Thousands continue to pay respects to Mandela

Preparations in final stages for Sunday funeral in home village of Qunu

Navy officers stand guard at the coffin of late South African president Nelson Mandela on the last day of Mr Mandela’s lying in state at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, South Africa today. Photograph: EPA/Alexander Joe/Pool

Navy officers stand guard at the coffin of late South African president Nelson Mandela on the last day of Mr Mandela’s lying in state at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, South Africa today. Photograph: EPA/Alexander Joe/Pool

 

Thousands of people are continuing to file past the glass-top coffin of former South African president Nelson Mandela lying in state at Union Buildings in Pretoria while here in Qunu, his final resting place on Sunday, preparations to receive his body are in their final stages.

A large white dome-shaped marquee has been erected near the graveside, which is at the head of a wide sweeping green valley dotted with small homes and livestock ambling across what looks like commonage.

Some 4,000 people – members of the Mandela family, South African government and African National Congress figures of note, together with foreign dignitaries – are expected to fill the marquee for Sunday’s funeral service.

The service is expected to have conventional Christian and more traditional tribal aspects to it, accompanied by gospel and traditional music and singing. Once the initial public service has been completed, however, the moment of interment will, at the family’s request, be a purely private affair, a family spokesman, Phumla Williams, was reported saying.

“The family has indicated they want to make the burial a family matter,” Williams said. “They don’t want it to be televised. They don’t want people to see when the body is taken down.”

After the lying in state ends today, Mr Mandela’s body will be flown south to the Eastern Cape region, probably to Mthatha airport if weather permits. From there tomorrow morning, he will be taken to Mthatha, through the streets of the city and out into the countryside to the village of Qunu.

The population of Mthatha is some 100,000 but the hinterland contains almost ten times that number. The South African government has asked people to form a human chain, lining the streets holding hands, as Mr Mandela’s remains pass through.

Today, workmen and women are everywhere, clearing the streets, erecting flags and other bunting and generally trying to ensure that the weekend’s events pass smoothly. Security - police and military - is visible but not heavy handed. This morning, two South African Air Force jets screamed through the skies, flying over Mthatha in broad sweeping arcs several times.

Television continues to give wall-to-wall coverage of the lying in state in Pretoria, interspersed with reprises of Mr Mandela’s life. Among those passing the bier today was the Rev Jessie Jackson. It is understood that Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams is also paying his respects and hopes to travel to Qunu.

Mr Mandela’s grandson, Mandla Mandela, has remained with his grandfather’s body for the full three days of the lying in state, adhering to a tradition of their Thembu tribe that an adult male must remain with a body until burial. Government estimated put the number of people filing past the body 12,000 to 14,000 a day.