Mandela’s body will be flown Saturday from an air force base in Pretoria to South Africa’s Eastern Cape province, where Mandela’s ancestral village of Qunu lies. The family farm there will be his final resting place.
Members of South Africa’s ruling party, the African National Congress, will bid Mandela farewell from the air force base. An honor guard from the South African National Defence Force will then take charge of his casket, which will be draped in the national flag.
On arrival at Mthatha Airport, the closest to Qunu, the casket will be placed on a gun carriage, while the national anthem is played and the honor guard presents arms and salutes. Mandela’s family will follow the carriage in cars.
Traditional ceremony and vigil
Once at Mandela’s house in Qunu, the military will formally pass responsibility for his remains to his family.
The South African flag draped over the coffin will be replaced with a traditional blanket of the Xhosa people, symbolizing the return of one of their own.
At dusk, ANC leaders, local chiefs and the men in Mandela’s family are expected to gather for a private night vigil, held according to the traditions of the Thembu community, his native clan, before a public funeral the next day. Villagers may gather outside the house to pay their respects.
Foreign leaders were encouraged to attend Tuesday’s memorial service in Johannesburg. Nonetheless, dozens of international dignitaries are expected to make their way to the Eastern Cape for Mandela’s funeral.
The airport in East London, South of Qunu, will be used for their arrival and departure, with access closely controlled.
Notable figures thought to be on the guest list include former U.S. President Bill Clinton and his family; Britain’s Prince Charles and TV talk-show host Oprah Winfrey.
There’s no doubting the global media interest. More than 4,000 journalists had been accredited as of yesterday morning, with more expected, a government spokeswoman said. However, only the national broadcaster will be given access to the funeral, with other journalists in Qunu to be based at the NelsonMandelaMuseum.
The event will be broadcast to an audience of millions around the world.
A private family prayer service will be held Sunday morning at Mandela’s home. The funeral will then be held in a large white tent at the family farm.
The Mandela family, South African President Jacob Zuma and Cabinet members will be present as well as local and foreign dignitaries. About 4,500 people are expected.
The military will again be charged with draping Mandela’s coffin with the flag. Members of the military will perform a salute, and the national anthem will be played.
A group of family and close friends, expected to number about 430, will walk up to the grave site to bid a final farewell to the man many saw as the father of their nation.
About 2 p.m. — when the summer sun is high in the sky — Mandela will be laid to rest in the rocky soil of his homeland.
The burial area has been especially built for him; some of Mandela’s long deceased family members are already buried at the site. It will be, according to custom, a homecoming.
His grave site is surrounded by rocky outcrops, hardy grass used for the grazing of cattle and bright orange aloe plants.
With so many high-profile guests in South Africa for Mandela’s state funeral, security has been a key concern.
Zuma has authorized nearly 12,000 members of the South African National Defence Force to serve alongside the police force “to maintain law and order” during the funeral period, the presidency said. They are employed for 15 days, from December 6 to December 20.
A tight military cordon is expected around the funeral site to assuage security fears.