BY SOLLY MAPHUMULO, BRENDAN ROANE and PETER FABRICIUS
Johannesburg - Madiba will be buried alongside his children – where he wanted to be – and honoured by dozens of world leaders who are flying to South Africa this week.
In Qunu, Eastern Cape, preparations for the funeral were under way on Sunday, while the government and diplomats worked on who’s who list of world leaders to attend.
Nelson Mandela’s final resting place in Qunu is surrounded by trees, plants and natural stone-built walls. On Sunday, a landscape company was bringing in more plants for the gravesite in the family homestead.
Mandela chose the site where his children are buried. They were secretly exhumed by Mandela’s grandson, Chief Zwelivelile Mandla Mandela, and reburied in Mvezo, but exhumed after the high court instructed Mandela’s grandson Mandla to return them to Qunu.
“We all know this is where Tata is going to be buried. It’s no secret he chose that piece of land himself,” said a villager, who did not want to be named.
On Sunday the government announced that ANC veterans Andrew Mlangeni, Ahmed Kathrada, Denis Goldberg and ANC Women’s League veteran Gertrude Shope will accompany Mandela’s body to Qunu.
Nearby, a giant stadium for the funeral service was being erected by workers toiling throughout the night. It will provide seating for dignitaries who will attend.
Construction started on Friday, and on Saturday night workers carried on under lights. Trucks of building material moved in and out of the Mandela homestead, while police and the military stood guard.
“We have been deployed to come and make sure everything is going according to plan. There is no security threat, but Mandela is an important person; we have to monitor the preparations,” said one officer.
Mourners trickled to the Mandela homestead gates, leaving flowers and messages of support.
Across the country, prayer services honoured Mandela, while the government braced for an influx of international and local mourners.
On Sunday, Minister in the Presidency Collins Chabane, other ministers and a Mandela family spokesperson updated plans for the week.
Minister of International Relations and Co-operation Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said 53 serving heads of state were planning to attend the official memorial at the FNB Stadium in Joburg tomorrow, or the funeral in Qunu on Sunday.
They were not sure which dignitaries would attend which service. Diplomats were told by government officials on Saturday that for logistical reasons it would be better if their leaders attended the FNB Stadium service, due to concerns about congestion at Mthatha Airport.
But the diplomats were also told that in African tradition no one can be turned away from a funeral, so their leaders could also attend the Qunu event.
“The fact that international leaders are making their way to South Africa at such short notice reflects the special place President Mandela holds in the hearts of people around the globe,” Chabane said.
Mandela family spokesman Lieutenant-General Themba Templeton Matanzima said the family was comforted by the national and international messages of support.
“We have always been mindful that we share Tata with the rest of South Africa, Africa and the rest of the world,” he said.
Mandela’s grandson Ndaba was part of the panel, but neither he nor Matanzima took questions.
Transport Minister Dipuo Peters said despite the influx of visitors to the province, the e-toll system would not be halted and would operate normally.
Nkoana-Mashabane declined to answer questions on whether the Dalai Lama would be granted entry, should he arrive.
“Let me reiterate as an African that we don’t issue invitations for funerals,” she said.
The Dalai Lama’s office has suggested he would like to attend as he is a great admirer of Mandela, but would not apply for a visa unless he was sure it would be granted, to avoid the embarrassment he suffered in 2010 when South Africa did not respond to his visa application.