Political and cultural elite set to attend funeral where Mandela’s spirit of reconciliation may offer backdrop to unusual meetings,
World leaders are preparing to converge in unprecedented numbers on South Africa for Nelson Mandela’s funeral, likely to be one of the biggest global gatherings of powerful people in modern history.
As South Africa embarked on nine days of mourning, comparisons were being drawn with earlier mammoth funeral ceremonies, of Pope John Paul II, Princess Diana, President John F Kennedy and Winston Churchill. But Mandela’s appeal was even broader, cutting across religious divides and the usual geopolitical barriers between north and south, east and west.
Barack Obama will fly in, with his wife Michelle, as well as former US presidents. Britain is expected to send senior royals, presumably Prince Charles, and possibly Prince William as well as the prime minister, David Cameron.
They are likely to mix in the funeral cortege with leaders from across the globe, including from China, Iran, Cuba, Israel and the Palestinian territories. It is not clear how Syria will be represented, or whether Sudan’s president Omar al-Bashir, charged with genocide by the international criminal court, will attend.
As well as creating a minefield of chance encounters to avoid, the convergence of such an array of presidents and prime ministers should also offer unusual diplomatic opportunities. The spirit of reconciliation Mandela embodied could provide, for example, the backdrop for a first meeting between Obama and Iranian leader, Hassan Rouhani.
Mandela’s farewell will also draw the world’s cultural elite as well as its political leadership. Mandela had a soft spot for celebrity and stars of film and music, such as Oprah Winfrey, who made the pilgrimage to his home when he was alive, are also expected to pay their respects at his passing.
According to an earlier provisional plan seen by the Guardian, the formal state funeral was intended to take place at the Union Buildings at Pretoria, the country’s seat of government since the colonial era, where Mandela was inaugurated as president in 1994 – however there were reports on Friday that it would take place in Qunu, Mandela’s childhood home.
Posted By Mantosh Pal