/ 15 January 2005

Mbeki, other VIPs to attend funeral of Mandela’s son

Aids activists will join President Thabo Mbeki and anticipated thousands of other mourners at the funeral of former president Nelson Mandela’s son, Makgatho Mandela, on Saturday.

Makgatho, a Johannesburg lawyer, died of Aids-related complications last week, and Mandela used the announcement of his death to plead for openness on the disease.

Mbeki’s spokesperson Bheki Khumalo confirmed on Friday that the president will attend the funeral at Qunu in the Transkei, but said he will not speak there.

Asked whether the presence of Mbeki, who stand on HIV/Aids has been criticised, could be construed as a statement on the disease, Khumalo said it could not.

”Nelson Mandela, a former president, has lost his son. The president has to show support for Madiba at this difficult time,” he said. ”Politicisation of funerals is a strange thing to us as Africans. People must not politicise funerals.”

Also attending the funeral will be Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) chairperson Zackie Achmat, who will be accompanied by a contingent of TAC members from the Eastern Cape.

TAC spokesperson Nathan Geffen said Mandela has set an important example of openness on HIV/Aids.

He said the TAC has consistently called for Mbeki to speak out on the need for people to be counselled and tested for HIV, and if necessary, to get treatment.

”If he were to make such a call, we would welcome it, whether this weekend or any other time,” he said.

A spokesperson for Eastern Cape Premier Nosimo Balindlela said she, most of her ministers and a number of senior civil servants and mayors will attend the funeral.

”Any occasion of that status will obviously be assisted by traffic and other security forces,” said the spokesperson, Masiza Mzizi.

It is not clear how many other premiers will attend: at least two, Gauteng’s Mbhazima Shilowa and the Western Cape’s Ebrahim Rasool, will not.

Nor is it clear how many Cabinet ministers, who, it is understood, have been issued a general invitation, will attend.

A traditional night vigil preceding the funeral was scheduled to be held on Friday night. Chief Bovulengwe Mtirara said the vigil would start at 6pm and should last about two hours.

A night vigil is normally dominated by prayers and scripture reading, including preaching by a few appointed preachers. No speeches or accolades are delivered.

Mandela, accompanied by his wife, Graca, arrived at his traditional home in Qunu on Wednesday. His former wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, accompanied by their daughter Zinzi, arrived on Thursday.

Late in the afternoon, a military aircraft carrying Makgatho’s body arrived at the Mthatha airport in the company of Makgatho’s son, Mandla. — Sapa