Mandela Funeral Draws Over 100 Leaders

Anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela passed away Thursday evening at the age of 95.
Anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela passed away Thursday evening at the age of 95.

South Africans and the world gathered in different places of worship to celebrate the life and legacy of the late anti-apartheid icon, Nelson Mandela, as the government of President Jacob Zuma stared at the headache of hosting an estimated 100 world leaders and hosts of celebrities and dignitaries expected at the funeral.

Diplomatic sources yesterday said South Africa might have to borrow the United Nations General Assembly system where world leaders attend sessions on equal terms and on neutral political ground, as it emerged that leaders of super powers who don’t see eye-to-eye with leaders they consider dictators or pariahs will have to converge at Mandela’s funeral.

“The convergence of so many world leaders is only experienced at the UN General Assembly in New York, and even there they attend on different days, this is bound to be a diplomatic nightmare for South Africa,” said a diplomat quoted by the media in Johannesburg. Most leaders are expected at the Mandela memorial in Johannesburg tomorrow, and some at the burial in Qunu on Sunday.

South Africa is also said to be assembling a security operation to guard the guests, on a magnitude last seen during the 2010 World Cup hosting. Those expected in South Africa include US President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron.

Cameron would have to come face-to-face with arch enemy of Britain, Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe, while Obama would have to share platform with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, the first such meeting of the two nations’ leaders outside the UN precincts. Chinese President Xi Jinping, or the leader who would represent him, could share forum with China’s arch foe, The Dalai Lama, the Tibetan exiled spiritual leader who lives in India.

South Africa has denied him a visa twice since 2009, on China’s insistence, but for the funeral of his fellow nobel laureate, and under international glare, he could be allowed in. Sudan President Hassan al Bashir might not attend owing to his arrest warrant by the International Criminal Court, but he could send a representative who will be expected to mingle with international leaders.

The poor state of health of former Cuban leader Fidel Castrol might not allow him to attend the funeral of his fellow revolutionary, but sources said his brother, President Raul Castrol is expected. It would make this a rare convergence between him and the American President, the leader whose country has shunned Cuba for over five decades.

Other world leaders expected to raise eye brows by their convergence include Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mohamoud Abbas, among dozens of Arab world leaders. Also expected are world religious leaders, including Pope Francis I. Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and nearly all heads of State under the African Union are also expected to be in South Africa.

The AU leadership and key West leaders have been going through frosty relations over the Kenyan ICC cases. The day of national prayer and reflection kicked off an official programme of mourning that saw overwhelming crowds across South Africa eulogise Mandela, who died on Thursday night after a long illness.

At South Africa’s largest Catholic Church in Soweto, Regina Mundi, hundreds of mourners gathered for a mass in remembrance of Mandela, with Priest Sebastian Roussouw honouring him for his humility. It was at this Church that the people of Soweto met during the Apartheid repression years. A similar situation is expected tomorrow as the official memorial service is held at the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg, where Mandela made his last public appearance during the World Cup final in July, 2010 will host the memorial.

The White House said President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama would be joined on Air Force One for the trip to South Africa by former president George Bush and his wife Laura. A Bush’s spokesman said the couple ‘gratefully accepted’ the invitation from the Obamas. Former President Bill Clinton is also travelling to South Africa, along with his wife, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, but it was unclear whether they would also fly on the Air Force One. “My whole family will be there,” Clinton was quoted saying.

“And we’re looking forward to having the chance to say goodbye one last time.” President Obama also invited 89-year-old George Bush Senior to travel with him to South Africa, but a spokesman for the former president said he would not make the trip. On Sunday, a smaller funeral service would be held in Mandela’s home town of Qunu, where he grew up.

Only invited leaders are expected to attend. Retired South African Anglican prelate Desmond Tutu, a long-time friend of Mandela’s and former archbishop of Cape Town is expected to lead the service. A host of celebrities who had personal ties to the great leader are also expected to travel to South Africa. Naomi Campbell, who said Mr Mandela was her ‘honourary grandfather, U2’s Bono, Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates, who has campaigned for AIDs awareness in Africa, are likely to attend the memorial. Preparations for the funeral were expected to bring the country of 53 million to a virtual standstill.

South Africa President Jacob Zuma, who attended prayers at Methodist Church in Johannesburg, said yesterday’s services were to celebrate the legacy of Mandela and told South Africans to move beyond grief. “He stood for freedom and wanted everyone to be free…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.

“We call upon all our people to gather in halls, churches, mosques, temples, synagogues and in their homes to pray and hold prayer services and meditation, reflecting on the life of Madiba and his contribution to our country and the world,” Zuma stated on Friday. Similarly, London held a service of thanksgiving, with Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby making an address at St Martin-in-the-Fields Church, a church which had strong links to the apartheid movement.

Welby described Mandela as an extraordinary and a rare leader, praised his determination to confront evil in his country and urged South Africans to continue with his good work. “Ask God for every nation to have leaders who are full of courage and resist evil, who learn from suffering, who turn that learning into love and make both into reality.

“And thank God for Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s amazing grace,” said the Bishop. The African Union (AU) and South African Embassy in Addis Ababa held a memorial yesterday that eulogised Mandela . From Wednesday through to Thursday, Mandela’s body will lie in state in an open casket at the Union Building in Pretoria, the official seat of the South African government, with viewing open to South Africans and selected international visitors and guests.

It is expected that Mandela’s casket would be transported daily between Military Hospital, Thaba Tshwane, and the Union Building. The Government has invited mourners to line the route and form a public guard of honour. On Saturday, Mandela’s body will be taken to Eastern Cape from Air Force Base Waterloof in Pretoria for the ruling African National Congress (ANC) to bid him farewell after which a procession will take place from Mthatha to Qunu, to allow the Thembu community to which he belonged to conduct a traditional ceremony.


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