Nelson Mandela funeral: What to expect ahead of funeral service


Ten days of mourning for South Africa's anti-apartheid icon and former leader Nelson Mandela will come to an end Sunday with his state funeral.

After Tuesday's vibrant, if rain-drenched, memorial service, followed by three days of public viewing of the former president's casket in Pretoria, the burial itself will be a slightly more private affair.

Here is how CNN expects events to unfold, based on information from the government and sources involved in planning for the funeral -- although plans may change because of weather, security and other factors.

Return to the Eastern Cape

Mandela's body will be flown from an air force base in Pretoria on Saturday to South Africa's Eastern Cape province. This is 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.

Thousands of mourners are expected to line the streets from Mthatha Airport to watch as the military transports Mandela's remains to the remote village where the former leader spent much of his childhood.

Along the way, the procession is expected to pause for prayers to allow ordinary South Africans to pay their respects.

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 Xhosa blanket, 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 very public funeral the next day. Villagers may gather outside the house to pay their respects.

Who's attending

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 Friday morning, with more expected, a government spokeswoman said. However, only the national broadcaster will be given access to the funeral itself, with other journalists in Qunu to be based at the Nelson Mandela Museum.

The event will be broadcast to an audience of millions around the world.

The funeral

A private family prayer service will be held Sunday morning at Mandela's home. The funeral itself, which will bring an end to the 10-day state funeral period, will then be held in a large white marquee at the family farm.

The Mandela family, South Africa's current President Jacob Zuma and Cabinet members will be present, as well as local and foreign dignitaries. About 4,500 people are expected in total.

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.

The burial

A group of family and close friends, expected to number about 430 in total, will walk up to the grave site to bid a final farewell to the man seen by many as the father of the nation.

About 2 p.m. -- when the summer sun is high in the sky -- Nelson 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.

The aloes are indigenous succulents that are hardy, drought-resistant, medicinal plants that bloom across the bushveld when all else is dry and dull. They can be seen as a symbolic floral gesture to a man whose life was filled with sacrifice and tragedy but who triumphed with a tenacity of spirit and hope in even the darkest of days.


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 in an attempt to assuage security fears.


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