Solly Maphumulo, Brendan Roane and Peter Fabricius
JOHANNESBURG: Nelson Mandela will be buried with his children, where he wanted to be, and honoured by dozens of world leaders who are flying to South Africa this week.
In Qunu in the Eastern Cape, preparations were going ahead yesterday while in Gauteng, the government and diplomats sorted out a funeral list with the Who’s Who of world leaders.
Mandela’s final resting place is surrounded by trees, plants and natural stone-built walls. The gravesite in the family homestead which was prepared two years ago as his final resting place, was moved in a family squabble, and yesterday it was being prepared with a landscape company bringing in more plants.
At the same time, a giant stadium for the funeral service was being erected in Qunu by workers who toiled throughout the night. Mandela chose the site himself.
This is where his children are buried. They were secretly exhumed by Mandela’s grandson Chief Zwelivelile Mandla Mandela, and reburied in Mvezo, but exhumed again after the high court instructed Mandela’s grandson Mandla to return them to Qunu.
“We all know this is where Tata is going to be buried. It’s no secret he chose that piece of land himself,” said a villager who did not want to be named.
Nearby the stadium is under way, to provide seating for dignitaries. Construction started on Friday.
On Saturday night workers carried on under lights. Trucks transporting building material moved in and out of the Mandela homestead, while police and military stood guard.
“We have been deployed to come and make sure everything is going according to plan. There is no security threat, but Mandela is an important person, we have to monitor the preparations,” said an officer.
Mourners trickled to the Mandela homestead gates, leaving flowers and messages of support.
Across the country prayer services honoured Mandela, while the government braced for an influx of international and local mourners.
Yesterday, Minister in the Presidency Collins Chabane, other ministers and a spokesman for the Mandela family updated the plans for the week. The Minister of International Relations and Co-operation, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, said they had a list of 53 serving heads of state who were planning to attend the official memorial at the FNB Stadium in Joburg tomorrow, or the funeral in Qunu on Sunday.
They were not sure which dignitaries would attend which service. Diplomats were told by government officials on Saturday that for logistical reasons it would be better if their leaders attended the FNB Stadium service, due to concerns about congestion at Mthatha Airport for the funeral.
But the diplomats were also told that in African tradition no one can be turned away from a funeral so they could also attend the Qunu event.
“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,” Chabane said.
Mandela family spokesman, Lieutenant-General Temba Templeton Matanzima said the family were comforted by the national and international messages of support.
“We have always been mindful that we share Tata with the rest of South Africa, Africa and the rest of the world,” he said.
Mandela’s grandson, Ndaba Mandela, was part of the panel but neither he or Matanzima took questions. Transport Minister Dipuo Peters said despite the influx of visitors to the province, the e-toll system would not be halted and will operate normally.
Nkoana-Mashabane refused to answer questions on whether the Dalai Lama would be granted entry should he decide to come. “Let me reiterate as an African that we don’t issue invitations for funerals,” she said.
The Dalai Lama’s office has suggested he would like to attend as he is a great admirer of Mandela but will not apply for a visa unless he is sure it will be granted, to avoid the embarrassment he suffered in 2010 when there was no response to his application.