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Mandela memorial service: Mourners gather in Johannesburg

Posted by Nuttapon_S On December - 10 - 2013

Tens of thousands of mourners are expected in Johannesburg for a memorial service for Nelson Mandela.

US President Barack Obama and the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will be among those paying tribute.

The service will be held at the 90,000 capacity FNB stadium, where Mr Mandela made his last public appearance. It will also be shown on big screens at three “overflow” stadiums.

The former South African president died aged 95 last Thursday.

The country is observing a series of commemorations leading up to the funeral on Sunday.

The memorial service is likely to be one of the biggest gatherings of international dignitaries in recent years.

Hundreds of people began assembling outside the stadium during the night, the BBC’s Joe Winter reports from the scene.

Crowds, many wearing Nelson Mandela t-shirts and South African football and rugby tops, are singing songs from the fight against apartheid, our correspondent adds.

‘A mighty life’

The crowds will be addressed by South African President Jacob Zuma and there will be tributes from other heads of state, including US President Barack Obama, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and Cuban President Raul Castro.

Under Mr Castro’s brother Fidel, Cuba was a staunch critic of apartheid, and Mr Mandela had expressed gratitude for his support.

Crowds streaming in to FNB stadium to secure their seats for Mandela's memorial service
People streaming in to the FNB stadium to secure their seats for the memorial service on Tuesday
ANC members put up posters at FNB Stadium in preparation for Nelson Mandela's memorial service tomorrow, which will be attended by heads of state and up to 95,000 people, on December 9, 2013 in Johannesburg, South Africa
Members of the African National Congress (ANC) put up posters at the FNB stadium
An image of former South Africa President Nelson Mandela is shown on a big screen as work is carried out to put up a stage at the FNB stadium where his memorial service will take place on Tuesday, in Johannesburg, South Africa, Monday, Dec 9, 2013
Final preparations were being carried out inside the stadium on Monday

Four of Mr Mandela’s grandchildren are also expected to make speeches, along with Andrew Mlangeni, Mr Mandela’s fellow former Robben Island prisoner and friend.

The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who will also pay tribute as part of the service, visited The Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory in Johannesburg on Monday.

“The world mourns the loss of Nelson Mandela, one of the towering figures of our time and indeed of any time,” he said.

“We join together in sorrow for a mighty loss and in celebration of a mighty life.”

British Prime Minister David Cameron will be among those attending Tuesday’s memorial. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Labour leader Ed Miliband will also attend, along with former British Prime Ministers Gordon Brown, Tony Blair and John Major.

Three former US presidents, George W Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, will also be there.

Francois Hollande of France, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and India’s President Pranab Mukherjee are also on the list, as well as Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe.

Leading celebrities in the anti-apartheid movement Peter Gabriel and Bono are expected to attend.

Camping out

They will join a 95,000-strong crowd at FNB stadium, also know as Soccer City, just outside Johannesburg, near Soweto. Mr Mandela made his final major public appearance there during the 2010 football World Cup.

The memorial service is due to start at 11:00 (09:00 GMT) and is expected to last four hours,according to the official programme.

People camped out around the stadium overnight on Monday to be sure of getting a place inside, the BBC’s Diplomatic Correspondent James Robbins reports from Johannesburg.

But because public seating is not ticketed, the South African authorities are certain many people will have to be turned away, our correspondent adds.

The service will be shown on big screens at three “overflow” stadiums – Orlando, Dobsonville and Rand – as well as at community venues around the country.

Mr Mandela’s body will lie in state in Pretoria on the following three days and a state funeral takes place on Sunday in his home village of Qunu in Eastern Cape province.

Two of Mr Mandela’s granddaughters, Tukwini Mandelaand Nandi Mandelaorking, told the BBC the family had been working to give him “the beautiful send-off that he deserves”.

More than 100 current or former heads of state or government will attend the funeral or the national memorial, according to the South African government.

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe and wife of Zimbabwe's President Grace Mugabe (C) arrive at Waterloo Airforce Base in Pretoria on December 9, 2013 to attend the memorial service of former South African President Nelson Mandela tomorrow
Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe flew into Pretoria on Monday with his wife (centre)
Pakistani President Mamnoon Hussain (C) arrives at Waterkloof Airforce Base in Pretoria on December 9, 2013
Pakistan President Mamnoon Hussain (centre) will be among the world leaders at the service

The foreign ministry said on Monday that 91 current heads of state or government had confirmed they are coming to South Africa, along with “10 former heads of state, 86 heads of delegations and 75 eminent persons”.

Among those not attending the memorial events will be Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who cited high travel and security costs.

However there will be suspicion that he wishes avoid the potential for anti-Israeli protests, the BBC’s Middle East Correspondent Kevin Connolly reports. Israel had extensive links with the old apartheid regime and many South Africans identify strongly with the Palestinian cause, our correspondent adds.

Israeli President Shimon Peres is not attending due to illness, so Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein will represent the country.

The Dalai Lama will also be among the notable absentees, after twice failing to get a visa to South Africa.

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