Dozens of world leaders to attend Mandela memorial service or funeral

Transport strategy for 2010 World Cup to be implemented to ferry public to stadium

The full magnitude of the late Nelson Mandela's memorial service became apparent yesterday after it was confirmed dozens of the world's former and sitting heads of state will travel to South Africa to pay homage to his memory.

So far 53 leaders from 13 African states, 15 countries outside the continent, the United Nations, the African Union and European Union have confirmed they will be attending the event at the FNB stadium near Soweto in Gauteng province tomorrow.

President Michael D Higgins is to represent the Irish State and people at the memorial service. Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore will represent the Government.

US president Barack Obama and his wife Michelle will be accompanied by former US presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and George Bush, as well as 26 US Congress members.


Mr Obama and his entourage will also travel to the Eastern Cape province to attend the private memorial service in Mr Mandela's home village of Qunu, where he will be laid to rest in the family plot next Sunday.

US ambassador to South Africa Patrick Gaspard told reporters Mr Obama's attendance at the memorial is of central importance to him given Mr Mandela was such an inspiration to him during his early years in politics. "He is absolutely attending the memorial service on Tuesday with the first lady. The president expressed very clearly on the evening of the announcement of Madiba's transition that Nelson Mandela has helped to shape his activism and his political involvement."

British prime minister David Cameron will also attend the memorial for the anti-apartheid icon as will Prince Charles. Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff will be accompanied by four former heads of state.

In addition to world leaders, South African minister Collins Chabane revealed a further 11 eminent persons had confirmed they would be in South Africa during this period, although he did not identify them. “The fact that international leaders are making their way to South Africa at such short notice reflects the special place president Nelson Mandela holds in the hearts of people around the globe,” he said in Johannesburg.

"We are touched by the fact that many countries have declared periods of mourning, ordered that flags be flown at half-mast and draped or lit landmarks in the colours of the South African flag. We truly appreciate these gestures."

The South African government intends implementing the same public transport system strategy used during the 2010 Fifa World Cup to ferry members of the public to the 96,000-seater stadium. He warned the public they will not be allowed to drive cars to the event, which will be cordoned off for security reasons.

The stadium will be open from 6am and the proceedings are expected to start at about 11am. Many of the world leaders in attendance will share their memories of interacting with Mr Mandela over the years.

Mr Chabane urged members of the public who live outside Gauteng to avail of the numerous venues around the country that will be showing the memorial on 90 large screens, as an alternative to travelling to the province.

It was also announced yesterday that a statue of Mr Mandela will be unveiled at government buildings in Pretoria on December 16th, the day after he is laid to rest in Qunu.

Bill Corcoran

Bill Corcoran

Bill Corcoran is a contributor to The Irish Times based in South Africa