Andrew Austin: Politics mixed up with mourning

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Rumours circulate in South African townships that Govt may have held off announcement to buy time.

A vehicle carrying the body of Nelson Mandela makes its way through the streets of Pretoria. Photo / AP
A vehicle carrying the body of Nelson Mandela makes its way through the streets of Pretoria. Photo / AP

Johannesburg has been hit by a storm. Yes, it has been raining since I arrived, but the storm is the sheer logistical nightmare that is a 10-day mourning period for former President Nelson Mandela.

Mandela's record and his profile around the world meant that it was always going to be this way. World leaders and former leaders were clamouring to come and pay their respects to the man many South Africans see as the architect of their freedom.

This has been a difficult task for the South African Government as it had to follow protocols and ensure that the various dignitaries were given the proper welcome.

Prime Minister John Key is just one of many dignitaries who needed to be catered for. Managing the huge media contingent and organising the events has increased the pressure on the Jacob Zuma-led Government that is desperate to give Madiba a proper farewell - and also receive some praise at a time when the heat is on.

The Government and the African National Congress were embarrassed by a section of the crowd at Mandela's memorial service at the FNB stadium that booed Jacob Zuma when he arrived and every time his image appeared on the giant screens.

ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu said it was the "wrong platform" to be politicised and media commentators agreed that while it showed simmering discontent over Mr Zuma's handling of the affairs of state, it was not a good look with the rest of the world watching.

But there are some issues that run deep. In particular, many people question the use of more than R206 million ($24 million) of taxpayers' money to pay for the "security upgrade" at Mr Zuma's private Nkandla homestead in rural KwaZulu-Natal.

Another thorn in the side of many residents of Johannesburg is the new e-toll system that will see the government's transport agency collect thousands of rand a week when drivers criss-cross this vast city in a day's work.

As sad as Mandela's death is, the Government was probably secretly hoping it would take attention off the problems at home and put South Africa in a positive light.

The speed with which the Government has rolled out the infrastructure and procedure to cope with such a huge undertaking is admirable. But one conspiracy theory doing the rounds is that Mandela may have actually died a few days earlier, with the news kept secret until a structure had been set in place. Adding fuel to this speculation is that Mandela's body was moved fairly quickly after his death.

Mandela was a Xhosa and a member of the Thembu Royal household, where there are strict protocols around a death in the family. Some believe this gives credibility to the unproven theory.

But there is still plenty of mourning to be done. The attention moves to Pretoria, the administrative capital of South Africa, where Mandela is lying in state for the rest of the week. Mr Key was hoping to pay his respects at the Union Buildings overnight.

The real test for the South African Government and the Thembu tribe will be when the funeral procession moves to the tiny village of Qunu in the Transkei, about 1000km from Johannesburg, where Mandela will be laid to rest with his ancestors.

The concern many have is that the farming area will not be able to cope with the volume of people expected for the funeral on Sunday.

However, this is the only way it could ever have been done. Mandela deserved a state funeral and, in accordance with Xhosa tradition, he needs to be laid to rest at the place of his birth.

NZ memorial services

Thousands are expected to attend services around New Zealand today and tomorrow to remember Nelson Mandela.

Wellington: TSB Bank Arena, Thursday, 12pm

Christchurch: Cardboard Cathedral, Thursday, 5.30pm

Auckland: Holy Trinity Cathedral, Parnell, Friday, 12pm

Hamilton: Turangawaewae Marae, Ngaruawahia, Friday, 4pm.

nzherald.co.nz

For the latest news on the 10 days of memorials, visit tiny.cc/nzhmandela

- NZ Herald

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