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. By noon today, 91 heads of state and 10 former heads of state and government had confirmed their attendance and the list was being continuously updated, Collins Chabane, a minister in the Presidency, told reporters in Johannesburg 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 yesterday 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 in Cape Town 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. About 1,500 journalists have been accredited to cover the events.
“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,” Chabane said in a statement yesterday. The four stadiums together can seat about 215,000 people, according to capacities reported on their websites. Proceedings will be beamed live to at least 150 public viewing sites around the country.
Parliament reconvened today to hold the special sitting for Mandela, which was attended by his grandson Ndaba. 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 hundreds of visitors, who signed messages of condolence on a wall of remembrance.
The funeral in Qunu, about 900 kilometers (560 miles) southwest of Johannesburg, is scheduled to start at 9 a.m. local time on Dec. 15 and last three hours. Mandela’s family had requested that the actual burial not be filmed at all, government spokeswoman Phumla Williams, told reporters in Johannesburg today.
Workers in Qunu were today 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.
“The capacity at Qunu will not exceed 5,000 people,” Chabane said. “That is how many the venue can accommodate. It is not to say there will not be more people outside the venue.”
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.
The Mthata airport, the closest facility to Qunu, will be closed to all civilian traffic other than charter flights that may be used to transport heads of state around the time of the funeral, and traffic will be diverted to the city of East London and other airports, Chabane said.
Mourners have flocked to Mandela’s house in the Johannesburg suburb of Houghton, and his former residence in Soweto, to pay their respects, leaving flowers and messages, while some sang and danced.
When Mandela’s body is lying in state, mourners will be able to file past his open casket, with as many as 2,000 expected per hour, Chabane said. People will also be encouraged 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.
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.”