News World Security ramped up for Mandela funeral

Security ramped up for Mandela funeral

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South African security forces had only days to implement a rough plan for Nelson Mandela’s grand funeral, based partly on blueprints of past events such as the 2010 World Cup final.

South Africa’s first black president had been ill for months, but his death still posed an organisational challenge as a small army of world leaders, dignitaries and celebrities asked to attend the state send-off.

Security preparations that would usually take months had to be compressed into a few days.

As well as foreign VIPs, hundreds of thousands of South Africans want an opportunity to say a final farewell to the man who led them out of the apartheid era.

In terms of crowd control, the security authorities have largely relied on the experience they gained during the World Cup.

About 80,000 people will attend a memorial service on 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 on Sunday in his rural boyhood home of Qunu.

Areas around all three venues will be subjected to security lockdown, with flight restrictions around Mthatha, the nearest airport to Qunu.

Analyst Johan Burger of the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria says a basic security blueprint “has been existing for some time now”.

“Now they have to fill in the numbers and the names and allocate the tasks to the specific commanders,” Burger said.

Security force personnel leave has been cancelled until after Sunday’s burial, and about 11,000 soldiers have been deployed to back up police operations.

In a bid to prevent dangerously large crowds gathering at event venues, large screens carrying live broadcasts have been installed all over the country.

In terms of local authorities working with the visiting US Secret Service, the process has been eased by the fact that US President Barack Obama made an official visit to South Africa five months ago.

“It has meant that everybody is familiar with their counterparts and we’ve been working with a lot of experience on both sides,” US embassy spokesman Jack Hillmeyer said.

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 been cordoned off.