The government on Sunday urged people to attend local rather than national services of commemoration for former South African president Nelson Mandela as the sheer scale of the logistics involved in planning the extraordinary week ahead began to bring signs of stress.
An unprecedented number of foreign journalists and dignitaries have arrived in the country, along with tourists, to witness what will be a historic event.
There were disgruntled scenes on Sunday at the Johannesburg Nasrec Expo Centre, where several hundred of the between 2,500 and 3,000 domestic and international journalists estimated to be covering the death of Mandela arrived to collect passes that would grant them access to key events of the week.
“We had four years to prepare for the World Cup but only months to prepare to lose Madiba,” a harried official at the center said, using Mandela’s clan name. “No, I cannot tell you how many [passes] we have processed and I cannot tell you how many are still to be processed. Perhaps you would like to do this?”
An enterprising ice cream seller was soon on the scene.
There were tensions between media outlets at some church events as cameras could barely film without getting another camera in the shot. Many of Johannesburg’s 165 hotels were full.
Plans were drawn up a year ago for the event, but the numbers appear to have shaken even the best-laid plans.
The government warned that people who wished to attend the memorial service tomorrow in the 95,000-seat First National Bank soccer stadium in Johannesburg could face being turned away, even at the overflow venues. Roads have been closed around the country’s main cities and at Qunu, Mandela’s Eastern Cape hometown, where the burial will take place. South African Airways is organizing extra internal flights to East London airport in the Eastern Cape. Mthatha airport, the closest to Qunu, has been set aside for heads of state, with its airspace closing to all other traffic begining on Friday, grounding many of the helicopters hired by news outlets.