Mandela Funeral: World’s Leaders Start Arriving
Foreign dignitaries are arriving in South Africa to pay final respects to Nelson Mandela. The anti-apartheid hero and icon of reconciliation died Dec. 5, age 95.
A memorial service is planned Tuesday in the 95,000-seat “Soccer City,” — the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg where Mandela made his last major public appearance during the 2010 football World Cup, according to BusinessStandard.
It is being described as one of the largest gatherings of heads of state, religious leaders and celebrities the world has ever seen, and it’s creating a logistical nightmare for South Africa. About 120,000 people are expected to watch outside the stadium and three overflow arenas have been set up, TheMirror reports.
There has been unprecedented interest in attending the funeral, South African Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said at a news conference.
Mandela lived “so magnificent a life that it cannot be held in a grave,” the Rev. Mzwandile Molo of the Bethesda Methodist Church told The Times, a local South African newspaper, according to USAToday.
U.S. President Barack Obama traveled to South Africa with his family, USAToday reported. He is expected to give a speech at the service. Also aboard Air Force One were former president George W. Bush and wife Laura, and former secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter arrived separately.
The Iranian president, the Cuban president and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon are attending. Britain’s Prince Charles will represent Queen Elizabeth II at the memorial service.
Some leaders are expected to travel Dec. 15 to Mandela’s rural childhood village of Qunu for his funeral service and burial.
Bono, Oprah Winfrey and the Spice Girls are also expected to attend Tuesday’s four-hour memorial service, according to TheTelegraph.
Some of the world-renowned musicians attending the service may also perform, although the program remains a closely-guarded secret, TheTelegraph reports.
The memorial service presents almost unheard-of challenges for the South African government and the international security services mandated to protect their VIPs.
The government has confirmed that any member of the public is welcome to go to the stadium without prior accreditation. To try and deter terror scares, many of Johannesburg’s arterial roads and much of its airspace will be closed, according to TheTelegraph.
Mandela’s body will lie in state for three days in Pretoria before a burial is held in Qunu, the village in Eastern Cape where he was born, according to TheMirror. Mandela’s body will be buried at a family plot in his boyhood home.
Although the funeral will take place Sunday, the country is observing a 10-day period of mourning.
The funeral cortege will make its way through the South African capital of Pretoria for three consecutive days before the funeral.
The funeral will be held at the Union Buildings amphitheater and shown on big screens for spectators. The coffin will reportedly have a glass top for viewing.
President Jacob Zuma will host the service.
In the U.K., Westminster Abbey will hold a national service of thanksgiving for Mandela’s life after the state funeral in South Africa.
Anticipating enormous crowds, the South African government has asked parents bringing children younger than 8 to write their cell phone numbers on the forearms of each child, USAToday reports.