Pomp and ceremony of a state funeral

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Military personnel carry the remains of the late Nelson Mandela at the Union Buildings in Pretoria. Picture: Marco Longari

Johannesburg - Aside from security, the logistical planning over the 10 days of mourning includes numerous ceremonial events.

The Presidency said Nelson Mandela’s remains will be transported to the Eastern Cape on Saturday from Air Force Base Waterkloof near Pretoria, where the ruling party will bid Madiba farewell. The SANDF will take charge of this leg of the state funeral.

A military guard of honour will welcome the mortal remains, which will be draped in the national flag.

Upon arrival at Mthatha Airport, the SANDF contingent will perform the ceremonial removal of the remains from the aircraft.

The coffin will be placed on a gun carriage and then transported into a hearse.

The SANDF will sound the national anthem while the guard of honour will present arms and salute.

The remains will then be transported to the family home in Qunu, where the Thembu community will conduct a traditional ceremony.

Military and defence analyst Helmoed-Römer Heitman said the president of the country is the commander-in-chief, and he believes Mandela’s funeral will be a mixture of military, state and traditional ceremonies.

“I think there will be a 21-gun salute,” said Heitman.

Military writer Willem Steenkamp, who helped to write the handbook on state funerals, said it was surprising that the memorial service was held before Mandela lies in state.

“Normally, the president would lie in state first, then it would be the memorial service and the funeral. The reason for this is that this gives the government enough time to plan the immense logistical exercise that the memorial service and funeral will be,” Steenkamp said.

He said the process of Mandela lying in state was being done to allow people time to mourn.

“The last internationally recognised statesman South Africa held a funeral for was General (Jan) Smuts in 1950. So we have not done anything like this in years,” said Steenkamp.

He said that during the processional part of the proceedings, a national ceremonial guard, trained specifically to put together ceremonial events, would be present.

He said he was aware that all five army bands have cancelled their previous commitments and will be present to play music.

Steenkamp said that while lying in state, the coffin would have sentries at all four of its corners.

“There is a lot of sense behind state funerals. It allows people to interact with what has happened and is important for the grieving process. It gives people, who might normally have mundane jobs, something important to do. It allows everyone to take part in an important part of history,” Steenkamp said.

At the gravesite, Steenkamp believes the sound of the Last Post - a bugle call which is a signal in the army that lights are going out - will be played.

“The Last Post is a very sad bugle call. It symbolises the end of a man’s life,” he said.

This was usually followed by two minutes of silence, and then the reveille - the wake-up call sound - would be played.

“This is filled with symbolism and is very meaningful, as it shows that we are burying a man and we will mourn, but life must go on.”

He also thought there might be a fly-past by the air force. This was usually the missing-man formation - a V shape where one plane banks away to show that one man has been lost.


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