A funeral for the whole world

2013-12-08 14:01

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Dignitaries are coming, but exactly who’ll be attending which events is still unclear

As many as 150 foreign dignitaries, many of them heads of state, are expected in South Africa this week to attend one of the biggest state funerals of the century.

But by late yesterday, there was still confusion over which events the dignitaries would be attending, and exactly how many would be coming.

Government sources said they expected high-level dignitaries to start streaming into Waterkloof Air Force Base tomorrow, while others would be ushered through the protocol lounge at OR Tambo International Airport.

Three US presidents – incumbent Barack Obama, and his predecessors George W Bush and Bill Clinton – have confirmed that they will be attending, but it is unclear whether they will be at the memorial service in Soweto on Tuesday, the funeral in Qunu next Sunday, or both.

On Friday it was expected that Obama would attend Tuesday’s event, but yesterday Minister in the Presidency Collins Chabane said heads of state could choose which event they would like to attend.

According to an earlier provisional plan, a state funeral was supposed to have taken place at the Union Buildings and the Qunu funeral would have been strictly for family and close friends.

But Chabane yesterday hinted that the Qunu funeral would have elements of a state funeral as well, and that foreign dignitaries would be welcome to attend it.

He couldn’t say how many dignitaries had confirmed their attendance by yesterday.

“Dirco [the department of international relations and cooperation] has not been able to give us a list of dignitaries who are attending, but we will post it on our website once it is done. It is being handled through diplomatic channels,” he said.

Hotels in Pretoria have been block booked by Dirco in anticipation of the leaders arriving. More than 1?000 members of the SA National Defence Force are due to be at the funeral in Qunu.

The defence force yesterday put out an urgent message calling all its staff back from leave by midnight last night, except those who were on special leave “on legal grounds”.

Yesterday afternoon, Dirco briefed staff from the almost 140 accredited missions to Pretoria on logistics for attendance of this week’s events.

Two staff members conceded that there had been a lot of confusion about logistics and protocol.

A large number of dignitaries is expected – most probably the largest for a state funeral to date – as Mandela had an appeal that stretched across political and religious boundaries.

To illustrate Mandela’s appeal, Nigerian-born academic Pius Adesanmi joked on his Facebook page that the funeral would put a large strain on Nigeria’s coffers.

“I foresee all 10 jumbo jets in the Nigerian presidential fleet heading out to Johannesburg with the largest official delegation to the funeral. And that is not counting the convoy of private jets of uninvited Nigerian state governors that will head out to Johannesburg for the obligatory I-was-also-there ritual. And that is not counting the chartered flights that will convey half the National Assembly to Johannesburg,” he wrote.

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