Johannesburg: The memorial service for former South African President Nelson Mandela today (Tuesday) is poised to be one of the largest such gatherings in generations with tens of thousands of local mourners and almost 100 foreign leaders expected.
South African security forces had only days to implement a rough plan for Nelson Mandela’s grand funeral, based partly on blueprints of past major events like the 2010 World Cup final.
In terms of crowd control, the security authorities have largely relied on the experience they gained during the World Cup nearly four years ago.
Around 80,000 people will attend a memorial service Tuesday at the Soweto stadium that hosted the 2010 final.
After that, Mandela’s body will lie in state for three days in Pretoria before being taken for burial Sunday in his rural boyhood home of Qunu.
Areas around all three venues will be subjected to different levels of security lockdown, with flight restrictions in force around Mthatha, the nearest airport to Qunu.
Many of the more than 90 world leaders attending the various events will bring their own security teams, said Solomon Makgale, spokesman for the National Joint Operational Centre (Natjoints), which coordinates between the police, military and intelligence agencies.
“All of them always come with their security detail, then they work with us,” he said.
Almost 60 heads of state and government had attended Mandela’s inauguration as South Africa’s first black president in 1994.
Security forces’ leave has been cancelled until after Sunday’s burial, and around 11,000 soldiers have been deployed to back up police operations.
In a bid to prevent dangerously large crowds gathering at the actual event venues, large screens carrying live broadcasts have been installed at sites all over the country.
Some 3,000 marshalls will be engaged in crowd control at the Soweto stadium, which will be surrounded by three concentric security circles of increasing scrutiny, with vehicle access severely restricted.
The same system will apply for Mandela’s lying in state at the Union Buildings, the seat of government in Pretoria where he was inaugurated 19 years ago.
The government has sought to discourage foreign leaders from attending the burial in Qunu, citing its rural location, lack of amenities and limited space.
The immediate area around the Mandela family farm has already been cordoned off.