While the world’s most powerful leaders and top celebrities are descending on South Africa for memorials for Nelson Mandela this week, questions are mounting about how much access will be possible for ordinary South Africans.
Mr. Mandela’s body will be lying in state for three days at the Union Buildings in Pretoria. This was intended to be the main site where ordinary South Africans can view the body and bid farewell, but access to the site will be tightly controlled by the government.
“My mom is not going to wake up in the morning and say, ‘Let me go to the Union Buildings,’” said Neo Momodu, a government spokesman, at a weekend briefing.
“Everybody, even the ordinary member off the street, will need to be … accredited. They will park somewhere. They will get on a bus that will be driven and controlled. It is not a free-for-all.”
The “accreditation” process is unclear. Anyone wishing to view Mr. Mandela’s body must be “cleared” before being allowed on shuttle buses to the site, another official told The Globe and Mail on Sunday. Cameras and even cellphones will be barred from the viewing area, so that nobody can take a photo of Mr. Mandela’s body.
The first day of the lying-in-state is expected to be dominated by a horde of world leaders and dignitaries, including U.S. President Barack Obama, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, three former U.S. presidents and three former Canadian prime ministers.
The week of memorials and funeral for the 95-year-old liberation hero, who fought apartheid and became the first democratically elected president of the country, will be one of the biggest gatherings of world leaders for any such event in history.
The leaders will attend a memorial on Tuesday at a giant 95,000-seat soccer stadium, known as Soccer City, which hosted the opening and closing matches of the World Cup in 2010. It was at the closing World Cup match that Mr. Mandela made his last brief appearance in public, waving weakly from a golf cart while bundled in a thick coat and fur hat in chilly weather.
So far, about 70 heads of state and heads of government have confirmed their attendance at the memorial or funeral. Among them are the leaders of the United Nations, the United States, Britain, France, Canada, Brazil, Cuba, and about a dozen African nations, along with Prince Charles and several other kings and princes, plus 26 members of the U.S. Congress. Chinese vice-president Li Yuanchao will represent Beijing. Celebrities in attendance are expected to include Oprah Winfrey, Richard Branson and Bono.
The Dalai Lama, who tried repeatedly to visit South Africa in the past three years but was officially blocked, has decided not to try visiting this time. In the past, South Africa refused to issue a visa to the Tibetan leader. China routinely threatens to disrupt relations with any country that hosts the Dalai Lama. At a media briefing, South African officials refused to say whether they would have issued a visa to the Dalai Lama if he had wanted to attend.
Up to 90,000 ordinary South Africans will be able to pay their respects to Mr. Mandela at the memorial on Tuesday, but they will have to arrive several hours before the ceremony and take shuttle buses into the stadium. Thousands who are turned away will have to watch a televised broadcast of the memorial at one of the three other stadiums reserved for it.
“While these venues offer extensive seating, people must accept that at some stage this capacity will be filled and police and other authorities will turn people away,” said Collins Chabane, a senior cabinet minister, at a briefing on Sunday.
“We call on people to cooperate and demonstrate patience and dignity if they were to be turned away. Government is doing all it can to allow as many people as possible to be part of these official events, but there are limits to how many people we can reasonably accommodate.”
Mr. Mandela’s body will not be displayed at the soccer stadium – the casket will only be at the Union Buildings and at the state funeral on Dec. 15 at his childhood village in Qunu.
Those who cannot get into the Union Buildings will have to pay their respects by lining the streets of Pretoria to watch the official hearse carrying Mr. Mandela’s body from a military hospital to the viewing site. The government is asking South Africans to form a “public guard of honor” by lining the route of the procession at 7 a.m. every morning.
Sunday was a national day of prayer and reflection for Mr. Mandela across South Africa, and many political leaders spoke emotionally about him in services at churches, temples and other religious venues.
Former president Thabo Mbeki, who was ousted in 2008 by a rebellion in the ruling party, gave one of the most hard-hitting speeches of the day. Speaking at a synagogue in Johannesburg, he questioned whether the “quality of leadership” in South Africa today has lived up to Mr. Mandela’s standards.
A spokesman for the Mandela family, expressing gratitude for the national day of prayers, said the world must keep Mr. Mandela’s dream alive by helping the poor and the downtrodden. “Our burden of pain and sorrow is daily being lessened by the outpouring of national and international grief for our father and elder,” said the spokesman, Themba Matanzima.
“We are melancholy but we do not despair,” he said. “We are filled with hope. He has left us enduring lessons and examples of what must be continued.”
As the country prepared for the memorials, new reports are emerging of Mr. Mandela’s final days. Last Tuesday night, two days before he died, Mr. Zuma learned that the former president’s death was “imminent” because his doctors could no longer clear the fluid from his lungs, according to a report in City Press, a leading Sunday newspaper here.
Mr. Mandela’s wife, Graca Machel, urgently summoned his family to his deathbed on Wednesday and Thursday, the report said. “He was fading fast,” it said. “Mandela had not spoken a single word for months. He was unable to breathe without medical intervention and was receiving dialysis treatment.”
Another report, in the Sunday Times, said Mr. Mandela was no longer on a life-support machine at the time of his death. If the two reports are true, it suggests that Mr. Mandela was taken off the life-support machine in his final days as his death became imminent and doctors realized that they could not save him.