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Johannesburg - The world is coming to South Africa for the biggest funeral ever in three days’ time – but without the Dalai Lama. There will be at least two former US presidents to pay tribute to Nelson Mandela in death, along with a host of world leaders, presidents and celebrities in an unprecedented display of global unity, perhaps last seen when Mandela was inaugurated as South Africa’s first ever democratically elected president on May 10, 1994.
The scale of the event however seems to have caught the government off guard.
By yesterday, the government had still to finalise most of the logistics for Tuesday’s memorial state service at Johannesburg’s FNB Stadium.
The speakers have yet to be identified and the roads on which Mandela’s remains will be transported from 1 Military Hospital in Pretoria to the Union Buildings are also yet to be mapped out.
The former president will lie in state for three days afterwards at the Union Buildings in Pretoria.
Collins Chabane, minister in the presidency, told media yesterday that the Department of International Relations and Co-operation was still finalising arrangements for the heads of state arriving to attend Tuesday’s service and Sunday’s burial in Qunu, in the Eastern Cape.
The ANC announced earlier this week that were would be 54 memorial events around the country to give everyone a chance to pay proper tribute to Mandela.
Chabane was adamant that the government and security agencies were prepared for any and all security threats over the next eight days.
“We must always be concerned, but for us this does not represent any specific challenge,” Chabane said. “We have no sleepless nights”.
Chabane said heads of state have been advised through their embassies of the limited space in Qunu, and had been urged to use their own discretion as to which service to attend.
One diplomat who had been to a Dirco briefing, warned Mthatha Airport would be chaotic “because of the logistical squeeze and also the shortage of hotels and services there.
“They are not interdicting anyone from going to Qunu because they are saying in the African tradition they cannot prevent anyone attending a funeral.
“But they are recommending we rather don’t go”.
Other diplomats said they had been told by charter companies that aircraft would be unable to park at Mthatha airport because of the expected congestion and would have to drop off passengers and fly off to East London or Port Elizabeth to park.
Many embassies had waited to hear about the final arrangements from Dirco on Saturday before making final arrangements for their leaders to arrive.
On Saturday the White House confirmed that Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama will come to South Africa along with George Bush and his wife, Laura.
Former president Bill Clinton, who was in office when Mandela took power revealed on Twitter that he and his entire family would be attending the funeral.
Neither Pope Francis nor Queen Elizabeth II will attend Mandela’s funeral. The Vatican will send senior representatives while Prince Charles will represent the Queen.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, who earlier this week honoured Mandela as a “giant for justice,” will also attend the funeral.
Exiled Tibetan spiritual leader and Mandela’s friend, The Dalai Lama, is unlikely to come however.
Migyur Dorjee, his South African representative, said the Dalai Lama had not yet obtained a visa.
“The Dalai Lama had a great regard for Mandela. His death shocked him,” he said.
Last year, the South African government caused an uproar after delaying the Dalai Lama's visa to attend Emeritus Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s 80th birthday.
The Supreme Court of Appeal ruled that government had acted unlawfully in the matter. South Africa was accused of bowing to pressure from China, its major trade partner.
“Again, if he has to come, there is a question of the Visa. I am very doubtful that he can attend because of these problems,” Dorjee said.
A spokesman for the Sudanese embassy said President Omar el-Bashir would not be coming to avoid any complications associated with his indictment by the International Criminal Court (ICC).
In the past South African officials have said they would have to arrest him if he set foot in South Africa because South Africa is a member of the ICC. - Sunday Independent