South Africa Prepares to Welcome World Leaders
South Africa is readying itself for the arrival of a flood of world leaders for the memorial service and funeral for Nelson Mandela as thousands of mourners continued to flock to sites around the country Saturday to pay homage to the freedom struggle icon.
At Mandela's house in the Johannesburg neighborhood of Houghton, more than 100 people, black and white, gathered in the morning where they sang liberation songs and homages to Mandela. Children danced to the singing from the swaying crowd as hawkers nearby sold Mandela regalia.
Among those who have already indicated that they will be travelling to South Africa to honor Mandela, who died at his Johannesburg home at the age of 95 Thursday night, are United States President Barack Obama and his two predecessors, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff will also be among the guests.
A week of mourning, with several events planned, has been declared by the government. Sunday has been declared a national day of prayer and reflection, while a national memorial service is scheduled Tuesday to be held at a Johannesburg stadium where Mandela made his last public appearance for the closing ceremony of the 2010 soccer World Cup.
Official memorial services will also be held in all of South Africa's provinces and regions over the next week. Mandela's body will lie in state from Wednesday till Friday at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, South Africa's capital.
Mandela's remains will also be paraded through the streets of the capital during those days, the government said Saturday.
"Every morning, when the remains leave the mortuary to the lying in state, those routes will be made public," said Neo Momodu, the head of the government's information service.
The state funeral and burial for the Nobel Peace Prize laureate will be held in his rural hometown of Qunu in the Eastern Cape Province Sunday Dec. 15.
The state airline, South African Airways, has laid on special charter flights to ferry invited dignitaries to the funeral.
The government has announced that a special sitting of the two houses of parliament will be held on Monday to pay tribute to Mandela, the country's first black and democratically-elected president.
Meanwhile, tributes to the former anti-apartheid activist continue to pour in from around the globe.
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, who has been in power since his country's independence from Britain in 1980 and used to support Mandela's ANC party during its struggle against the apartheid regime, paid his first public tribute to the deceased leader Saturday.
Despite himself being accused by critics of increasingly authoritarian rule, Mugabe praised Mandela as a champion of democracy and "an unflinching fighter for justice."
"Mr. Nelson Mandela's renowned and illustrious political life will forever remain a beacon of excellence," Zimbabwe's state-run newspaper The Herald quoted Mugabe as saying.
"Not only was he a great champion of the emancipation of the oppressed, but he also was a humble and compassionate leader who showed selfless dedication to the service of his people."
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