Plans for SA's big day

2004-04-26 14:24
Pretoria - Pretoria was a hive of activity on Monday with last-minute preparations for Tuesday's inauguration of President-elect Thabo Mbeki at the Union Buildings and the simultaneous celebration of the tenth year of democracy.

With security forces keeping an eye over the city, VIPs have started trickling into Gauteng from all over the world.

Zimbabwe's president Robert Mugabe was among the first to arrive, landing at Waterkloof military air base on Sunday.

Other dignitaries to have arrived by noon on Monday included the presidents of Gambia, Chile, and Dominica, the prime minister of Mauritius, the vice president of Brazil, and the governor general of the Solomon Islands, the foreign affairs department said.

Delegates have also arrived from Finland, Mexico, China, Panama, the Seychelles, Denmark, Ireland, Portugal, Poland, Sudan, Yemen, Switzerland, the United States, Oman, and the world football governing body, Fifa.

The government has budgeted some R90m for Tuesday's festivities, which would culminate in a music concert featuring some 200 artists on the lawns of the Union Buildings from 14:00 to 19:00.

Some 40 000 people were expected to attend the celebrations - not including an estimated 6 000 invited guests. Some 40 presidents and royalty, ten prime ministers and 43 ministerial delegations have been billed to attend.

No threat

Event manager Carl Niehaus said the budget was made up of about R60m for the inauguration - including security and accommodating the visiting heads of state, and another R30m for the 10th anniversary of democracy celebration party.

The R60m, he added, was roughly the same amount spent on inaugurations in 1999 and 1994 - taking inflation into account.

On the security side, national police spokesperson Senior Superintendent Selby Bokaba said no problems were anticipated.

"There is no indication so far of any threat whatsoever to the event," he said on Monday.

Police members from all over the country started arriving in Pretoria last Wednesday for special duties. The round-the-clock operation involved several specialised units such as the task force, bomb squad, dog and equestrian units as well as members of the metro police forces of Tshwane, Ekurhuleni and Johannesburg, and soldiers attached to the special forces.

Their duties since last Thursday have included regular explosives sweeps of the hotels hosting VIPs - mostly in Johannesburg - as well as the Union Buildings and surrounding areas, Bokaba said.

Visible policing along the main routes into Pretoria had been boosted considerably, and crime prevention operations have been held in the city's hot-spots.

Full day planned

A no-fly zone was being enforced around the Union Buildings, and several streets in the area would be closed from 04:00 to 22:00 on Tuesday. Streets in the vicinity of the State Theatre, Caledonian Stadium and SuperSport Park in Centurion, from where guests and journalists would be ferried to the Union Buildings, would also be affected.

The day would start early for many, gathering from 02:00 at SuperSport Park.

Guests would be entertained from 06:00 at the Union Buildings, followed by the induction of the country's third democratically elected president around 10:30. This would be followed by air displays, a national salute and military parade. Lunch would be served from 14:00.

A hundred big-screen televisions have been placed at venues around the country for a live broadcast of the events for those unable to attend in person.

South African missions would host similar festivities in several countries worldwide.

"Every attempt has been made to ensure that South Africans participate in this ceremony in a manner that will harness a sense of inclusivity, humility and a common nationhood in our pursuit to build a country united in its diversity," the government said last week.

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