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‘It’s different ... it is Madiba’s funeral’

Published Dec 7, 2013


Johannesburg -

South Africans gathered at Nelson Mandela's homes in Johannesburg and his rural hinterland of Qunu on Saturday to say farewell, while the government went to work planning a funeral of a scale never seen in the country before.

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“What makes it different is that it is the funeral of Madiba, the former president of the republic, leader of the ANC and a global icon,” Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa said.

Government announced Mandela's coffin would be taken through the streets of Pretoria in a cortege every morning from Wednesday to Friday - when he will lie in state at the Union Buildings after a memorial service on Tuesday in Soweto's 94,000-seat Soccer City.

“We are going to be encouraging members of the public to be lining the streets... as (the body)... goes through the streets of Pretoria to the Union Buildings,” government communications director Neo Momodu said in Johannesburg.

She added that tight security would be in place on buses following the former president's body to the hill-top seat of government, including a camera ban.

“They will get on a bus that will be driven and controlled. It is not a free-for-all.”

The procession is part of 10 days of official mourning for Mandela, leading up to his state funeral in Qunu next Sunday. It is expected to see the powerful, royal and famous come in numbers to pay their respects after his death on Thursday struck a chord around the world.

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US President Barack Obama has been among the first statesmen to confirm that he is due in South Africa, along with his predecessors George W. Bush and Bill Clinton but government officials said they were far from having a full list of foreign dignitaries who would attend.

On Saturday, the military and mounted police patrolled the streets of Qunu, the Eastern Cape village where Mandela grew up, and guarded the house he built here as a retreat.

Police closed off the N2 - the main road to and from Qunu - while workers repaired potholes in the tarmac and South African Airways announced special flights to take guests to the funeral.

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After stepping up border and air space security when Mandela died on Thursday, the defence force cancelled all staff leave on Saturday to have the numbers needed for crowd control here and at dozens of memorial events in coming days.

Mthethwa alluded to the logistical magnitude of the sweeping send-off for the liberation hero when he said there were fears that Soccer City, also known as the FNB Stadium, could not contain the number of mourners, among them international leaders, expected to attend.

“We have looked at FNB Stadium from a security point of view. FNB Stadium may not be enough to take all the people who want to come,” Mthethwa said,

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The government was also considering using Ellis Park, in Johannesburg, and the Orlando Stadium, in Soweto, as overflow areas where people could pay their respects.

He stressed that security was a top priority.

“I can say that we will deploy as much as possible, understanding the magnitude of the funeral. We would want to ensure that we have security personnel, as we see it, more to help people and direct people to be able to mourn. We are urging members of the public to really respect the events.”

In the meanwhile, young and old paid tribute to Nelson Mandela in the Eastern Cape on Saturday visiting both his home in Qunu and the Nelson Mandela museum.

An emotional South African-born US citizen Sara Joffe said it was an honour to be in the country and to mourn with South Africans.

"I feel very, very sad about Mandela's death, and I am grateful to be here at this time. I have always hugely admired Madiba," said a tearful Joffe.

"It's an incredible honour to be here. I needed to be here in Qunu to somewhat feel connected to him."

She said she had received a lot of messages from people in the US expressing their sadness, and saying that the news had made headlines in the US ever since it was announced on Thursday.

Americans saw Mandela as a hero and an amazing leader, and people had put him on a pedestal.

"It's just amazingly special to be here. I can hardly breathe," Joffe said.

Ten-year-old Honeymoon Bulela visited Mandela's house and the museum with her mother and sister, and said it made her happy to see his house.

"I'm sad that he (Mandela) is dead because he loved and was fond of children. He didn't like children being hurt," she said.

"I feel happy being here and seeing how he grew up."

Her mother Nolundi Manga said her daughters became interested in Mandela's life from watching television documentaries.

"I want to also show them what Mandela went through in his life," she said.

She said that, staying in Mthatha, it was important to take the drive to join South Africans from across the country.

The heap of flowers outside the main gate to the house grew as the day progressed. Visitors also took pictures of the house.

Sixolile Mqomboti brought his nephews and nieces.

Although they were probably too young to remember the visit, the pictures he took would remind them in future.

"They don't know anything at the moment, but this a historic moment for our country," he said.

There was a heavy military presence at the house, with at least 10 armoured vehicles parked outside for most of the day.

Soldiers with firearms marched on the N2, past the house, to their assembly point.

The vehicles left shortly after 3pm for Mthatha, leaving behind police and emergency services vehicles.

Two trucks arrived loaded with the material needed to erect stages.

Children played and walking up and down a side roads where the media had parked. The media contingent outside the house was also growing.

Police on horseback were patrolling the streets of the village.

The N2, which is the main road to and from Qunu, has been closed for a few kilometres before and after Mandela's house.

Meanwhile, roadworks on the N2 continued, with workers filling potholes.

One visitor to Qunu said he drove more than 1000km from Cape Town to place flowers outside Mandela's house.

“It was important for me to drive all the way to put my feet on his land,” 33-year-old Thapelo Selepe said.

“Madiba is not just a man, he is the father of the nation, the father of the world. Someone who was born in this rural area and became an icon of the world.

“I brought flowers because flowers grow from the soil and I believe the spirit of Madiba will continue to grow from generation to generation.”

South Africans in all their diversity echoed similar sentiments outside the house in Houghton where he died, and the one in Soweto's Vilakazi street where he lived decades ago before he was jailed.

In Houghton, at the Union Buildings and in front of Cape Town's City Hall bouquets of flowers piled up in an echo of the emotional tributes laid out for Princess Diana 16 years ago.

A KwaZulu-Natal family travelled from Durban to pay tribute to Mandela at his Houghton home.

Allan Prawlall, his wife and two children, left Durban on Friday morning and drove to Johannesburg so that they could bid farewell to the former president.

"We had to come pay our respects to Tata, " said Prawlall.

"I wanted my children to witness the impact that Madiba had on people first hand."

Rian van Rensburg in Pretoria said: “Mandela ushered changes which opened South Africa to the world. Before him, we were secluded. We are a country that is respected now, and Mandela made it possible.”

United Arab Emirates-based Riaan Visser said he admired Mandela for his vision of a united “rainbow” nation, first evoked in his inauguration speech in 1994 when he became the country's first black president.

“I believe that his death will bring back the discussion about reconciliation in this country and the whole world. There are a lot of people in this country and overseas, where I work, who want the reconciliation to work out.”

Foreign news coverage has suggested fragile national unity may flounder in Mandela's absence, a notion disputed by local political analysts this week.

After two days of awed tributes from around the world, Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe broke his silence on Mandela's death.

“Not only was he a great champion of the emancipation of the oppressed, but he was also a humble and compassionate leader who showed selfless dedication to the service of his people,” he said.

Congress of the People leader Mosiuoa Lekota - who broke away from the ANC five years ago - offered a fond eulogy.

“His physical presence has indeed left us, but his legacy and indomitable spirit live on forever in my heart, the hearts of a nation and, indeed, the hearts of a world.”

Sunday will be a national day of prayer and President Jacob Zuma will attend a service at Bryanston Methodist Church in Johannesburg.

Zuma urged South Africans to turn out in force and remember to sing to celebrate Mandela's life - a call many in Soweto took up this week in contrast to the anxiety displayed when an ailing Mandela was rushed to hospital in June.

“We should, while mourning, also sing at the top of our voices, dance and do whatever we want to do, to celebrate the life of this outstanding revolutionary,” Zuma said. - Sapa

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