People sing and dance in heavy rain while waiting for the start of the official memorial service for late South African President Nelson Mandela at the First National Bank stadium, also known as Soccer City, in Johannesburg. Photo by Reuters
Nearly 90 leaders from across the world, some of them locked
in enmity, are flying to South Africa for memorials to Nelson
Mandela that will hail one of humanity's great peacemakers.
Officials said that U.S. President Barack Obama and Raul
Castro from Cuba, Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe and Britain's
David Cameron will be among those attending Tuesday's main
ceremony in Johannesburg's Soccer City stadium - a turnout
that reflects the global appeal of South Africa's first black
leader, who died aged 95.
"The whole world is coming to South Africa," foreign ministry
spokesman Clayson Monyela said, playing down concerns about
logistics and security of such a large event organized at
such short notice.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani would also be there, Monyela
said, raising the possibility of a first face-to-face meeting
with Obama. However, Rouhani's name was not on an initial
official list of attendees.
Israel, once an ally of the apartheid rulers who kept Mandela
behind bars for 27 years, is sending neither its prime
minister nor president, Israeli officials said.
Much of the logistical plan is based on South Africa's
hosting of the 2010 soccer World Cup. Even though Pretoria
refused to discuss Mandela's funeral arrangements before his
death, it has been laying the preparations for years.
"We're obviously not starting from scratch in terms of
organization," Monyela said. "We've got a system that kicks
into play whenever you've got events of this magnitude."
Besides security, the memorial at the 95,000-seat stadium
near Soweto presents officials with a diplomatic minefield -
trying to avoid a chance standoff in the rest rooms, say,
between Mugabe and Tony Blair, the former British prime
minister whom he has denounced as a "little boy" and a
Those close to Madiba, the clan name by which Mandela was
known, say he would have wanted handshakes, not head-butts.
"Tomorrow, people should all be honoring their relationship
with Madiba. If it means shaking hands with the enemy, yes, I
would like to see that," Zelda la Grange, his former personal
assistant for more than a decade, told Reuters.
"That is what Nelson Mandela was and actually is - bringing
people together despite their differences."
On the day, diplomacy is unlikely to detract from the
outpouring of emotion expected at the seven-hour ceremony at
the gigantic bowl-shaped Soccer City, a stadium steeped in
It was there that the Nobel peace prize winner made his last
public appearance three years ago, waving to fans from the
back of a golf cart at the World Cup final.
It was also there, 20 years earlier, that he addressed tens
of thousands of supporters two days after his release from
prison, eliciting a deafening roar from the crowd with a
clenched fist raised to the sky and a single word: "Amandla",
the Zulu and Xhosa word for power.
Since his death, South Africa has been gripped by mass
emotions unrivalled since the day Mandela was freed from
jail, and his victory in the first all-race elections four
years later, in 1994.
On Sunday, worshippers filled churches, mosques, synagogues
and community halls, offering praise and prayers for a man
celebrated as "Father of the Nation" and a global beacon of
integrity, rectitude and reconciliation.
Tributes flowed in from around the world and across political
and religious divides.
Besides Obama, three former U.S. presidents - Jimmy Carter,
Bill Clinton and George W. Bush - will also be in
Johannesburg. Top hotels are struggling to deal with the
avalanche of high-profile celebrity Mandela mourners.
"We're fully booked," said an employee of the five-star Saxon
Hotel, Villas and Spa, which has 54 luxury rooms set in lush
gardens. "We've even had to convert some treatment rooms to
LYING IN STATE
After Tuesday's event, Mandela's remains will lie in state
for three days at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, where he
was sworn in as president in 1994.
He will then be buried on Sunday, December 15, in Qunu, his
ancestral home in the rolling, windswept hills of the Eastern
Cape province, 700 km (450 miles) south of Johannesburg.
Only a few world leaders are due to attend the Qunu ceremony,
which is likely to be a more intimate family affair.
As soon as President Jacob Zuma announced Mandela's death in
a televised address to South Africa's 52 million people, the
army cordoned off large parts of Qunu, while construction
workers started work on a tiered gantry beside the cemetery.
Mandela's burial will be a mixture of military formality and
Xhosa tradition, including elders from his abaThembu tribe.
In the same plot lie the remains of three of his six
children: an infant daughter who died in 1948, a son, Thembi,
who died in a car crash in 1969, and Makgatho, who died of an
AIDS-related illness in 2005.