South Africa set for week of Mandela commemoration

By Peter Beaumont and Daniel Howden Updated at 2013-12-08 09:10:21 +0000

South Africa is facing the challenge of organising one of the most complex international commemorations ever made for a world statesman – the week-long official mourning for Nelson Mandela.

Over the next seven days, the country will host scores of heads of state and other dignitaries for memorial ceremonies in three locations – including a state funeral in his tiny home village of Qunu in the Eastern Cape.

Former president Mandela, aged 95, who was incarcerated for 27 years by the apartheid regime, died at his home in Houghton, Johannesburg, on Thursday. "We will spend the week mourning his passing. We will also spend it celebrating a life well lived," said South African president Jacob Zuma, capturing the mood of the country, which is mixing sorrow with celebrating his remarkable life.

Those planning the funeral include the former president's family, the federal government, the military, and the African National Congress political party. Despite some prior planning, as Mandela spent prolonged periods in hospital in recent years, many of the details remain up in the air – including which events world leaders will attend.

Outlining the arrangements yesterday, government minister Collins Chabane said the funeral would be coordinated on a day-to-day basis by the National Joint Operational Centre of South Africa's security forces.

Among those expected to travel to South Africa are David Cameron, US President Barack Obama and former presidents Bill Clinton and George W Bush, and leaders from Africa and beyond. Among celebrities said to be attending are Oprah Winfrey and Bono.

A national day of prayer will be held today, while tomorrow a special sitting of the two houses of parliament will pay tribute to Mandela.

On Tuesday, a memorial service will be held at the FNB football stadium in Johannesburg – where Mandela made his last public appearance, for the closing ceremony of the 2010 football World Cup – which will be attended by some heads of state.

Chabane warned that crowds would be far larger than the stadium's capacity of 95,000 and said there would be "overflow" areas set up. "We can't tell people not to come," he said.

Mandela's body will lie in state in a glass coffin at the Union Buildings in Pretoria from Wednesday until Friday, with his coffin being delivered each day from the nearby 1 Military Hospital in Thaba Tshwane.

"Every morning, when the remains leave the mortuary to the lying in state, those routes will be made public," said Neo Momodu, the head of the government's information service. "We are going to be encouraging members of the public to be lining the streets ... as [the body] ... goes through the streets of Pretoria to the Union Buildings."

She indicated that cameras would be forbidden in the streets around the Union Buildings, so that people could pay their respects privately.

On Saturday, senior members of the ANC will be invited to say their farewell to Mandela at a ceremony at Waterkloof air force base in Pretoria, from where his coffin will be flown to the town of Mthatha in the Eastern Cape. After that, his body will be taken by road in a funeral cortege to his home village of Qunu, where he will be buried in a small graveyard on the hillside overlooking his villa in a Thembu ceremony after a state funeral.

The village and the main road are expected to be sealed off before the funeral – like other key venues this week – by an exclusion zone, with the interment filmed from a distance only by the South African Broadcasting Corporation. Although South African Airlines has announced that it will put on special flights to Mthatha for invited dignitaries, Barack Obama will almost certainly arrive by helicopter with his security team.

Other embassies have reportedly been in contact with local aviation companies that lease helicopters.

Although the government has a longstanding arrangement to take over key hotels in Pretoria, there is only one five-star hotel in the city centre, the Sheraton, close to the Union Buildings.

In Mthatha itself, all available accommodation for the funeral has been block-booked for years in advance for senior members of the African National Congress who, it has been announced, will move en masse to the Eastern Cape after attending memorial events during the week.

The announcement of the details of the memorials and funeral came as tributes to the former anti-apartheid activist continued to pour in from around the globe yesterday.

Those included a new poem by Maya Angelou, His Day is Done. Angelou, who met former President Mandela while living in Cairo, was active in the civil rights movement and worked with Martin Luther King and Malcolm X.

Mandela read Angelou's books while imprisoned on Robben Island and recited her poem Still I Rise at his presidential inauguration in 1994.