On Thursday, the world heard the tragic news that Nelson Mandela had passed away at his Houghton home after a long battle with a lung infection. Just as the news broke around the world, a special task team was hastily setup to organize and coordinate the memorial service and funeral in honor of Nelson Mandela.
The task team faced a mammoth task of organizing of one of the biggest state funerals in a very short amount of time. They relied on a plan of action compiled months in advance, detailing the logistical, security and event protocol that needed to be followed to handle event preparations and the large influx of presidents and dignitaries from around the world. Invitations were hastily sent out to foreign dignitaries and within hours numerous heads of state and delegations confirmed their attendance. Heads of state were given the option to attend the memorial service or the funeral of Nelson Mandela but were advised to attend memorial service for security reasons.
On Sunday, December 8th 2013, all 126 SA embassies across the world were open to process visas for all foreigners traveling to South Africa.
By Monday afternoon, a record setting 91 heads of state, 86 delegations led by ministers and 75 dignitaries were confirmed to pay their respects to one of the most revered leaders of our time. For comparison the funeral of John Paul II in 2005 was only attended by 70 heads of state.
Eye Witness News has an interactive map of the all presidents and dignitaries from around the world that attended the memorial service.
Some of the most noted guests at the memorial service included US President Barack Obama and former US presidents George Washington, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, British Prime Minister David Cameron, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, German President Joachim Gauck , Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, Indian President Pranab Mukherjee and Chinese Vice-President Li Yuanchao. Most noted celebrities attending the memorial service included U2′s Bono, Oscar Winning actor Charlize Theron and US talk show host Oprah Winfrey. It is also the first time that the Barack Obama, George Washington, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter have attended an event together outside the US. Noticeably missing guests was Dalai Lama and Russian president Vladimir Putin.
Security was a big concern at an event of this size, thus thousands of the SANDF, SAPS and JMPD officers were deployed to ensure the safety of the numerous world leaders that were in attendance. Pretoria was declared a no fly zone, all training flights were cancelled and any aircraft entering the Pretoria airspace had to have special permission from the military. Streets around the FNB stadium were cordoned off and a 5 block perimeter was established around the various hotels accommodating heads of state. From Friday numerous security sweeps were conducted at the FNB stadium by foreign security agencies and on Tuesday morning at 5:30am, a thorough bomb sweep was conducted. Bullet proof glass was installed at the back of the main stage were heads of state were seated.
Numerous presidents and heads of state including Germany, Cuba, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Chad and Gabon landed at the Waterkloof Air Force Base under heavy security made up of both the SANDF and SAPS.
On Tuesday Morning, Barack Obama Landed at Waterkloof Air Force Base and was quickly escorted into his presidential limousine dubbed “The Beast”. The presidential motorcade made up of 35 vehicles and 90 secret service agents were flown in from the US on a Boeing C-17 Globemaster III the day before Obama landed in SA. Traffic on the N1 was a nightmare, the rush hour traffic combined with the rain and numerous presidential motorcades caused significant delays for Obama. A Gauteng motorist cut into the motorcade and was quickly blocked off after which they received an ear full from police: “You must NOT do that! You will be killed for doing that”. The standard protocol of the secret service is to shut down all highways that they travel on, but this was not done. Was this an oversight or did they not have the man power to do it?
Organizers relied on at least 41 metrorail trains, the Gautrain and numerous bus services including Rea Yaya to ferry spectators to and from the stadium. The memorial service was scheduled to start at 11am but was delayed for 1 hour due to numerous trains breaking down and the huge motorcade backlog outside the FNB stadium.
The memorial service of Nelson Mandela started at 12pm with the dignitaries making their way to the stage. Former South African President Thabo Mbeki was praised by the crowd while the current president of South Africa, Jacob Zuma was booed. The crowd was extremely restless due to the weather as well as the fact that the speakers were not captivating and the lack of decent sound reinforcement made the situation worse. The government should be embarrassed as well over 2 500 journalists from around the world covered the event. After the memorial numerous people took to social media to share their disgust at the crowds behavior. Nelson Mandela deserved a better memorial service.
EWN reporter Alex Eliseev shared his thoughts on Twitter about the event: “16 hours later, some thoughts: I feel disappointed. So much magic got sucked out by the political vampires. There should have been stronger speakers and more South African flavour. The crowd embarrassed us and Zuma should have thrown away the script. Sound was rubbish. Big screens died for a while. Obama’s speech was historic. Tutu was on fire. But so much beauty (Andrew Mlangeni) got drowned out. In short: I wish we could rewind time and do it again. Mandela deserves better.”
Sad that #Mandela memorial service will be remembered for: booing, bad sound, Obama’s selfie and that fake sign language guy.
— Alex Eliseev (@alexeliseev) December 11, 2013
Another controversial aspect of the memorial service was the selfie Barack Obamas took with British Prime Minister David Cameron and Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidtselfie.
Funeral preparations are well under way in Nelson Mandela’s childhood home town of Qunu in the Eastern Cape. A huge tent known as the Megadome is currently being erected by In2Structures, a company of the Gearhouse SA Group which is a leading events company in South Africa.
During the week the body of Nelson Mandela will be transported from 1 Miltary Hospital to the Union Buildings every day. Nelson Mandela’s body will lie in state in a coffin covered by glass so that the public can pay their respects to a great leader.