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South Africa prepares funeral for Mandela

World leaders to join mouners

Agence France-Presse . Qunu, South Africa

Mourners place flowers outside the home of the late South African President Nelson Mandela in Houghton, Johannesburg on Saturday. — Reuters photoMourners place flowers outside the home of the late South African President Nelson Mandela in Houghton, Johannesburg on Saturday. — Reuters photo

South Africa on Saturday prepared a sweeping, emotional 10-day farewell to Nelson Mandela — a funeral that will draw an unprecedented gathering of world leaders and luminaries, reflecting the anti-apartheid icon’s transcendent influence.
Presidents, heads of government and royalty from every corner of the globe will be among those seeking to pay their respects to modern South Africa’s founding father, who died late Thursday aged 95, surrounded by friends and family.
The sheer scale of the event and of the world attention and emotion surrounding it has had observers searching back decades for a precedent, with some citing the funerals of Mahatma Gandhi and Winston Churchill.
Mandela’s body will lie in state for three days from Wednesday, ahead of his eventual burial on December 15 in his boyhood home of Qunu.
The government announced on Saturday that his coffin would be taken in a cortege through the streets of Pretoria each morning, giving the millions of South Africans still coming to terms with the death of their first black leader an opportunity to say a final farewell.
The organisational logistics are daunting and the military on Saturday cancelled leave for troops and reservists to help crowd control.
In Nelson Mandela’s childhood village of Qunu, residents are solemnly preparing for the final return of their beloved son, who will be laid to rest among them a week from now.
Elderly men in the picturesque village dotted with traditional round huts bow their heads and lower their voices when they speak of the anti-apartheid hero who has ‘returned to his ancestors’.
Meanwhile, South Africa began preparations on Saturday to host the US president, Barack Obama and other world leaders eager to pay their respects to Nelson Mandela during 10 days of mourning for the anti-apartheid icon.
Obama, America’s first black president, will travel to South Africa next week, the White House said, joining a raft of world leaders for a huge December 10 memorial service.
Obama and his wife Michelle will travel to South Africa together with former first couple George W and Laura Bush.
Ex-president Bill Clinton, who was in office when Mandela took power to become South Africa’s first black president, also said that he would be making the trip with his family.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said the Obamas would ‘participate in memorial events’ without giving details.
In a tribute shortly after the revered statesman’s death was made public, Obama mourned Mandela as a ‘profoundly good’ man who ‘took history in his hands and bent the arc of the moral universe towards justice’.
The Brazilian president, Dilma Rousseff, will also be among those flying in next week, her office said.
North Korea, in its first official reaction on Saturday, sent its condolences to South Africa, praising Mandela’s ‘struggle against racism and for democracy’.
Zimbabwe’s president Robert Mugabe paid tribute to Mandela as ‘a champion of the oppressed’.
Palestinians and Israelis, Beijing and the Dalai Lama, Washington and Tehran all paid heartfelt tribute to Mandela, describing him as one of the towering figures of the 20th century who inspired young and old with his fight for equality.
Even Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, ventured homage on his official Facebook page, calling Mandela ‘a torch for the resistance and liberation from racism, hatred, occupation and injustice’.
Flags flew at half-mast in numerous countries, including the United States, France and Britain, and at the United Nations headquarters in New York.
New York’s Empire State Building and Paris’ Eiffel Tower were lit up in the colours of the South African flag.
India declared five days of mourning for a man the premier labelled ‘a true Gandhian’. Bangladesh also declared three days of national mourning from Saturday to pay homage to Mandela.
And a Paris summit of some 40 African leaders was overshadowed by Mandela’s death. An old associate, African Union Commission president Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, said Mandela ‘was a son who became larger than the continent’.
The South African foreign minister, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, said the best way to remember Mandela was to free the African continent of poverty, unrest and disease.
‘We will do it in your name,’ she said.
Mandela had waged a long battle against a recurring lung infection and had been receiving treatment at home since September following a lengthy hospital stay.
Mandela’s two youngest daughters were in London watching the premiere of his biopic ‘Long Walk to Freedom’, along with Britain’s Prince William, when they learned of his death.
British actor Idris Elba, who portrayed Mandela in the film, said: ‘We have lost one of the greatest human beings to have walked this Earth.’
Mandela’s eldest grandson Mandla expressed gratitude for the international outpouring of support, saying the messages had ‘heartened and overwhelmed’ the family.
Outside his house in the upmarket Houghton suburb and at his former residence in the once blacks-only township of Soweto, scores of well-wishers danced and sang old songs of struggle to celebrate Madiba.
His December 10 memorial service will take place in a 90,000-plus capacity Soweto stadium.
Memorial events begin on Sunday with South Africans invited to visit churches, mosques, synagogues and other places of worship, to pay their respects.
The travel industry expect accommodation in Johannesburg and Pretoria to be sold out as the South African government and various consulates block book hotel rooms.
Mandela spent 27 years in an apartheid prison before becoming president and unifying his country with a message of reconciliation after the end of white minority rule. He shared the Nobel Peace Prize with South Africa’s last white president, FW de Klerk, in 1993.

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