Nelson Mandela memorial: South Africa's goodbye may be biggest send-off in history



It may be the biggest send-off in history. Barack Obama, Raul Castro and Robert Mugabe are among up to 100 global leaders set to arrive in South Africa during a week of mourning that will have few recent comparisons.

From Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai to Zambia’s Michael Sata, an A-Z of world leaders, along with a host of celebrities, are to come and pay their respects to former president Nelson Mandela.

Most of them will attend a memorial service to be held on Tuesday in a 95,000 capacity football stadium in Soweto. For the organisers, it is a vast logistical and security challenge.

“It’s unprecedented. I don’t think there has been a funeral service like it in recent memory,” Clayson Monyela, a spokesman for South Africa’s foreign ministry, told The Independent. “I don’t remember any other.”

As workmen at the FNB stadium in Soweto continued erecting a stage and bulletproof glass to protect the VIPs attending the memorial event, government officials continued to keep tally of the number of confirmations. By Monday evening, the number had reached 91. Mr Monyela suggested the likely scale of the event would match that of the state funeral Britain organised for Winston Churchill in 1965.

The leaders arriving in South Africa include friends and allies as well as those who do not see eye to eye. The US is being represented by Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, former presidents George W Bush, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and a 23-strong Congressional delegation. Cuba is sending President Raul Castro, while Zimbabwe is to be represented by Robert Mugabe, reelected to a seventh term as president this August.

Prime Minister David Cameron is to attend the Soweto memorial while Prince Charles will travel to Qunu, Mr Mandela’s family home, to represent Britain at the funeral service to be held on Sunday. Among the most notable figures not expected to attend are Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who claimed high travel and security costs were keeping him away, and Mr Mandela’s fellow Nobel peace laureate, the Dalai Lama, who has twice been refused a visa for South Africa since 2009.

In addition to the politicians and heads of state, a flurry of entertainers and celebrities are also said to be on their way to South Africa. Among those reportedly taking part are Oprah Winfrey, Bono, Richard Branson and Peter Gabriel. Reports suggested members of the Spice Girls – who travelled to South Africa in 1997 and met Mr Mandela with Prince Charles – may also be on route but representatives for the group failed to respond to inquiries.

Yet for all the attention being paid to the VIP guests due to travel to Soweto, it is ordinary South Africans who will make up the majority of the crowd in the stadium and at nearby overflow sites with large television screens that are being organised.

“I have to go. When I heard there was going to be a memorial I decided i had to go,” said Gloria Nhumalo, 23, who works at petrol station in the Melville neighbourhood of Johannesburg and who has a day off on Tuesday. She said she would set off with two family members at 7am for the event to honour the former president. “He gave us our freedom.”

The memorial will include tributes from members of Mr Mandela’s family, his friend and former Robben Island inmate Andrew Mlangeni, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon as well as Mr Obama, President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil, Vice-President Li Yuanchao of China, India’s President Pranab Mukherjee, Mr Castro and Namibia’s Hifikepunye Pohamba.

According to an order of service released by officials on Monday evening, the main speech will be delivered by South African President Jacob Zuma while Bishop Ivan Abrahams will deliver a sermon.

The hours-long memorial service is being held in a huge sports stadium that has huge symbolism for those involved in the country’s freedom struggle.

It was in that stadium, also known as Soccer City, on February 13 1990 that Mr Mandela addressed roaring crowds, punching their fists into the air, two days after being released from prison. Twenty years later, increasingly frail, it was also where he made his final public appearance, waving to supporters and football fans alike from the back of a golf cart at the World Cup final.

The suggestion by the South African authorities that the number of dignitaries could be the highest ever appears to be a fair prediction. The Associated Press reported that Churchill’s funeral was attended by “four kings, two queens, presidents,  prime ministers and statesmen from 113 nations”.

The 1963 funeral of President John F Kennedy in Washington was attended by 28 presidents, prime ministers and kings. Pope John Paul II’s 2005 funeral was attended by dignitaries from more than 80 countries. Meanwhile, the 1995 funeral of assassinated Israeli prime minister and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Yitzhak Rabin, was attended by more than 40 presidents or prime ministers.

After Tuesday’s event, Mr Mandela’s remains will lie in state for three days at the government buildings in Pretoria, the same where he was sworn in as president in 1994. He will be buried on Sunday in Qunu, 450 miles south of Johannesburg, at an event only a few world leaders are expected to attend.

Despite the number of high profile figures due to attend and the complications and security challenges involved, the authorities insist the events will go off smoothly. Around 11,000 troops have been mobilised to help with security and while it has not been widely publicised, the authorities have been preparing for these events for several years.

Mr Monyela, the foreign ministry spokesman, insisted things were going according to plan. “The plan is being executed as we speak. We have the required  expertise and skills. We have handled major events before and we have the blue-print in place,” he said. “We are on tops of things.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
A monstrous idea? Body transplants might no longer be science fiction
Science An Italian neurosurgeon believes so - and it's not quite as implausible as it sounds, says Steve Connor
Demba Ba (right) celebrates after Besiktas win on penalties
footballThere was no happy return to the Ataturk Stadium, where the Reds famously won Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
arts + ents
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
arts + ents...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
Jose Mourinho on Sky Sports
footballEXCLUSIVE COLUMN Paul Scholes: It was not a leg-breaking tackle, as the Chelsea manager had claimed
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

£23000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small, friendly, proactive...

Recruitment Genius: Photographic Event Crew

£14500 - £22800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developers - .NET / ASP.NET / WebAPI / JavaScript

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Software Developer is required to join a lea...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Solicitor - City

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: A first rate opportunity to join a top ranking...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower