x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Almost 100 world leaders to attend Mandela’s funeral – but not Netanyahu

Israeli prime minister cites travel and security costs of US$2 million as behind his decision not to attend Nelson Mandela's funeral.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be a no show at Nelson Mandela's funeral. AFP Photo/poll/ Uriel Sinai
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be a no show at Nelson Mandela's funeral. AFP Photo/poll/ Uriel Sinai

JOHANNESBURG // South Africa yesterday raced to meet the unprecedented logistical challenge of hosting close to 100 world leaders flying in from every corner of the globe for the state funeral of Nelson Mandela.

“The world literally is coming to South Africa,” said the government’s head of public diplomacy, Clayson Monyela.

“I don’t think it has ever happened before,” Mr Monyela said of the wave of 91 heads of state and government, including US President Barack Obama, descending on the country.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu will not be among them.

Mr Netanyahu had notified South African authorities that he would fly in but cancelled his plans at the last minute due to the costs involved - about US$2 million (Dh7.34m) for his transport and security alone, pubic radio and the Haaretz daily newspaper reported.

“The decision was made in light of the high transportation costs resulting from the short notice of the trip and the security required for the prime minister in Johannesburg,” Haaretz reported.

Many will join the 80,000 people expected to cram in to the FNB Stadium in Soweto at 11am (1pm UAE) today for a sweeping, emotional tribute to their inspirational first black president.

The memorial service, in the venue where Mandela made his last major public appearance for the 2010 World Cup final, is seen as a final chance for grieving South Africans to unite in a mass celebration of his life ahead of the more formal state funeral.

Another 120,000 people will be able to watch a live broadcast of the event on giant screens set up in three overflow stadiums in Johannesburg.

Although Mandela had been critically ill for months, the announcement of his death on Thursday night was still a body blow for a country that had looked to his unassailable moral authority as a comforting constant in a time of uncertain social and economic change.

“I don’t think you are ever prepared enough,” said Zelda La Grange, who was Mandela’s long-time personal assistant

The week-long funeral rites will culminate on Sunday in Mandela’s burial at a family plot in his rural, boyhood home of Qunu.

Before that, his body will lie in state for three days from tomorrow in the amphitheatre of the Union Buildings in Pretoria.

Agence France-Presse