World leaders are gathering in South Africa to attend the memorial service of anti-apartheid champion Nelson Mandela. Officials expect a crowd of nearly 100,000 mourners to pay their respects to the freedom icon.
Nearly 100 world leaders and tens of thousands of South Africans were expected to pay their respects Tuesday to the country's first black president Nelson Mandela, during a massive memorial service for the anti-apartheid leader.
Mandela passed away peacefully at his home Thursday evening, aged 95, after struggling with a recurring lung infection.
As world leaders were en route to South Africa on Monday, mourners were already camped out to be the first ones inside the World Cup FNB soccer stadium in Soweto, an area of Johannesburg, where the memorial will be held. The stadium is where Mandela made his last public appearance in 2010.
During the memorial, eulogies are to be delivered by US President Barack Obama, Cuban President Raul Castro, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Chinese Vice President Li Yuanchao among others.
The presidents of Brazil, Namibia and India will also speak along with tributes from Mandela's grandchildren. South African President Jacob Zuma will give the keynote address.
German President Joachim Gauck, British Prime Minister David Cameron, French President Francois Hollande are just a few of the European leaders that will be in attendance. Prime ministers of Canada, Italy and Australia will also be at the memorial.
African leaders such as Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe will also pay their respects at the event.
President Obama will be joined by former presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter.
The guest list will recall Mandela's gift for bringing enemies together across political and racial divides. However, any antagonism between nations in attendance are expected to be put on mute Tuesday in honor of Mandela.
Following the memorial service, Mandela's body will lie in state in Pretoria before burial Sunday in his rural childhood village of Qunu in Eastern Cape Province.
Nelson Rolilahla Mandela, also known as "Madiba," left an indelible mark on South Africa and the world. Following nearly three decades as a political prisoner on Robben Island, he became the racially divided country's first black president. He won the respect and support of people across the globe for his efforts in helping heal the wounds of apartheid in his homeland through a spirit of reconciliation. Mandela was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.
Security in focus
South African authorities rushed Monday to cope with the complex security and logistical challenges of hosting such a massive event, as the memorial promises to be one of the largest and most prominent gatherings of world dignitaries in generations.
At the FNB stadium, workers busily constructed a stage protected by bulletproof glass. “Thousands” of police officers are set to secure the arena, according to officials with roads around the stadium were to be closed for several square miles Tuesday.
Lt. Gen. Solomon Makgale, a spokesman for the South African Police Service, said officers will direct traffic, protect mourners and assist the bodyguards of visiting dignitaries.
"We will be on hand to make sure people are able to grieve in a safe environment," Makgale told The Associated Press.
"Whether we have 10 heads of state coming, or 70 or 100, we do have the capacity and plans in place to facilitate their movement," he said.
The last memorial on this scale was the 2005 funeral of Pope John Paul II, which drew dignitaries from more than 80 countries, as well as a crowd of 300,000 people who filled St. Peter's Square.
hc/av (Reuters, AFP, AP)