Sunday 22 April 2018

Township memorial to be biggest ever seen for head of state

U.S. President Barack Obama
U.S. President Barack Obama

Aislinn Laing Johannesburg

At least 50 world leaders, including Barack Obama, David Cameron and the president of Iran, will join celebrities such as Bono, Oprah Winfrey and the Spice Girls at a four-hour memorial service to honour Nelson Mandela.

One of the biggest gatherings ever known for a head of state, religious leader or celebrity will take place in a 95,000-seat football stadium in Soweto, Johannesburg, tomorrow.

Mr Obama is likely to deliver an address at the event, while some of the pop stars attending may perform, although the programme remains a closely guarded secret.

The memorial service throws up nearly unheard-of challenges for the South African government and the international security services charged with protecting important guests.

The government has confirmed that any member of the public is welcome to the stadium without prior accreditation. In an attempt to prevent terrorist scares, a large portion of Johannesburg's arterial roads and airspace will be closed.

Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, the South African foreign minister, said there had been "unprecedented interest" in attending the service. It is understood that world leaders, particularly those with large entourages and special security needs, have been encouraged to attend the memorial in Johannesburg rather than the private funeral in Mr Mandela's rural home village of Qunu on Sunday.

Those who have already confirmed their attendance include Mr Obama and his family, the former US presidents Jimmy Carter and George W Bush and their wives, and Bill Clinton and his family. The Obamas, Carters and Bushes will depart after that service. Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton, who are close friends of the Mandela family, will stay on for the funeral.

Buckingham Palace has confirmed that the Prince of Wales will represent the queen at the funeral in Qunu on Sunday, along with the Duchess of Cornwall, but will not make the journey for tomorrow's memorial service. The prince met Mr Mandela on several occasions in Britain and South Africa, most notably during a "very enjoyable" joint visit in Johannesburg with the Spice Girls in 1997.

Hassan Rouhani, the new Iranian president, said he would be at the memorial service, along with Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president; Dilma Rousseff, the Brazilian president; Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor; and Xi Xinping, the Chinese president. (©Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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