JOHANNESBURG, South Africa – South Africa raced Monday, December 9, to meet the unprecedented logistical challenge of hosting close to 100 world leaders flying in from every corner of the globe for the state funeral of freedom icon Nelson Mandela.
“The world literally is coming to South Africa,” said the government’s head of public diplomacy, Clayson Monyela.
“I don’t think it has ever happened before,” Monyela said of the wave of 91 heads of state and government, including US President Barack Obama, descending on the country.
All 3 surviving former British premiers are to join current Prime Minister David Cameron in South Africa at the massive memorial service.
John Major, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown will join Cameron for Tuesday’s service at Soweto’s FNB stadium.
British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, leader of Cameron’s junior coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, and the leader of the main opposition Labor party Ed Miliband are also attending the service, Cameron’s office said.
It is believed to be the first time in many years that all surviving British premiers have travelled abroad to attend the same event.
Many will join the 80,000 people expected to cram Tuesday, December 10, into the FNB stadium in Soweto for a sweeping, emotional tribute to their inspirational first black president.
The memorial service, in the venue where Mandela made his last major public appearance for the 2010 World Cup final, is seen as a final chance for grieving South Africans to unite in a mass celebration of his life ahead of the more formal state funeral.
Another 120,000 people will be able to watch a live broadcast of the event on giant screens set up in three overflow stadiums in Johannesburg.
‘Never prepared enough’
Although Mandela had been critically ill for months, the announcement of his death on Thursday night, December 5, was still a body blow for a country that had looked to his unassailable moral authority as a comforting constant in a time of uncertain social and economic change.
“I don’t think you are ever prepared enough,” said Zelda la Grange, who was Mandela’s long-time personal assistant both during and after his presidency.
“We had prepared ourselves emotionally but still we are overcome by this feeling of loss and sadness,” La Grange said.
The week-long funeral rites will culminate Sunday, December 15, in Mandela’s burial at a family plot in his rural, boyhood home of Qunu.
A stage was being erected Monday with VIP seating at the site in Eastern Cape province, which has attracted crowds of mourners in the last three days, bringing floral tributes for the anti-apartheid champion.
Prior to that, his body will lie in state for 3 days from Wednesday in the amphitheater of the Union Buildings in Pretoria where he was sworn in as president in 1994.
Each morning, his coffin will be carried through the streets of the capital in a funeral cortege, to give as many people as possible the chance to pay their final respects. – with reports from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com
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