Media fume over chaos at Qunu

2013-12-12 00:00

CHAOS in the planning for Nelson Mandela’s funeral broke out around his Eastern Cape home yesterday.

At 6 pm last night, more than a dozen journalists who were renting rooms in the village of Qunu were suddenly barred from re-entering the village or even collecting their belongings, after police barred access without explanation. The reporters were forced to huddle in freezing rain at the side of the road due to the “new order”, despite rental contracts; appeals from their Qunu hosts; and a formal appeal from the Eastern Cape government that villagers throw open their homes to mourners and media this week.

Meanwhile, the funeral accreditation process of officials, security personnel and media ground to a chaotic halt at 4 pm yesterday, when the special paper required for access badges ran out at the state funeral accreditation centre at the Walter Sisulu University in Mthatha.

Officials told The Witness the paper had to be sourced from East London — three hours’ drive from Mthatha — and that those working the event would “have to come back tomorrow”, because no one knew whether the courier planned to return last night.

The funeral’s strict vetting process is run by the Government Communication and Information Services (GCIS) — but the official at the university hall being used for the centre said their system “was down”. As a result, other applicants did not know whether to find high-priced accommodation in Mthatha and return today, or simply to go home.

At Mandela’s home itself, the giant, steel-ribbed marquee for Sunday’s event was near completion — with only a few white canvas panels still to be erected. However, yet another day of rain and low cloud forced the closure of Mthatha airport, which government officials admitted had a “detrimental effect” on preparations that should have been flown in.

At Qunu village, traffic police bizarrely insisted that journalists hand over their equipment and even their cellphones before being allowed to walk into the town to recover their clothes — saying only “we’re sorry; those are our orders — that you guys [media] especially not be allowed in”.

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