Belfast Telegraph

Friday 26 December 2014

World leaders to honour Mandela

People gather for a prayer service outside the home of Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg. (AP/Themba Hadebe)
People gather for a prayer service outside the home of Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg. (AP/Themba Hadebe)

South Africa expects overwhelming crowds and a host of world leaders to attend services honouring the late former president Nelson Mandela.

Across the country, South Africans have already begun honouring Mr Mandela, who died on Thursday aged 95, and the authorities expect tens of thousands to participate in next week's official services.

In their first statement since Mr Mandela's death, his family said they had "lost a great man", just as they had when South Africa's apartheid government imprisoned him for decades.

"The pillar of our family is gone, just as he was away during that 27 painful years of imprisonment, but in our hearts and souls he will always be with us," said the statement, read by a family spokesman.

"His spirit endures. As a family we commit ourselves to uphold and be guided by the values he lived for and was prepared to die for," he said.

Official services honouring Mr Mandela will begin on Tuesday with a major memorial planned at the FNB Stadium on the edge of Johannesburg's Soweto township.

Government minister Collins Chabane told journalists he expects massive crowds far beyond what the stadium's normal 95,000-person capacity could hold. He said there would be "overflow" areas set up.

"We can't tell people not to come," he said.

He could not offer specifics about how crowds would arrive there with all roads to the venue closed by police or who would serve as a master of ceremonies.

Those planning Mr Mandela's funeral include the former president's family, the federal government, the military and the African National Congress party.

Despite some prior planning by authorities as Mr Mandela grew frail and suffered bouts of hospitalisation in recent years, many of the details remain up in the air.

It is unclear which ceremony world leaders will attend, either Tuesday's stadium memorial or the planned funeral service on December 15 in Qunu, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate's rural hometown in Eastern Cape Province.

Mr Chabane said South African officials were briefing diplomats about the arrangements.

US president Barack Obama and his two predecessors, George W Bush and Bill Clinton, have already indicated they will attend services in South Africa honouring Mr Mandela.

Mr Mandela's body will not be at the stadium event on Tuesday, Mr Chabane said.

His body will rest in state on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, the seat of government power in South Africa's capital.

Mourners will walk up the steps into the Union Buildings' amphitheatre and file past Mr Mandela's body, Mr Chabane said. Authorities blocked visitors from visiting the amphitheatre on Saturday. Mr Chabane said he did not know yet whether it would be an open- or closed-casket viewing.

Mr Mandela's body will be held overnight during those days at a military hospital on Pretoria's outskirts, Mr Chabane said.

He called on residents to line the streets to serve as an honour guard as Mr Mandela's body will pass twice each day.

ANC members will hold a ceremony on December 14 at Waterkloof Air Force Base near Pretoria before Mr Mandela's body is flown to Qunu from there, Mr Chabane added.

Sunday has been declared a national day of prayer and reflection over Mr Mandela's death.

The government has announced that a special sitting of the two houses of parliament will be held on Monday to pay tribute to Mr Mandela, the country's first black and democratically elected president.

Tributes to the former anti-apartheid activist continued to pour in from around the globe on Saturday.

Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe, who has been in power since his country's independence from Britain in 1980 and supported Mr Mandela's ANC during its struggle against the apartheid regime, paid his first public tribute to the deceased leader.

Despite himself being accused by critics of increasingly authoritarian rule, Mr Mugabe praised Mr Mandela as a champion of democracy and "an unflinching fighter for justice".

"Mr Nelson Mandela's renowned and illustrious political life will forever remain a beacon of excellence," Zimbabwe's state-run newspaper The Herald quoted Mr Mugabe as saying.

At Mr Mandela's house in Houghton, hundreds of people gathered on Saturday and sang liberation songs and homages to him. They walked through the streets of Houghton past expansive, stately homes carrying bundles of flowers and images of Mr Mandela.

Precious Ncayiyana, a pharmacist, carried a painting of Mr Mandela made from old newspaper clippings about him. Her left eye bore the number 46664, Mr Mandela's former inmate number, while her right eye said Madiba, his clan name.

Ms Ncayiyana said she planned to drive the painting's artist to Pretoria so he could make a painting of the leader's body lying in state.

"It's my way of contributing to Madiba's legacy. He's gone, but his spirit lives on," she said.

As the chanting and cheering behind her grew louder, she raised her voice to add: "If you see someone you can help, it doesn't cost anything. ... That's what he taught us."

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