Around 90 world leaders including President Barack Obama and former US presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Jimmy Carter and stars including Bono and Oprah Winfrey have traveled to South Africa to join thousands of ordinary South Africans to honor, celebrate the life of, and bid farewell to, South African icon, former president Nelson Mandela, who died on December 5 at the age of 95.
Cyril Ramaphosa, Deputy President of the African National Congress and Baleka Mbete, National Chairperson of the ANC, were set to host the four-hour memorial service “celebration” at the 95,000 capacity FNB Stadium in Soweto, Johannesburg. The Tuesday December 10, 2013 memorial coincides with International Human Rights Day.
Hundreds of South Africans headed in predawn rain to attend the event which non-celebrity guests were invited to attend on a first-come first-served basis.
Meanwhile at around 7am Airforce One touched down at South Africa’s Waterkloof Airforce Base in Pretoria carrying US President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle Obama; former US President Bill Clinton, and with his wife, former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; former US President George W. Bush and his wife Laura Bush; and former US President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn Carter.
British PM David Cameron was set to attend the memorial. Prince Charles was expected to represent the Queen at the funeral itself, which will be held on Sunday December 15 in the Mandela rural home village of Qunu.
South African President Jacob Zuma was set to address the service and tributes would be given by other heads of state and eminent persons, including Obama.
Provincial and local authorities were asked to arrange transport for mourners from various parts of the country to FNB Stadium and the overflow venues, the mammoth Ellis Park, Orlando and Dobsonville stadiums, which were also expected to be filled to capacity. Big screens had been installed at the overflow venues to allow mourners to follow proceedings at FNB Stadium.
Madiba’s body will lie in state at the Union Buildings in Pretoria from tomorrow through Friday.
Throughout the week memorial services were being held in municipalities and cities throughout South Africa where public commemoration spots were being set up.
Today's memorial service threw up some monumental challenges for the South African government and the international security services mandated to protect their VIPs. The government has confirmed that any member of the public is welcome to the stadium without prior accreditation. In a bid to prevent terror scares, a large portion of Johannesburg’s arterial roads and airspace had been closed.
Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, the South African foreign minister, said there had been “unprecedented interest” in attending the service.
World leaders, particularly those with large entourages and special security needs, were encouraged to attend the memorial in Johannesburg rather than the private funeral in the Mandela rural home village of Qunu on Sunday.