Mandela funeral: The 'world is coming'
A portrait of South African former president Nelson Mandela is shown on a giant screen at the FNB Stadium (Soccer City) yesterday during preparations ahead of Mandela's memorial service in Johannesburg tomorrow. Photo: Afp
South Africa raced yesterday 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.
Many will join the 80,000 people expected to cram into the FNB stadium in Soweto tomorrow 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.
Around 11,000 troops have been mobilised to ensure security and help with crowd control efforts during the week-long series of funeral events.
Despite the sudden influx of international dignitaries and the compressed preparation time, National Police spokesman Solomon Makgale insisted that the security apparatus would hold firm.
"Having so many heads of state is not a security headache for us. We've learned over the years," Makgale said, adding that they would be "working closely" with the foreign leaders' own security details.
As well as Obama and three previous occupants of the White House, British Prime Minister David Cameron, French President Francois Hollande and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon were all on the guest list.
Parliament was to meet yesterday in Cape Town for a special session to honour Mandela who emerged from 27 years in prison to lead his country out of the shadow of apartheid into a multi-racial democracy.
Two banners hanging at the entrance to the national assembly carried giant portraits of Mandela in tribal dress and as an elder statesman.