Workers climb scaffolding while constructing a stage ahead
of Nelson Mandela's national memorial service at First
National Bank (FNB) Stadium, also known as Soccer City, in
Johannesburg. Photo by Reuters
Johannesburg has been hit by a storm.
Yes, it has been raining since I arrived, but the storm is
the sheer logistical nightmare that is a 10-day mourning
period for former President Nelson Mandela.
Mandela's record and his profile around the world meant that
it was always going to be this way.
World leaders and former leaders were clamouring to come and
pay their respects to the man many South Africans see as the
architect of their freedom.
This has been a difficult task for the South African
Government as it had to follow protocols and ensure that the
various dignitaries were given the proper welcome.
Prime Minister John Key is just one of many dignitaries that
needed to be catered for. Managing the huge media contingent
and organising the various events has increased the pressure
on the Jacob Zuma-led Government that is desperate to give
Madiba a proper farewell and also receive some praise at a
time when the heat is on.
The Government and the African National Congress were
embarrassed by a section of the crowd at Mandela's memorial
service at the FNB stadium who booed Jacob Zuma when he
arrived and also every time his image appeared on the giant
screens around the ground.
ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu said it was the "wrong
platform" to be politicised and media commentators agreed
that while it clearly showed simmering discontent over Mr
Zuma's handling of the affairs of state, it was not a good
look with the rest of the world watching.
But there are some issues that run deep.
In particular, many people question the use of more than R206
million of taxpayers' money to pay for the "security upgrade"
at Mr Zuma's private Nkandla homestead in rural
Another thorn in the side of many residents of Johannesburg
is the new e-toll system that will see the Government's
transport agency collect thousands of Rand a week when
drivers criss-cross this vast city in a day's work. A common
point I have heard since I arrived is that all the move has
done is push traffic onto the inferior secondary roads, which
is where the money should have been spent in the first place.
Either way, sad as Mandela's death is, the Government was
probably secretly hoping it would take attention off the
problems at home and put South Africa in a positive light.
The speed with which the South African Government has rolled
out the infrastructure and procedure to cope with such a huge
undertaking is admirable. It has been a quick turnaround
since Mandela's death, but they have achieved it to some
extent, albeit in a lyrical African way.
One conspiracy theory doing the rounds in the townships is
that Mandela may have actually died a few days earlier, but
the news was kept secret until a structure had been set in
Adding fuel to this speculation is that Mandela's body was
moved fairly quickly after his death. Mandela was a Xhosa and
a member of the Thembu Royal household, where there are
strict protocols around a death in the family. Some believe
this gives credibility to the unproven theory that he died a
few days earlier.
Whatever the case may be, there is still plenty of mourning
to be done. The attention moves to Pretoria, the
Administrative Capitol of South Africa, where Mandela is
lying in state for the rest of the week. Mr Key was hoping to
go and pay his respects at the Union Buildings last night
The real test for the South African Government and the Thembu
tribe will be when the funeral procession moves to the tiny
village of Qunu in the former apartheid homeland of Transkei,
where Mandela will be laid to rest with his ancestors.
About one thousand kilometres from Johannesburg and along the
coast between Durban and East London, Transkei is a land of
rolling hills and subsistence farming.
The nearest big city is Mthatha, which in a former life was
called Umtata and was the seat of government of the
illegitimate apartheid homeland creation.
The concern many have is that Transkei, Qunu and Mthatha do
not have the infrastructure to cope with the volume of people
expected to descend on the area for the funeral on Sunday.
Already all flights to Mthatha are fully booked and people
are being urged to fly to East London or even Port Elizabeth
on the eastern seaboard and travel by car the rest of the
Whatever the logistics, this is the only way it could ever
have been done. Mandela deserved a state funeral and, in
accordance with Xhosa tradition, he needs to be laid to rest
at the place of his birth.
It is the least a country that he devoted his life to
liberating can do to honour him.
- By Andrew Austin in Johannesburg