JOHANNESBURG — South Africa prepared Monday for a massive memorial in a soccer stadium to honor Nelson Mandela, at which an eclectic mix of world leaders will eulogize the anti-apartheid icon before a crowd of nearly 100,000 mourners.
President Obama and his wife, Michelle, left Washington for Johannesburg on Monday to attend the event. In a rare get-
together, they were joined on Air Force One by former president George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, as well as former first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. Former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter are traveling separately to South Africa.
A program released by the South African government indicated that Obama would speak, as would U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Chinese Vice President Li Yuanchao. Other speakers include Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, Namibian President Hifikepunye Pohamba, Indian President Pranab Mukherjee and Cuban President Raúl Castro. South African President Jacob Zuma will give the keynote address.
As a prelude to the stadium event, Ban and retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu spoke Monday night at an event at the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory.
“What a fantastic gift God gave to us in this Mandela, who quickly became an icon, a global icon of forgiveness, of generosity of spirit,” Tutu said.
“He really was like a magician with a magic wand, turning us into this glorious, multicolored, rainbow people,” Tutu added.
At the Soweto stadium where Mandela made his last public appearance, at the 2010 World Cup, workers busily erected a stage protected by bulletproof glass for Tuesday’s memorial.
Police promised that “thousands” of officers would secure the stadium, though security appeared lax Monday and the owner of a security company used his small car as a mobile office to hire guards at the stadium.
About 100 heads of state are expected at the 95,000-capacity FNB Stadium, where some mourners are camped out, hoping to be the first ones inside on Tuesday. Authorities expect overflow crowds to watch a live broadcast of the event at nearby stadiums and said they would shut off access if the crowds grew too large.
Officers will direct traffic, protect mourners and help the bodyguards of visiting dignitaries, Lt. Gen. Solomon Makgale, a spokesman for the South African Police Service, said Monday.
“We will be on hand to make sure people are able to grieve in a safe environment,” Makgale said.
He said a task force of police, diplomatic and intelligence service personnel has been making plans and talking to the foreign delegations scheduled to attend the ceremony.
Makgale said police were prepared for Tuesday’s event, which will include speeches from Mandela’s family and friends.
“Whether we have 10 heads of state coming or 70 or 100, we do have the capacity and plans in place to facilitate their movement,” Makgale said.
Security for the event remains a concern. An Associated Press reporter walked unsearched into the stadium Monday by showing only a national press card issued in Europe. It took about three minutes before a security officer asked journalists to leave the stadium’s field. However, reporters freely roamed the stadium and walked the aisles to see the stage construction.
Officials from the U.S. Consulate in Johannesburg also toured the venue Monday but declined to speak to journalists.
Meanwhile, a private firm called Sidas Security was still hiring guards for the event Monday, using a compact car as an office. Sidas manager George Mathabe said the company will have 1,500 guards on duty Tuesday.