Nelson Mandela was buried Sunday in his ancestral village of Qunu in southeastern South Africa after a state funeral attended by nearly 5,000 people.

The former South African president's burial took place at 12:45 p.m. (1045 GMT) in the village in his native Eastern Cape Province.

Mandela's burial was private, with only relatives, some of his closest friends and a small number of guests present, the Sapa news agency reported.

The former president's flag-draped casket was carried by high-ranking military officers - both black and white - to the gravesite located near a small hill on the property where he spent his childhood and a place he always considered his home.

Mandela's funeral and burial followed the traditions of his Thembu clan, part of the Xhosa people.

The former president's widow, Graça Machel, and ex-wife, Winnie Mandela, gave a final farewell to the anti-apartheid icon at the side of the grave.

A salute was fired by artillery and warplanes flew over the area, followed by three helicopters towing giant South African flags.

The silence carried over to the media center, where hundreds of reporters ceased working as Mandela finished his journey in the world.

A military chaplain asked those present to join him in a brief prayer, thanking God for "the life of Madiba," as Mandela is known in South Africa, who paved the "true path toward liberty."

Thousands of people viewed Mandela's body last week at the Unions Building in Pretoria, taking advantage of the opportunity to say goodbye to South Africa's first black president.

The cortege transporting Mandela's body arrived in Qunu on Saturday afternoon.

Mandela's coffin had been flown in earlier in the day from Pretoria, where he had lain in state for three days, to Mthatha, a city in Eastern Cape Province.

The plane was greeted with shouts of joy by a crowd at the airport and the coffin was later transported under military honor guard to Qunu.

Mandela, the father of democratic South Africa, grew up in Qunu, a rural community.

The 95-year-old Mandela died on Dec. 5 from chronic pulmonary problems that were a legacy of the tuberculosis he contracted during the 27 years he spent behind bars in his struggle against South Africa's racist regime.

Mandela, who was trained as an attorney, joined the African National Congress in 1944 and went on to establish the ANC's military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation).

He was convicted in June 1964 on charges of sabotage of power plants and other vital infrastructure and conspiracy to violently overthrow the government.

Mandela became South Africa's first freely elected president in 1994, four years after he was released from prison by order of then-President F.W. de Klerk.

The pair shared the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts that led to an agreement to transfer power to a government representing South Africa's black majority.

Mandela served just one term as president but he is credited with promoting reconciliation among white and black South Africans and helping to avert widespread racial violence in the post-apartheid era. EFE