Tens of thousands to attend Mandela's funeral

Last updated 22:41 10/12/2013

Crowds in Johannesburg for memorial

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They camped overnight in the rain, anxious not to miss the chance say goodbye to their beloved Madiba.

Tens of thousands of mourners were expected to flood into the FNB stadium overnight (NZ time) to farewell Nelson Mandela.

They will be joined for a few hours by one king, 53 presidents and 13 prime ministers, including John Key.

Dignitaries have not gathered in such number since the funeral of Pope John II.

Behind bulletproof screens, President Barack Obama, and four of his predecessors, will stand shoulder to shoulder with British Prime Minister David Cameron, Prince Charles, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon.

Celebrities including Naomi Campbell, Oprah Winfrey and Annie Lennox will also attend.

Strict protocol dictates the VIPs will be seated alphabetically by country, to ensure no embarrassing encounters.

Cameron will be separated from Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and Obama from Cuban President Raul Castro Ruz and Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro.

Japan and China will also be kept apart amid simmering tension in the region. One South African paper dubbed the arrangements "eggshell diplomacy".

Former activist and government minister Jay Naidoo, who campaigned for Mandela's release, was one of the earliest arrivals to the stadium.

Sheltering from the drizzle in the stands with his wife, Lucie Page, and their son, Kami Naidoo-Page, he said he was there with a "mixture of joy and sorrow".

"The heavens are crying," he said of the weather.

He was there to pay tribute to "an extraordinary man who brought our country to an extraordinary place."

The service would be "a momentous day in which we close a circle and end an era".

He added: "Today we are here, across the world, to remember a man who stood for human dignity and social justice."

As the stadium began filling up it echoed with singing, dancing, chanting and noisy blasts from vuvuzelas.

Many mourners are draped in flags bearing the face of "Tata".

South African President Jacob Zuma will deliver the keynote address. General Thanduxolo Mandela will speak on behalf of the family and Mandela's friend, Andrew Mlangeni, who served time with him in Robben Island prison, will share his memories.

The mood is expected to be a mix of sombre reflection and celebration of the former president's 95 years.

A gloomy day dawned over the calabash-shaped stadium, uncharacteristically cold and wet for the Johannesburg summer.

The reddish-brown venue will be familiar to football fans as the venue for the Fifa World Cup final in 2010, which was also Mandela's last public appearance.

Umbrellas were banned for security reasons, but the wet weather was not expected to deter mourners.

The Government laid on free transport for mourners and closed many surrounding roads. Chaotic scenes were expected as the crowds amassed.

More than 2000 journalists and crew were accredited for the service and events later this week, with some queuing up to eight hours to get their hands on the coveted passes.

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Secret service and intelligence agents had earlier prowled the venue and surrounding areas, and a no-fly zone was in place, with fighter jets patrolling the skies as world leaders jetted in.

Also expected to be present for the four-hour service were singer Peter Gabriel and British tycoon Richard Branson, as well as former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan.

Key will be joined by Labour leader David Cunliffe, but was forced to leave the rest of his five-person delegation back at the hotel after being told numbers were restricted.

From tomorrow Mandela's body will lie in state at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, ahead of the funeral in his home town of Qunu, on Sunday.

- Fairfax Media

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