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By Newsday Reporter Saturday, December 7 2013

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Elaborate funeral plans have been set in motion in South Africa, as it welcomes world leaders and celebrities to bid farewell to Nelson Mandela, its first democratically elected black president, who died on Thursday at age 95.

Among them will be Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, who last evening announced she would be going to South Africa for Mandela’s funeral and extended an invitation to Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley to accompany her.

The memorial, expected to last ten days, will be an unparalleled event in South Africa’s history, drawing a plethora of foreign dignitaries of every stripe, royals and a smattering of celebrities.

After the Lower House paused for a minute’s silence for Mandela and paid verbal tribute to his memory, Persad-Bissessar said she plans to attend the December 15 funeral as Caricom chairman.

She invited Rowley, to also attend, saying many other leaders from within Caricom would also be there. She promised to liaise with the Office of the Leader of the Opposition, but up to press time despite phone-calls and text-messages sent to many Opposition sources, there was no word as to whether Rowley would be attending.

Earlier in the sitting, Persad-Bissessar, Rowley and Speaker Wade Mark each hailed Mandela.

Persad-Bissessar said a date would be chosen early next year to be declared “Mandela Day” in Trinidad and Tobago. “With the cooperation of leading scholars, historians and relevant historians, we will organise a public symposium on the life and lessons of Nelson Mandela,” she said.

Yesterday morning, talks were held with former Independent Senator Prof Ken Ramchand, who has agreed to give his expertise to this effort.

“We will present the unique and potent messages of this great world leader through presentations, enactments, video clips, photographs and have all of this material, including a specially compiled booklet, recorded and preserved, available for posterity and study particularly by our younger politicians, students and teachers.” She said South Africa has lost its greatest son, while the rest of the world including Trinidad and Tobago has lost “one of the most powerful and influential beacons of hope, spirituality and moral guidance” we have been privileged to have had among us.

“Many in this House and citizens throughout our nation will remember when he made his historic visit to Trinidad in 2009. Several of us, including myself, had the indescribable experience of actually meeting him at the official state function, and would forever remember the sheer calm and humility but the unmistakable charisma and magnetism which he exuded.”

Persad-Bissessar recalled she had once hosted a dinner for her Cabinet colleagues at which she had shown them the movie about Mandela’s life and times, Invictus. His two decades in jail, looking at himself, became the central underpinning of how he tried to fashion a post-apartheid South Africa.

“When I first saw the inspiring movie Invictus in which the Black President of a still bitterly divided post apartheid South Africa successfully, against criticisms and deep odds, brought the entire country around the white South African rugby team, I recommended its viewing to every member of our Cabinet,” she related.

She recalled Mandela’s donning of a jersey of the Springboks rugby team, once a symbol of the hated former regime, to bring a massive crowd to their feet cheering his inspiring leadership.

“This was one of his signal overtures, among many, in his attempts to create a united South Africa, despite the decades of his own personal suffering and the incarceration he personally endured at the hands of a white regime in his own country,” praised Persad-Bissessar.

She said he was, “an utterly complex man,” yet also an, “incredibly simple human being”.

“He was a unique mixture of seriousness, intense study, calculated action, steely resolve, committed to his unshakeable cause of equality and justice for all people, possessing innate, almost divine wisdom, yet at the same time, he was a human being, a man of God, of deep reverence, of love for humanity, of compassion, of fair play, of unity.” Offering her condolences for a man to be deeply admired and revered, Persad-Bissessar said he must now be emulated.

Rowley said Mandela had repeatedly shown great courage in rejecting offers of freedom for himself, until others in South Africa were free. Rowley said Mandela does not belong to South Africa, but to the whole human race.

“We extend our gratitude to the people of South Africa for Nelson Mandela. On behalf of the people of Trinidad and Tobago, all of us in this House simply say, ‘Thank you, Nelson Mandela. Thank you’.”

Mark called Mandela a, “21st century titan”, whose imperishable memory and message shall stay with us all forever. The Speaker hailed Mandela’s love, humility and sense of justice, equality and universal brotherhood.

Mark said Mandela taught the world key lessons in leadership, by being a great leader but remaining a humble man. For example, Mandela had shown that if you want the cooperation of people, you must make them feel important and behave to them in a gentle and humble way. Mark urged that we each “stencil onto our hearts” the message of the rich contribution of Mandela to world civilisation and global peace.

Yesterday, South African President Jacob Zuma announced that Mandela is to be buried during a state funeral in his rural home town of Qunu next Sunday. A memorial service is to be held on Tuesday in FNB Stadium in Johannesburg. Mandela’s last public appearance was at the same stadium in 2010 for the closing ceremony of the soccer World Cup. Mandela’s body will then lie in state in Pretoria for three days. Sunday marks a national day of prayer and reflection.

“We call upon all our people to gather in halls, churches, mosques, temples, synagogues and in their homes for prayer services and meditation, reflecting on the life of Madiba and his contribution to our country and the world,” Zuma said, using Mandela’s clan name.

Zuma ordered the nation’s flags to be flown at half-mast beginning today and to remain that way until after Mandela’s funeral next Sunday.

US President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle are expected to travel to South Africa to bid farewell to Mandela along with numerous other world leaders including British Prime Minister David Cameron.

Several celebrities who had personal ties to the late great leader, such as Oprah Winfrey and U2 frontman Bono, are also expected to attend the service.

Desmond Tutu, a long-time friend of Mandela and former archbishop of Cape Town is expected to officiate at the service. In a church service in Cape Town, Tutu, yesterday, who like Mandela was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, said Mandela would want South Africans themselves to be his “memorial” by adhering to the values of unity and democracy that he embodied.

He recalled the early 1990s when South Africa teetered on the brink of a race war and how Mandela helped unite the nation as it dismantled apartheid, the cruel system of white minority rule, and prepared for all-race elections in 1994. In those elections, Mandela, who spent 27 years in prison, became South Africa’s first black president.

“God, thank you for the gift of Madiba,” said Tutu in his closing his prayer.

Preparations for the funeral are expected to bring the country of 53 million to a virtual standstill.

The 10-day occasion is expected to combine both Western traditions and those of Mandela’s native clan, the Thembu. At some stage during days one to four, Thembu elders are expected to gather for a first ceremony called “the closing of the eyes” either at his home or in the mortuary.

After the ceremony, it is believed his body will be embalmed at the mortuary, thought to be a military hospital in Pretoria.

No formal public events are expected to take place until day five, December 10, when mourners will have a chance to say goodbye to their beloved father figure during a service at the 94,000-capacity Johannesburg soccer stadium that hosted the 2010 World Cup

On days six to eight, December 11 to 13, the anti-apartheid hero’s body is earmarked to lie in state in a glass-topped coffin at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, where he was inaugurated as president on May 10, 1994.

On day nine, plans have been made for a military aircraft to fly Mandela to Mthatha, the main town in the South African province of Eastern Cape.

His casket will then be taken by the military on a gun carriage to Qunu, his home village, where the former leader spent his childhood years.

To mark the formal passing of responsibility to his family, the South African flag that is expected to drape his coffin will be replaced by a traditional Xhosa blanket.

On the final day, Mandela will finally be laid to rest in the grounds of his family home in Qunu, where thousands of people, including heads of state will gather for the state funeral.

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