The South African National Defence Force has cancelled all leave to have over 11 000 soldiers help with logistical and security arrangements for Nelson Mandela's memorial and funeral services this week, Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said on Sunday.
“It is all systems go,” Mapisa-Nqakula said by telephone.
“It is already under way. We are rolling out a plan which has been in place for the past three or four years.”
The 11 000 soldiers would be deployed countrywide to support police for the myriad events planned, starting with a memorial service at the 94 000-seater FNB stadium in Soweto.
With US President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle among the heads of state confirmed, the three main entry points to the country would be OR Tambo International, east of Johannesburg, Lanseria International Airport and the Waterkloof Airforce Base outside Pretoria.
Earlier Eastern Cape premier Noxolo Kiviet said the Mthatha airport would only be used for landing of heads of state.
VIPs and members of the public could use the Port Elizabeth and East London airports.
Soldiers were already in Mthatha in the Eastern Cape in a “tent town”, ready for the large number of local and international visitors and journalists.
South Africa's defence force was originally an amalgamation of soldiers of the apartheid government's South African Defence Force, and those from the military wings of various anti-apartheid movements, such as Umkhonto we Sizwe.
Mapisa-Nqakula said there would be some no-fly zones. The plan was being developed by the department of transport, the SA Civil Aviation Authority and the air force.
The SANDF was in charge of the 20-member team of doctors who took care of Mandela while he was alive. When he died at his Houghton, Johannesburg, home on Thursday at 8.50pm, it already had a plan, ready to be activated.
“The first day for me was... when the reality... that Tata is gone, and everything was a plan on paper that needed to be rolled out... was rather traumatic,” she said.
“But you quickly had to come to terms and be collected and be focused,” she said.
“I am lucky that I have a team of generals that are focused,” she said.
Chief of the SANDF Solomon Shoke had already convened a military command on Thursday night, and when Mandela died, all that was left was for President Jacob Zuma to sign the final command to activate the plan.
Afterwards, when Mandela's body was brought down the stairs of his Houghton home at 1.30am to be taken to 1 Military Hospital in Tshwane, the SANDF soldiers gave him a final salute.
“It was a deeply emotional moment,” she said.
“But the convoy, the escort, those motorbikes were there. Those covering us on helicopters were there. Everything fell into place.”
She explained that the SANDF would make sure he was embalmed. From Wednesday until Friday Mandela would lie in state at the Union Buildings in Pretoria.
“On Saturday there will be a huge send-off at Waterkloof and Tata will be leaving. He will be going back home to Qunu where he will be buried.”
Plans are that inside the SA Airforce C130 aircraft to accompany his body will be old friends and African National Congress veterans Andrew Mlangeni, Ahmed Kathrada, Dennis Goldberg, who he stood trial with, and ANC Women's League veteran Gertrude Shope.
Mapisa-Nqakula would fly ahead to receive him.
Transet had made trains available for the SANDF to ferry veterans and some guests. The luxurious Blue Train had also been made available.
There had been no mishaps with the arrangements so far, she said.
“We are very happy. We are proud. Now it is time to celebrate his life.” - Sapa