Huge gathering of world leaders for Mandela events

Last updated 07:07 10/12/2013
Reuters

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pays his respects to Nelson Mandela, during a visit to Johannesburg's Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory.

Obama heads to Mandela memorial

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South Africa says US President Barack Obama and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will be among world leaders speaking at a mass memorial service for Nelson Mandela.

More than 70 heads of state are flying to the country for events commemorating Nelson Mandela this week, an unprecedented gathering that will hail one of humanity's great peacemakers.

Cuban leader Raul Castro, Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, Britain's David Cameron and New Zealand's John Key would also join what is set to be one of the biggest meetings of global dignitaries in recent history at Johannesburg's Soccer City stadium, the foreign ministry said.

The 95,000-seat stadium in Soweto, the township that was at the heart of the anti-apartheid struggle, will host the main memorial ceremony for Mandela, who died on Friday aged 95.

It was the site of Mandela's last public appearance, when he waved to fans from the back of a golf cart at the final of the 2010 soccer World Cup.

South Africa's government released the list of speakers for the memorial, expected to last four hours at stadium at Soweto Township near Johannesburg.

"The whole world is coming to South Africa," foreign ministry spokesman Clayson Monyela said, playing down concerns about organising logistics and security for such a large event with only five days notice following Mandela's death.

Mandela, South Africa's first black president, passed away peacefully in the company of his family after a long battle with a lung infection, plunging his 52 million compatriots and millions more around the world into grief.

"We're obviously not starting from scratch in terms of organisation," Monyela said. "We've got a system that kicks into play whenever you've got events of this magnitude."

Officials said thousands of South African police officers will be on hand at the ceremony in the soccer stadium, and authorities will block access to the site if crowds become too large.

Lieutenant General Solomon Makgale, a spokesman for the South African Police Service, said "thousands" of officers will direct traffic, protect mourners and help the bodyguards of visiting dignitaries.

"We will be on hand to make sure people are able to grieve in a safe environment," Makgale told The Associated Press.

Makgale said a joint taskforce of police, diplomats and intelligence service personnel already have been making plans and talking to the foreign delegations who plan to attend the ceremony.

On Monday, ground crews cut the grass in front of FNB Stadium. Workers inside also installed bulletproof glass to protect the stage where foreign leaders, including President Obama, are expected to speak.

"Whether we have 10 heads of state coming or 70 or 100, we do have the capacity and plans in place to facilitate their movement," Makgale said.

Roads several square kilometres around the stadium will be closed, and people will have to walk or take public transport to the stadium. Nearby stadiums equipped with viewing screens also will be open to accommodate overflow crowds.

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Government Minister Collins Chabane told journalists that officials "can't guess" how many people will attend or will try to enter the stadium.

"Once we see that the numbers are becoming unmanageable, ... access will be denied," Chabane said.

On Sunday, worshippers filled churches, mosques, synagogues and community halls, offering praise and prayers for a man celebrated as "Father of the Nation" and a global beacon of integrity, rectitude and reconciliation.

Tributes have flowed in from around the world.

"The fact that international leaders are making their way to South Africa at such short notice reflects the special place President Mandela holds in the hearts of people around the globe," Presidency Minister Collins Chabane said.

Mandela's remains will lie in state for three days the Union Buildings in Pretoria, where he was sworn in as President in 1994. He will then be buried on December15 in Qunu, his ancestral home in the Eastern Cape province.

But only "very few" world leaders will attend the Qunu funeral, Monyela said, adding the idea was to keep this event more a family affair.   

- Agencies 

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