Thousands of cops for Mandela memorial

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IOL MANDELA-_1208_11


A police officer stands behind fences covered by flowers outside former president Nelson Mandela;s home in Johannesburg, December 8, 2013. South African anti-apartheid hero Mandela died. Picture: Yves Herman

Johannesburg -

Thousands of police officers will be on hand at a ceremony honouring Nelson Mandela at FNB Stadium in Soweto, and authorities will block access to the site if crowds become too large, officials said on Monday.

Mourners including dozens heads of state are expected to flock to the 95 000-capacity stadium for Tuesday's memorial.

Mandela made his last public appearance at the same stadium for the closing ceremony of the 2010 World Cup, when the venue was called Soccer City.

Lt. Gen. Solomon Makgale, a spokesman for the SAPS, 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 US President Barack Obama, are expected to speak.

Authorities say more than 70 heads of state to attend the ceremony. Foreign dignitaries began arriving on Sunday. Those attending include Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron, Brazilian leader Dilma Rousseff and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

“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.

Minister in the Presidency Collins Chabane told journalists on Monday 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.

Mandela died on Thursday at age 95.

After the stadium memorial on Tuesday, Mandela's body will lie in state at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, from Wednesday to Friday. He will be buried Sunday in Qunu, his rural hometown in Eastern Cape. - Sapa-AP

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