Nelson Mandela

Emotional South Africa prepares for sweeping farewell to Nelson Mandela

Event's scale has observers making comparisons to Churchill's send-off

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 08 December, 2013, 7:31am
UPDATED : Sunday, 08 December, 2013, 7:31am

South Africa prepared for a sweeping, emotional farewell to Nelson Mandela yesterday, a funeral that will draw an unprecedented gathering of world leaders and luminaries.

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 on Thursday aged 95, surrounded by friends and family.

The scale of the event and of the global 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 hometown of Qunu.

The government said yesterday 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.

Large numbers of mourners, carrying candles, flowers and messages of respect have turned up every day outside Mandela's residence in Johannesburg and in the once blacks-only township of Soweto.

Memorial events begin today with South Africans invited to go to churches, mosques, synagogues and other places of worship to pay their respects.

President Jacob Zuma will attend a service at Bryanston Methodist Church in Johannesburg. Zuma urged South Africans to turn out in force with a singing voice.

"We should, while mourning, also sing at the top of our voices, dance and do whatever we want to do, to celebrate the life of this outstanding revolutionary," Zuma said.

On Tuesday, around 80,000 people are expected to attend a memorial service in the Soweto sports stadium that hosted the final of the 2010 World Cup.

US President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, will travel to South Africa together with former first couple George W. and Laura Bush. They are likely to mix in the funeral cortege with leaders from across the globe, including from China, Iran, Cuba, Israel and the Palestinian territories.

The farewell will also draw the world's cultural elite. Mandela had a soft spot for celebrity and stars of film and music, such as Oprah Winfrey.

Additional reporting by The Guardian