Dec. 7: Nelson Mandela’s funeral will be the largest memorial event staged in Africa, an occasion of national mourning and international unity, but also a logistical nightmare and a major diplomatic challenge.
Planning has been under way for years for an event expected to be even more closely watched than the funeral of Pope John Paul II in 2005, which was attended by five kings, six queens, more than 70 Presidents and Prime Ministers, and viewed by millions around the world.
A week of mourning will include a memorial service in Soweto’s World Cup football stadium on December 10, a period of lying in state, and a state funeral on December 15 at Mandela’s ancestral village of Qunu before he is buried the same day.
While the traditional burial in Qunu is likely to be small and simple, with only a handful of dignitaries and celebrities present alongside his closest friends and family, the memorial events preceding it will be vast and complicated.
The state funeral at Qunu, expected to be held in a huge tent, will be the largest since that of Winston Churchill in 1965, posing a major organisational challenge.
It will see one of the highest concentrations of leaders, dignitaries and celebrities ever assembled. Every living US President will be in attendance, health permitting, including Barack Obama and his family.
President Pranab Mukherjee is likely to represent India and has been sent an official proposal for his approval, PTI reported.
Such was Mandela’s universal popularity that the mourners will see some longstanding enemies paying their respects side by side: Cuban and Iranian delegations alongside those from America, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe attending along with Britain’s David Cameron.
“We should all work together to organise the most befitting funeral for this outstanding son of our country and the father of our young nation,” South African President Jacob Zuma said yesterday.
Some world leaders will attend the December 10 memorial service rather than the state funeral. Officials have reportedly told foreign diplomats they should not expect their visiting dignitaries to receive special treatment, since the primary focus will be on South Africans and other African leaders.
At the state funeral, there will be an unprecedented concentration of news organisations, reporters, photographers and commentators from around the world. The South African government is reported to be in talks with the BBC over using the team that filmed the Royal Wedding in 2011 to provide help with broadcasting the funeral.
Army vehicles were already patrolling the funeral route to Qunu yesterday, where there is likely to be a fierce scramble for vantage points between camera crews and mourners.
The presence of so many world leaders who would not normally be seen in the same room may pose tricky issues of diplomatic protocol, but it might also present the opportunity for a little discreet diplomacy.
As Mandela wrote, in a letter from prison on Robben Island in 1968, the death of a “noted public figure brings not only grief and mourning but very often entails implications of a wider nature”.
It would be a fitting tribute to Mandela, as a unifying force and symbol of reconciliation, if his own funeral became the occasion for some quiet peacemaking between old enemies.
The Times, London
‘dude, i’m dreading...’
Attending Nelson Mandela’s funeral is all very well but Czech Premier Jiri Rusnok would rather have the lunch he has lined up. When defence minister V. Picek
reminded him on Friday that President
M. Zeman might be unable to fly owing
to a knee injury, Rusnok, in comments
broadcast by Czech TV, reacted with a vulgar term.
Addressing his companion by the Czech equivalent
of “dude”, he said: “I’m dreading that I’ll have to go.”
He complained he had a lunch and a dinner planned and
that a South Africa trip would be too long. Rusnok later apologised for his language.