/ 7 December 2013

SA prepares to host world leaders for Mandela funeral

A file photograph of Nelson Mandela with former US President Bill Clinton in 2003. Clinton is set to come to South Africa for Mandela's funeral.
A file photograph of Nelson Mandela with former US President Bill Clinton in 2003. Clinton is set to come to South Africa for Mandela's funeral.

South Africa began preparing on Saturday to welcome a raft of world leaders for former president Nelson Mandela's funeral, as the country readied for a future without the man who led it to democracy.

President Barack Obama was among the first to confirm that he would fly to South Africa to honour Mandela, along with his predecessor, George W Bush. And former US leader Bill Clinton said he would bring his family to pay their respects to the man he called a friend and "giant among us".

Ahead of Mandela's state funeral in Qunu next Sunday, a spontaneous display of respect and grief continued to grow on Saturday morning.

Outside Mandela's Houghton home, where he died two days earlier, mourners placed notes thanking him for transforming the country, and in front of Cape Town's City Hall – the site of Mandela's first speech as a free man – floral tributes piled up.

The government announced that it was planning a public procession to transport Mandela's body from Johannesburg to Pretoria, where he will lie in state at the Union Buildings from Wednesday to Friday, after an official memorial in Soweto on Tuesday.

"Every morning, when the remains leave the mortuary to the lying in state, those routes will be made public," Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) chief director Neo Momodu told reporters in Johannesburg.

"We are going to be encouraging members of the public to be lining the streets … as [the body] … goes through the streets of Pretoria to the Union Buildings."

Obama, Qunu question
It's predicted the funeral will be the biggest for a statesman in decades, with politicians around the globe eager to pay their respects, and 2 500 foreign media have been accredited to cover the event.

It was still unclear whether Obama would make the trip to Qunu. White House press secretary Jay Carney said the US president and his wife would participate in memorial events, but declined to provide further details.

Agence France-Presse reported that Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff would also be among the guests.

Qunu, the Eastern Cape village where Mandela grew up and where he will be buried, became a pilgrimage site on Saturday.

Thapelo Selepe (33) made a 1 120km trip from Cape Town to pay his last respects.

He said he could not just sit at home while Mandela had sacrificed so much.

'The father of the world'
"Madiba is not just a man, he is the father of the nation, the father of the world. Someone who was born in this rural area and became an icon of the world," Selepe said.

"It was important for me to drive all the way to put my feet on his land.

"I brought flowers because flowers grow from the soil and I believe the spirit of Madiba will continue to grow from generation to generation."

In Gauteng, travel agents braced for an influx of visitors and said it would be nearly impossible to find hotel rooms and rental cars during the 10-day mourning period that began on Friday.

"As a result, very little accommodation will be available in Johannesburg and Pretoria," said Eric Sakawsky, general manager of Corporate Traveller, a division of Flight Centre.

He said this was because government departments and diplomatic missions were taking out block bookings in hotels.

Mugabe's tribute to Mandela
The ANC acknowledged the emotional response that Mandela's death had drawn around the world, and invited people worldwide to leave messages on its internet website.

The site was no longer in its signature colours of yellow, green and black, and contained no information about the party itself. It was solely dedicated to Madiba, Mandela's clan name, with a picture of him on its homepage.

There was also a gallery of Mandela's photographs, speeches, statements and letters he had written, a biography, and his quotes.

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe paid tribute to Mandela in remarks published in the state-run Herald newspaper, calling him a "champion of the oppressed".

Since Thursday, foreign media reports have asked whether South Africa's stability and racial unity would remain in Mandela's absence.

In an interview with eNCA television, local political analyst Judith February expressed frustration with this view. The country had solid democratic safeguards to see it into the future, although Mandela's death was leaving "a gaping hole", she said.

'Proud to be a South African'
In Houghton, mourners of all races mingled and said this unity was a gift from Mandela.

"I am glad that I brought my family here to witness South Africans coming together so peacefully. It makes me proud to be a South African," said Shaakira Saeed.

A tribute written on a yellow T-shirt simply thanked the former president for making the country a better place. – Sapa