JOHANNESBURG: Preparations began on Friday for the state funeral of South Africa’s liberation hero Nelson Mandela, as the world mourned the peace icon’s passing.
Heads of state from around the world, including US President Barack Obama, and well-known personalities who were close to the statesman like Oprah Winfrey and Bill and Hillary Clinton are expected to attend.
Unofficial government sources have said he could be laid to rest on December 14, though some are calling for his burial to take place on the 16th, a public holiday named Reconciliation Day.
More details on the funeral are due to be released later on Friday.
The gathering of world leaders will be one of the largest in South Africa since Mandela was inaugurated as its first black president in 1994.
Mandela, who died late Thursday after a long battle against lung infection, will lie in state at the seat of government the Union Buildings in the capital Pretoria.
A period of mourning will precede the 95-year-old’s burial, during which the country’s flags will fly at half-mast.
South Africans are also expected to mark his death at official memorial services across the country, including at Johannesburg’s Soccer City, the host stadium of the 2010 World Cup final where Mandela made his last major public appearance.
Both houses of parliament will be recalled from recess for a special joint sitting in honor of Mandela’s legacy.
After an official state funeral in Pretoria, his body will be flown to the Eastern Cape province, the hilly rural area where he was born and grew up.
He will be buried in a private ceremony in Qunu, next to the remains of his family, including three deceased children.
The children’s graves were the subject of a bitter court feud between Mandela’s grandson Mandla and other relatives, including his current wife Graca Machel and ex-wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.
Mandla had moved the remains without his relatives’ consent in 2011, in what they called an effort to force his grandfather’s last resting place from his childhood village Qunu to his birthplace Mvezo around 30 kilometers (18 miles) away.
The court ordered the remains to be returned to Qunu.
In recent years authorities rushed to renovate the nearby Mthatha airport and roads leading to Qunu as Mandela’s health deteriorated and the prospect of large funeral proceedings loomed. AFP