People attend a special Sunday morning service dedicated to Nelson Mandela at St. George's Cathedral in Cape Town on Dec 8. REUTERS photo
Turkey is one of the few countries not to send its top leader to South Africa for memorials to Nelson Mandela, as 90 heads of state headed to the country on Dec. 9 to commemorate the passing of the legendary anti-Apartheid fighter.
“The world literally is coming to South Africa,” said South Africa’s head of public diplomacy, Clayson Monyela. “I don’t think it has ever happened before.”
However, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
will not attend the memorial, and Turkey will instead be represented by Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay.
Some 91 heads of state and government, including U.S. President Barack Obama, will descend on the country for the commemoration. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani will also be there, raising the prospect of a first face-to-face meeting with Obama. However, Rouhani’s name was not on an initial official list of attendees.
Many will join the 80,000 people crammed into the FNB stadium in Soweto for a sweeping, emotional tribute to their inspirational first black president on Dec. 9. The memorial service, in the venue where Mandela made his last major public appearance for the 2010 World Cup final, was seen as a final chance for grieving South Africans to unite in a mass celebration of his life ahead of the more formal state funeral.
Another 120,000 people watched a live broadcast of the event on giant screens set up in three overflow stadiums in Johannesburg. The week-long funeral rites will culminate Dec. 15 in Mandela’s burial ceremony at a family plot in his rural, boyhood home of Qunu. “Very few” world leaders would attend the Qunu ceremony, Monyela said, adding the idea was to keep the burial a family affair.
Prior to that, his body will lie in state for three days from Dec. 11 in the amphitheater of the Union Buildings in Pretoria, where he was sworn in as president in 1994. Each morning, his coffin will be carried through the streets of the capital in a funeral cortege, to give as many people as possible the chance to pay their final respects.
Around 11,000 troops have been mobilized to ensure security and help with crowd-control efforts during the week-long series of funeral events. Despite the sudden influx of international dignitaries and the compressed preparation time, National Police spokesman Solomon Makgale insisted that the security apparatus would hold firm.
“Having so many heads of state is not a security headache for us. We’ve learned over the years,” Makgale said, adding that they would be “working closely” with the foreign leaders’ own security details.
As well as Obama and three previous occupants of the White House, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, British Prime Minister David Cameron, French
President François Hollande and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon were all on the guest list. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and three of his predecessors, German
President Joachim Gauck, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and Prince Felipe, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and three of her predecessors, including Lula da Silva, Indian President Pranab Mukherjee and Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott will also attend the funeral. Besides security, the memorial at the 95,000-seat stadium presents officials with a diplomatic minefield between Mugabe and Tony Blair, the former British prime minister whom he has denounced as a “little boy” and a “liar.”
Those close to Madiba, the clan name by which Mandela was known, say he would have wanted handshakes, not head-butts. “Tomorrow, people should all be honoring their relationship with Madiba. If it means shaking hands with the enemy, yes, I would like to see that,” Zelda la Grange, his former personal assistant for more than a decade, told Reuters.
Cuban state media said President Raul Castro would attend the state funeral, but not his ailing older brother Fidel – a long-time friend of Mandela’s. Africa will be represented by Nigeria’s Goodluck Jonathan and more than a dozen other heads of state and government.
Notable absentees include Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who cited high travel and security costs, and Mandela’s fellow Nobel
peace laureate, the Dalai Lama, who since 2009 has twice been denied a visa for South Africa.
Talk show queen Oprah Winfrey and singer-activist Bono, as well as British billionaire Richard Branson and musician Peter Gabriel, are expected to be among the celebrity mourners.