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Mon Dec 22 02:38:52 SAST 2014

The world is here

GRAEME HOSKEN, ANDILE NDLOVU and OLEBOGENG MOLATLHWA | 10 December, 2013 00:120 Comments
U.S. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama. File photo
Image by: JONATHAN ERNST / REUTERS

The world's leaders will for a few hours today be united as they mark the death of Nelson Mandela.

With Gauteng crawling with foreign undercover security teams and intelligence agents, safety is paramount for the memorial service at FNB Stadium and public viewing areas.

Already eight streets around the stadium are cordoned off. Inside, bullet-proof screens have been erected around podiums from which world leaders - many of whose disdain for each other is well known - will pay tribute to Mandela.

US secret service and UK security forces have spent the last three days inspecting the stadium and its surroundings, ensuring safe exits should their charges come under threat.

South African police, military personnel and state intelligence agents have been deployed across the province, with hundreds stationed around overflow stadiums, and at Air Force Base Waterkloof and OR Tambo International and Lanseria airports, where dignitaries started landing yesterday afternoon.

US Secret Service officials were seen inspecting Waterkloof late yesterday ahead of today's 8am arrival of President Barack Obama, his wife, Michelle, and his four predecessors and their families.

Six SA Air Force Gripen fighter jets patrolled the skies above the air force base, with Johannesburg and Pretoria enforcing no-fly zones as the world leaders flew in.

At OR Tambo, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott stopped briefly for a chat with Australian media before being whisked away.

Former Nigerian president Coliseum Obasanjo, who paid a warm tribute to Madiba at the weekend, arrived quietly, dressed in traditional attire.

President Jacob Zuma's wife Thobeka Madiba-Zuma and, a little later, Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma, also made their way through the VIP exit.

UK security officials yesterday inspected a number of venues and sites ahead of the arrival of Prince Charles, Prime Minister David Cameron and former prime ministers John Major and Gordon Brown, and opposition leader Nick Clegg.

Former UK prime minister Tony Blair will also attend, as will his nemesis, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe.

The gathering of world leaders for the memorial service will surpass that for the 2005 funeral of Pope John Paul II, which was attended by 70 heads of state and 14 regional leaders.

At the time of going to print last night 53 presidents, 13 prime ministers, six princes, a king, a queen, a grand duke and three deputy prime ministers had confirmed their attendance.

Tens of thousands of mourners will be ferried to the stadium by bus, train and taxi.

Gauteng Metrorail spokesman Lillian Mofokeng said 41 trains would bring between 60000 and 80000 mourners from throughout Gauteng, without charge, to join in the proceedings

Despite the government's pleas that South Africans view the service from select venues in their provinces, ANC KwaZulu-Natal provincial secretary Sihle Zikalala said 34 minibus taxis and buses would ferry party members to FNB Stadium this morning, with the entire provincial leadership attending.

The ANC Eastern and Western Cape leaderships will arrive too.

A police VIP protection unit member said scores of high-performance vehicles would escort the dignitaries.

"Each dignitary has at least three to five vehicles assigned to him with specific protection teams. We have been at it since Sunday . escorting and protecting. It is a mammoth operation set to go on beyond the funeral."

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