, in the small village where he grew up.

>> reporter: it was a grand state sendoff, but also a private moment for a few,000 invited guests including his extended family, world leaders , royalty, celebrities and old friends here to say good-bye to the man who had come so far.

>> he went to school fair foot and in the end he rose to the highest office of the land. it is within each of us to achieve anything we want in life.

>> reporter: mandela's journey and his achievements are founding legend of modern south africa and everyone here knows the tale. he was --

>> a very important prisoner, a very important philosopher, a very important pragmatist, a very important president, a very important pappa.

>> reporter: current president jacob zuma who many have criticized for failing to live up to mandela's moral standard, vowed to carry on the legacy.

>> it is the end of 95 glorious years. the long walk to freedom has ended in the physical sense. our own journey continues.

>> reporter: and then at noon by tradition, when the sun was highest and the shadows shortest, he was let go. as south africans said, nelson mandela was finally free. today marks the end of an extraordinary life, the boy who became an activist, then a prisoner who went on to help free a nation. lester?

>> richard engel in south africa , thanks, richard.