Guests included Prince Charles, Reverend Jesse Jackson, Gerry Adams, Oprah Winfrey, the Clintons, Archibishop Desmond Tutu and many African leaders.
Nelson Mandela’s widow Graca Machel, Winnie Mandela and the entire Mandela family were there.
Mourners sang ‘struggle’ songs and danced as they waited for proceedings to get underway.
Impromptu hymns echoed from the hillsides above Qunu, sung by mourners from the local region, many wearing T-shirts bearing Mandela’s image.
They beamed with pride as they watched proceedings on big TV screens, and said they felt honoured to be there, though some were bitter that they had not rated an invitation to their neighbour and friend’s funeral.
They were anxious that Mandela must be under the ground by midday, so the ‘seed’ of his spirit can be freed to join the ancestors.
In the marquee Mandela’s South African flag-draped coffin sat before a stage filled with 95 candles, representing the years of Mandela’s life, centred on a portrait of the former president and freedom fighter.
The service began with the popular hymn Fulfill Your Promise.
Methodist Bishop Don Dabula led devotions with the parable of the good and faithful servants.
Programme director Cyril Ramaphosa said Mandela would be laid to rest at midday, by tradition, “when the sun is at its highest and the shadow is at its lowest”.
One of Mandela’s oldest friends Ahmed Kathrada told the congregation the last time he saw Mandela, he held hands with him in hospital.
“I was filled with an overwhelming mixture of sadness and pride,” he said.
Kathrada is an Indian South African who fought against apartheid and spent 26 years imprisoned with Mandela.
His voice shaking with grief, he addressed his friend directly, thanking him for his love, humility, patience and courage.
“Farewell my dear brother, my mentor, my leader,” he said. “When Walter [Sisulu] died I lost a father, and now I have lost a brother. My life is in void and I don’t know who to turn to.”
Mandela’s granddaughter Nandi Mandela spoke on behalf of Mandela’s children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
She recalled his generosity, as every Christmas he gave a gift and a meal to thousands of children who flocked to his home in Qunu.
“His gestures of kindness made those around him want to do good,” she said.
She recalled his sense of humour, and his fondness for storytelling, often making fun of himself. And she recalled his sense of mischief, his strictness with his children, and his care for the less privileged.
“He was driven by common decency,” she said. “[Grandfather] we shall miss your voice, we shall miss your laughter [and] we will carry the lessons you taught us throughout our lives.”
The burial will end 10 days of mourning ceremonies that included a massive stadium memorial in Johannesburg and three days during which Mandela's body lay in state in the capital, Pretoria.
Mandela's casket arrived at the family compound from the capital on Saturday. It was accompanied by an enormous convoy of police, military and other vehicles.
Mandela spent 27 years in jail as a prisoner from apartheid, then emerged to lead a delicate transition to democracy when many South Africans feared that the country would sink into all-out racial conflict. He became president in the first all-race elections in 1994.
While South Africa faces many problems, including crime, unemployment and economic inequality, Mandela is seen by many compatriots as the father of their nation and around the world as an example of the healing power of reconciliation.
-Fairfax Media with AP