Music Matters
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

World Leaders Heading To South Africa To Mourn Mandela

A man holds a portrait of Nelson Mandela outside his home in Houghton, Johannesburg, on Sunday.
Filippo Monteforte
AFP/Getty Images
A man holds a portrait of Nelson Mandela outside his home in Houghton, Johannesburg, on Sunday.

More than 60 heads of state have confirmed that they will attend services for Nelson Mandela in South Africa next week, the country's foreign ministry tells Reuters.

The South African government says that includes all living American presidents — except George H.W. Bush — as well as 26 members of Congress.

"The fact that international leaders are making their way to South Africa at such short notice reflects the special place President Mandela holds in the hearts of people around the globe," Collins Chabane, a presidential minister, told reporters on Sunday.

President Obama, reports NBC News, will be in South Africa for Tuesday's memorial service. NBC adds:

"On Tuesday, the official memorial service for Mandela will be held at the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg, also known as the Soccer City stadium, the site of the 2010 World Cup final. This will be attended by members of the public and by the Obamas and a number of other visiting heads of state and government, though Chabane said the list of world leaders that would attend had not yet been finalized. The White House confirmed the Obamas' attendance in an email Saturday evening.

"Mandela's body will lie in state in an open casket at the Union Buildings, the official seat of the South African government, from Wednesday through Friday, with viewing open to 'South Africans and selected international visitors and guests,' Chabane said."

Politico has a interesting look at what it takes to plan this kind of last-minute trip for a sitting president. Foreign trips usually takes months of planning by the Secret Service, but a funeral requires that time to be compressed into days.

Politico compares this trip to President Clinton's trip to Israel after Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was killed in 1995. They report:

"In that case, Clinton's flight left Washington for Israel just 24 hours after Rabin was killed. American security officials, who were in the air within six hours of Rabin's death, were on the ground for barely 18 hours before Clinton's delegation arrived. Meanwhile, the White House was making immediate decisions for seating arrangements for the three planeloads of American dignitaries.

"'It was an extraordinary trip for the Rabin funeral,' [Dan Rosenthal, a former Clinton assistant] said. 'Former presidents were seated in what is normally the senior staff cabin and most of the staff was seated in the conference room.'

"Of course, ample planning time offers no guarantee of a glitch-free visit: Foreign trips with the usual extended planning timeline can easily go awry as well. [Matt Borges, a former advance man for President George W. Bush] recalled a 2006 stop in Cairo with Vice President Dick Cheney in which the Egyptian military split Cheney from security officials in his motorcade.

"'I rolled out of an airport in Cairo and they split our secure package from the motorcade,' Borges said. 'We had agents ready to open fire to stop the Egyptian military from taking the vice president wherever they would take him.'"

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.