Nelson Mandela memorial: South Africa deals with logistical crunch

Security and government officials in South Africa say they’re as ready as they can be for tomorrow’s memorial service for former president Nelson Mandela. CBC's Derek Stoffel, who is in Johannesburg, takes a look at the logistics and preparations for the memorial.
Officials in South Africa are facing the big challenge of keeping more than 100 current and former world leaders safe at Nelson Mandela's memorial service 3:51

When more than 100 current or former world leaders arrive on your doorstep, you might be a little anxious. But not here in South Africa. 

Security and government officials say they’re as ready as they can be for tomorrow’s memorial service for former president Nelson Mandela, who died on Thursday.

Government officials aren’t saying how many people they expect will attend the service, which is being held in the same Soweto stadium where Mandela made his last public appearance in 2010, during the final of soccer's World Cup.

The event will take place at FNB Stadium, which can hold 95,000 spectators. Police will start closing off roads around the venue tonight, with shuttle buses becoming the only way to get in. 

Unless you’re Constance Sekhoto, 78, who will walk across a closed road from her house to the stadium early in the morning.

“FNB is going to rock,” she told me with a huge grin.

“I’m not going to miss this. Of course we are going to get in. We are comrades,” she said, referring to Mandela, whom she had met several times.

There are those, however, less enthusiastic about the logistics surrounding the memorial. Thousands of diplomats, officials and journalists had to wait up to 10 hours yesterday to receive their accreditation to attend the memorial events. At times, people pushed and shoved to gain entrance to the accreditation hall.

Canada’s delegation includes Prime Minister Stephen Harper and former prime ministers Jean Chrétien, Kim Campbell, Brian Mulroney and Joe Clark. They arrived in Pretoria Monday afternoon.

U.S. President Barack Obama will speak at the memorial service. And if you ever need any evidence of Mandela’s ability to bring people together, Cuban leader Raul Castro will be on the same stage (though presumably not at the same time as Obama). 

Sonja Van Deleur, who lives in Johannesburg, says she considered getting up very early to attend the event in Soweto, but then decided the logistical challenges were too great. Like so many people here, she’ll watch it on television or view the memorial from one of the more than 100 overflow venues across the country. will be live streaming the memorial, which is set to start at 4 a.m. ET. 

Notable speakers include: U.S. President Barack Obama, Cuban President Raul Castro, Chinese Vice-President Li Yuanchao and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. 

Van Deleur has no doubt South Africa will be able to pull off this event. “I think, luckily, we did have the World Cup so those logistics are quite in place still.”

One of the top cops in Johannesburg admits he’s somewhat nervous that something might not go as planned on Tuesday, but he’s also confident that dusting off the World Cup logistics plan will work out in the end.

“We’ve had plans and meetings ever since the sad news of the passing of former state president Nelson Mandela. We are ready and we are confident we will be having a successful memorial service,” Chief. Supt. Wayne Minnaar told CBC News.

Minnaar would only say “thousands of officers” from several police forces will be on duty. 

About the Author

Derek Stoffel

CBC News Middle East correspondent

Derek Stoffel is the Middle East correspondent for CBC News. He has covered the Arab Spring uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, reported from Syria during the ongoing civil war and covered the Israeli and Palestinian conflict. He has also worked throughout Europe and the U.S., and reported on Canada's military mission in Afghanistan.


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