Pretoria - Expect major disruptions and intense law enforcement when Nelson Mandela makes a return to Pretoria before being flown to his final resting place in his ancestral home of Qunu in the Eastern Cape.
The mortal remains of Madiba will lie in state in the amphitheatre of the Union Buildings - the place where he was inaugurated as South Africa’s first black and democratically elected head of state almost 20 years ago - from Wednesday to Friday.
Tshwane mayor Kgosientso Ramokgopa said the capital city was in the difficult position of having to manage an unknown number of people expected to pay their last respects to the father of the nation over the next few days.
The mayor said the focus was on reducing the use of private cars in the city centre.
However, he said this would be done without causing too much disruption to people’s everyday lives, which he added should go on even during the time of mourning.
Ramokgopa said the city council would host a special meeting in commemoration of Madiba on Monday morning.
The official memorial service for Mandela in Pretoria will be held at the 29 000-seater Lucas Moripe Stadium in Atteridgeville on Thursday.
The mayor said that since the weekend road markings along the main routes have been repainted, traffic signals fixed or replaced and streets cleaned to ensure the city places its best foot forward when foreign nationals join residents of the city to bid farewell to the former president.
Ramokgopa said construction work on the bus rapid transit system on key roads in the city centre was being halted and “reinstated to their original state” along key routes.
“The city remains alive to its role and responsibilities and is fully participating in the various preparatory structures,” he said.
“We have activated response teams in emergency, disaster and metro police divisions to proactively manage potential crowd hotspots such as Church Square and the Union Buildings.”
The capital has made plans to manage the mass influx to the city centre and the Union Buildings, mourners staying overnight to have a last glimpse of Madiba, possible damage to infrastructure, traffic congestion and policing.
Nooks will be made available across the city for people to write their messages of condolences, he said.
Next Monday, Reconciliation Day, a statue of Mandela will be unveiled at the Union Buildings which also marks the centenary of the buildings.
At least 53 heads of states have confirmed they will attend the funeral and memorial service.
Of these, 13 are African heads of state and 15 others from outside the continent. Minister in the Presidency Collins Chabane said American president Barack Obama and his wife Michelle will be accompanied to the country by former presidents George W Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter and their spouses.
Brazilian President Dilma Vana Rousseff will also be accompanied by former presidents Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Lula da Silva and José Serra. UN secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon will also be present. British Prime Minister David Cameron will attend the memorial service and Prince Charles will attend the funeral.
Minister of International Relations Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said it was all systems go for the events.
“This is unprecedented. We do not expect all of them to speak at the official memorial service.”
Chabane said: “From today we will see the arrival of a large contingent of heads of state and government and a broad range of eminent persons, including royalty. 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.”
Meanwhile, Sapa reports the SANDF has cancelled all leave to have more than 11 000 soldiers help with logistical and security arrangements for Mandela’s memorial and funeral services this week, Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said on Sunday.
“It is all systems go,” Mapisa-Nqakula said.
“It is already under way. We are rolling out a plan which has been in place for the past three or four years.”
“I am lucky that I have a team of generals that are focused,” she said.
“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.”
The plan is that inside the SA Air Force C130 aircraft to accompany his body will be old friends and ANC 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 them.
Transnet 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 proud. Now it is time to celebrate his life.”
* Buy the Pretoria News on Monday for a special souvenir supplement.