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What is the future for Mandela's grave?

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Will the gravesite of Nelson Mandela, one of the greatest statesmen the world has ever seen, be permanently off limits for the public?

This was the question on many lips as the democracy icon was buried with full honours in his rural boyhood village of Qunu on Sunday – shielded from prying eyes and telephoto lenses.

Among the multitude of logistical and protocol arrangements for the state funeral, South Africa’s government has made no announcement on the status of the gravesite afterwards.

While family members, politicians and celebrities got to say their goodbyes at the grave, Mandela’s village neighbours and many people around the world will be hoping to get the chance to do so later.

The anti-apartheid icon’s family had previously hinted the site will remain a private shrine, but the architect they employed to design the memorial spot suggested on Sunday it may ultimately be opened to the public.

According to Johannesburg-based Greg Straw, the 3.2-hectare garden is meant to be turned into a memorial where people can pay their respects.

“Down the line it will be a memorial garden with a museum” at the foot of the hill on which the grave is perched, he said by telephone on Sunday from the funeral in Qunu.

In June, Mandela’s oldest surviving child Makaziwe, 59, told the state broadcaster that: “Family graveyards… they’re not for public.”

But the government has suggested in recent days that the Mandela family may ultimately grant access to the grave.

Straw said Mandela’s final resting place is in a garden with a winding path designed to lead visitors along South Africa’s first black president’s “long walk” to freedom.

The path stretches about 1.2 kilometres from the foot of the hill to Mandela’s final vantage point.

“Every time you go and pay your respects you walk through the life and times of Madiba,” Straw said, using Mandela’s clan name.

“You walk along a flat portion of the hill while everything was calm and then when he got incarcerated, it turns the corner and the pathway starts winding up the hill through the times of the struggle and it gets to the top of the hill when he got released,” Straw said.

“So the pathway tells the story, and physically tells the story.”

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