South Africa prepares funeral for the ages for Mandela

7th December 2013, Comments 0 comments

South Africa prepared Saturday a sweeping, emotional farewell to Nelson Mandela -- a funeral that will draw an unprecedented gathering of world leaders and luminaries, reflecting the anti-apartheid icon's transcendent influence.

Presidents, heads of government and royalty from every corner of the globe will be among those seeking to pay their respects to modern South Africa's founding father, who died late Thursday aged 95, surrounded by friends and family.

The sheer scale of the event and of the global attention and emotion surrounding it has had observers searching back decades for a precedent, with some citing the funerals of Mahatma Gandhi and Winston Churchill.

Mandela's body will lie in state for three days from Wednesday, ahead of his eventual burial on December 15 in his boyhood hometown of Qunu.

The government announced Saturday that his coffin would be taken in a cortege through the streets of Pretoria each morning, giving the millions of South Africans still coming to terms with the death of their first black leader an opportunity to say a final farewell.

The organisational logistics are daunting and the military on Saturday cancelled leave for troops and reservists to help with crowd control.

Large numbers of mourners, carrying candles, flowers and messages of respect have turned up every day outside Mandela's residence in Johannesburg and in the once blacks-only township of Soweto.

'While mourning, also sing'

Memorial events begin Sunday with South Africans invited to go to churches, mosques, synagogues and other places of worship, to pay their respects.

President Jacob Zuma will attend a service at Bryanston Methodist Church in Johannesburg.

Zuma urged South Africans to turn out in force and in singing voice.

"We should, while mourning, also sing at the top of our voices, dance and do whatever we want to do, to celebrate the life of this outstanding revolutionary," Zuma said.

On Tuesday around 80,000 people are expected to attend a memorial service in the Soweto sports stadium that hosted the final of the 2010 World Cup.

US President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle will travel to South Africa together with former first couple George W. and Laura Bush.

Another former US leader, Bill Clinton, who was in office when Mandela became South Africa's first black president, will also attend.

In a tribute shortly after the revered statesman's death was made public, Obama mourned Mandela as a "profoundly good" man who "took history in his hands and bent the arc of the moral universe towards justice".

On Friday, ordinary South Africans across the country poured out onto the streets in a riot of colour, dance and song to celebrate the life of their beloved ex-leader, known affectionately as Madiba.

In Cape Town, a crowd of thousands from all races and ages gathered for a multi-faith celebration at the site where Mandela made his first public speech after nearly three decades in apartheid jail.

"Tonight we stand in solidarity as the people of Cape Town -- black, white, coloured, Indian, all the religions together," said mayor Patricia De Lille.

South Africa's archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu, a fellow Nobel peace prize winner, praised Mandela as an "incredible gift that God gave us".

Fighting back tears, Tutu said his old friend was "a unifier from the moment he walked out of prison".

Mandela spent 27 years in apartheid prisons before being elected president in 1994 and unifying his country with a message of reconciliation after the end of white minority rule. He shared the Nobel Peace Prize with South Africa's last white president, F.W. de Klerk, in 1993.

Palestinians and Israelis, Beijing and the Dalai Lama, Washington and Tehran all paid heartfelt tribute to Mandela, describing him as one of the towering figures of the 20th century who inspired young and old with his fight for equality.

Even reclusive North Korea sent its condolences, praising Mandela's "struggle against racism and for democracy".

Syria's beleaguered president, Bashar al-Assad, ventured a homage on his official Facebook page, calling Mandela "a torch for the resistance and liberation from racism, hatred, occupation and injustice."

Flags flew at half-mast in numerous countries, including the United States, France and Britain, and at the United Nations headquarters in New York.

New York's Empire State Building and Paris' Eiffel Tower were lit up in the colours of the South African flag.

India declared five days of mourning for a man the premier labelled "a true Gandhian".

South African Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said the best way to remember Mandela was to free the African continent of poverty, unrest and disease.

"We will do it in your name," she said.

In Brazil, organisers of the 2014 football World Cup flashed Mandela's image up on a giant screen and held a minute's silence before the groups' draw.

Family 'overwhelmed' by support

Mandela had waged a long battle against a recurring lung infection and had been receiving treatment at home since September following a lengthy hospital stay.

His two youngest daughters were in London watching the premiere of his biopic "Long Walk to Freedom", along with Britain's Prince William, when they learned of his death.

British actor Idris Elba, who portrayed Mandela in the film, said: "We have lost one of the greatest human beings to have walked this Earth."

Mandela's eldest grandson Mandla expressed gratitude for the international outpouring of support, saying the messages had "heartened and overwhelmed" the family.

Once considered a terrorist by the United States and Britain for his support of violence against the apartheid regime, at the time of his death Mandela was an almost unimpeachable moral icon.


© 2013 AFP

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