Johannesburg - An academic hospital in Mthatha has been handed over to the SANDF to treat the visiting heads of states as the biggest security exercise the country has seen gets going.
On Tuesday morning, more than 70 heads of state and tens of thousands of ordinary mourners will attend the massive national memorial service for Nelson Mandela at the FNB Stadium in Soweto, after which many will head for Sunday’s funeral in his home village of Qunu, Eastern Cape.
In the Eastern Cape, the military is taking over.
The Nelson Mandela Academic Hospital would be used to treat any heads of state who need proper medical attention, and security would be beefed up at the hospital, Eastern Cape health spokesman Sizwe Kupelo said on Monday.
There will also be a medical centre controlled by the military in the Mandela household on the day of the funeral to treat heads of state and VIPs.
“Heads of state and former presidents from several international countries will be here. All important people are expected to attend the funeral,” said Kupelo.
“So security has to be very tight. I’m just warning criminals that they can’t come to Mthatha to do funny things… This is going to be an international venue. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Mthatha residents. We can’t let anyone mess it up for us,” he added.
Kupelo said 50 police officers would be deployed to the Eastern Cape to help beef up security, and 20 Emergency Management Services (EMS) members from KwaZulu-Natal would go to help.
Locals needing urgent treatment won’t be turned away from the hospital.
“People who have gunshot wounds or women who are going into labour would be attended to, including all other serious cases,” he said.
Kupelo said an additional 42 beds had been allocated to the nearby Mthatha General Hospital, which is part of the same complex, and there would be a mobile clinic and a tent with doctors, emergency services and nurses at each mourning venue.
There will also be EMS personnel along the N2 from East London to Mthatha to deal with any emergencies. EMS members will escort a convoy of 13 buses transporting VIPs heading for the funeral.
An air ambulance will be available for emergencies.
“It will be controlled by the army because we can’t fly without permission from the SANDF,” he said.
Military experts described the security detail for today’s massive memorial and Sunday’s funeral as “an immense logistical exercise”.
Roads around the FNB Stadium will be closed on Tuesday and access to the stadium was shut down on Monday for security sweeps and to set up the stage.
SAPS Lieutenant-General Solomon Makgale said thousands of police officers would be at the memorial and they would block access if crowds become too large.
Makgale said a joint task force of police, the foreign service and intelligence officers had been planning and talking to foreign delegations.
“We cannot release any tactical information, but we are ready for any eventuality,” said Makgale.
He said a command centre was being run by the same team that ran the 2010 World Cup centre.
“We have a plan to deal with hosting numerous heads of state. That plan was in place during the World Cup and during the recent Brics summit. All we have done is pulled that plan out and adapted it.”
Makgale said there would be flight restrictions over FNB Stadium on Tuesday, the Union Buildings and the burial area in Qunu during the funeral.
On Monday, AP reported, ground crews cut the grass in front of the FNB Stadium.
Inside, workers installed bulletproof glass to protect the stage from where foreign leaders, including US President Barack Obama, are expected to speak.
Even though the government is not releasing any security details, military and defence analyst Helmoed-Romer Heitman said some measures could be predicted.
He said the first focus would be on civil aviation and heads of state would arrive, mainly through the Waterkloof Air Force Base, in their own aircraft.
Celebrities would use OR Tambo International or Lanseria airports.
Heitman said security had to be tight because this event would be very attractive to terrorists. He expects fighter aircraft in the air and restricted airspace.
“The special task force and the defence force will be working closely with bodyguards for the different heads of state. Everyone must be known because you also don’t want someone sneaking in and pretending to be a bodyguard,” he said.
He said medics were on standby, spotters and snipers would be around the stadium, frigates would be at sea to watch for invaders, and troops would help the police with crowd control.