Andrew Austin: Mandela given impressive send-off despite mix-ups

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A group of Zulu warriors watch a fly-past during the burial of former South African president Nelson Mandela in Qunu. Photo/ AP
A group of Zulu warriors watch a fly-past during the burial of former South African president Nelson Mandela in Qunu. Photo/ AP

South Africa has successfully pulled off one of the most important events it will ever host, and with some style.

With the world watching, the republic stepped up and gave its former president Nelson Mandela a send-off that bigger countries would have been proud off.

Yes, it started off a bit wobbly with a memorial service last Tuesday that could have been better, but that was a logistical nightmare, with nearly 100 heads of state in attendance.

However, any indiscretions were made up for by the spectacular funeral service in the tiny village of Qunu in the Transkei. It was spectacular, with the highlight being a fly-past by fighter jets.

Click here for a video of the Mandela commemorations.

This was a huge undertaking and the South African Government seemed to view it as a military operation. The Public Works Ministry, which oversaw the logistical arrangements, seemed to have thought of everything. I was amazed to see a digger and a number of big trucks at the ready in case roads needed to be levelled. It was that degree of planning that made this a special event.

Police officers and army personnel were plentiful on the ground. I spoke to a number of them and all had all come from somewhere else in the country.

Even the temporary infrastructure was impressive. Qunu is a very rural village so there were no big halls or stadiums to house thousands of mourners. All this needed to be created and that is what the authorities did.

The thing about this project was that those involved did it enthusiastically because it was for Nelson Mandela. It is also clear that a decision was made that no expense would be spared. The cost will be huge.

The negative side of this operation was that with so many people working on it, there was a lot of petty bureaucracy and unfortunately a lot of this was directed at the media representatives, who were here from around the world.

I have been here for a week now and have had many a situation where one official tells me one thing, only for another one to contradict that person a few minutes later. This was especially so at roadblocks in Pretoria for the lying-in-state, and in Qunu.

There were a few occasions when I was told I could not go through, only for a higher-ranked official to come over and say I most certainly could go through.

The viewing of Mandela's body by the media as he lay in state was not handled well.

Journalists were told to queue up with the rest of the mourners (a minimum wait of five hours), but later, when many of the media had moved on to other stories, those left were allowed in.

- NZ Herald

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