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Nelson Mandela memorial: Concerns raised as authorities fail to security check attendees

Thousands of guests were not searched as they entered the stadium

In the days ahead of the memorial service for Nelson Mandela, the authorities had promised tight security and locked down miles of roads surrounding the venue.

Yet thousands of guests entering the FNB stadium in Soweto on Tuesday, especially those who had arrived very early, were not searched. Media were permitted to enter the press area directly beneath where politicians and dignitaries were seated without being asked to show passes.

Ahead of Tuesday’s event, experts had questioned whether South Africa would be able to rise to the security challenge posed by having so many world leaders in one location. The authorities insisted they were up to the task because they had the experience of handling a major international events, including the 2010 World Cup.

Yet Rory Steyn, once head of Mr Mandela’s security team, said the event would be the biggest the country has seen, and would have been a challenge for any country.

South Africa’s Defence Minister Nosivewe Mapisa-Nqakula had told the media that more than 11,000 troops had been deployed, and that a coordinated plan involving the military, air force and police had been drawn up.

Thousands of officers would direct traffic, protect mourners and help the bodyguards of visiting dignitaries, said Lt Gen Solomon Makgale, a spokesman for the South African Police Service. Yet on Monday, Sidas Security, a private South African security firm, was reportedly still trying to hire ahead of the event.

While the event proceeded with no incidents, many thousands of people were late to because of traffic snarls and road closures. The constant rain made matters worse.

Among those who was late was US President Barack Obama, but as the entire ceremony was running an hour late, he made it in time to make his own speech.

Meanwhile, David Cameron boasted to the BBC that he was one of the very first to arrive. “I didn’t want to get stuck in the traffic,” he said. “Very British, very punctual, get here on time.”