South Africa will expand Nelson Mandela’s memorial service to cater for at least 200,000 people, more than first planned, as ordinary citizens to foreign heads of state clamor to pay tribute to the former president.
Three additional sports facilities, including the Ellis Park ground in Johannesburg, will screen the service tomorrow at the city’s FNB Stadium, host of the 2010 Soccer World Cup final, the government said. Representatives from 87 countries including the U.S. will attend memorial events, South Africa’s International Relations Ministry said today.
South Africa is four days into a 10-day mourning period after Mandela, who brought an end to white-minority rule by becoming the first black president in 1994, died at his home in Johannesburg on Dec. 5. He was 95. President Jacob Zuma asked the nation to unite in prayer, with services held nationwide yesetrday attended by thousands of worshippers.
“Our nation and indeed the world is undergoing an epochal experience where history making and history ending intersect in ways rarely see before,” Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe told a special sitting of parliament today. “He permeated the fabric of global society. Mandela’s ideals saturate the face of the earth.”
The body of Mandela, who was jailed for 27 years for fighting apartheid, will lie in state in Pretoria from Dec. 11 to Dec. 13 before a funeral in his home town of Qunu in the Eastern Cape province on Dec. 15.
Current and former presidents of the U.S., France and Brazil will fly to South Africa to pay tribute to Mandela. The U.K.’s Prince Charles will attend Mandela’s funeral, while Nigeria’s Goodluck Jonathan and Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta are among African leaders making the journey.
“Government is doing all it can to allow as many people as possible to be part of these official events, but there are limits to how many people we can reasonably accommodate,” Collins Chabane, a minister in the presidency, said in a statement yesterday. The four stadiums together can seat about 215,000 people, according to capacities reported on their websites.
Parliament reconvened today to hold a special sitting for Mandela. The parliamentary precinct was adorned with giant posters of the former president and extracts from his speeches, while television screens beamed footage of him to lawmakers and hundreds of other visitors.
“His death has united the world in grief but it has also united us in hope,” Helen Zille, premier of the Western Cape and leader of the Democratic Alliance, the main opposition party, said in her address to the National Assembly. “He showed us that service and sacrifice do indeed leave the world a better place.”
About 9,000 mourners are expected to attend the funeral in Qunu, about 900 kilometers (560 miles) southwest of Johannesburg, according to the government.
Road workers in Qunu were busy tarring sections of the road, painting lines, constructing culverts and balustrades and cutting grass on the verges on sections of the N2 highway that passes Mandela’s homestead. A 4,000-seat stand is being erected in the south-east corner of the homestead’s grounds, while a massive steel frame for what appeared to be an undercover arena to shelter mourners was being assembled.
Police mounted on horses patrolled around the house, while armored cars were parked along the perimeter fence.
Xolile Yandela, 38, set up a food stall outside Mandela’s house, doing brisk business selling cold drinks, coffee and tea, braised lamb, chicken stew, beans and creamed spinach, mainly to journalists.
Mourners have flocked to Mandela’s house in Houghton, Johannesburg, to pay their respects, leaving flowers and messages, while some sang and danced. Worshippers yesterday also gathered in cities including Cape Town and Soweto, the township where Mandela lived as a young adult, to pray for him.
When Mandela’s body is lying in state, mourners will be allowed to file past his open casket, which will be protected by a transparent covering, Neo Momodu, a spokeswoman for the Government Communication and Information Service, told reporters in Johannesburg on Dec. 7. A static camera feed will be located at the venue for broadcast, he said.
People will be allowed to line the streets along the route when Mandela’s remains are transported to and from the morgue to the Union Buildings over the three days, Momodu said.
Mandela encouraged reconciliation after becoming South Africa’s first black president in 1994 when apartheid ended. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 together with F.W. de Klerk, the last white president, for negotiating a peaceful end to apartheid.
“A view we said we must kill at all costs is that the last hero of the struggle is gone, and therefore create a picture of doom and gloom,” Gwede Mantashe, secretary-general of the ruling African National Congress, told reporters before the sitting. “It would be the biggest insult to the legacy of Mandela. One of the best things that can be attributed to Mandela is that he generated and molded a number of younger leaders.”
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