Mandela funeral: Tiny village Qunu braces for elaborate operation

Children run along a towpath on their way to Qunu Junior Secondary School.
Credit: Getty Images

The population of Qunu is just under 300, but a massive invasion is underway ahead of Nelson Mandela’s funeral Sunday, when the Eastern Cape village where Madiba grew up hosts one of the largest events in South African history.

“There is a lot of people and a lot of disruption,” said a spokesperson at the Nelson Mandela Museum, the largest building in Qunu, which has become the site of a marquee for the world’s media.

Much larger temporary structures are being hastily constructed to host the ceremony and its 5,000 guests, with officials admitting work is behind schedule. Eleven venues in the local area will screen the funeral for those unable to attend, with up to 70,000 expected, and accommodation prices have risen sharply across the region.

Roads leading to the village will be blocked, and the local airport in Mthatha will become a no-fly zone, reserved for about 100 private jets transporting dignitaries. “The military will be in control,” announced municipality Mayor Nomakhosazana Meth. “Everything is in order there, and we are ready to warmly welcome our guests.”

Many world leaders and celebrities are expected to attend, including Britain’s Prince Charles and Oprah Winfrey. More than 1,500 members of the media have been accredited. But residents of the village have claimed they are being prevented from attending the funeral because of the visitors.

On Saturday, a military aircraft will take Mandela’s remains from Pretoria to the Eastern Cape. The funeral begins at 9 a.m. Sunday. The ex-president will receive a Christian burial, but also the Xhosa rituals of his community with an address to his spirit.


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