Mthatha Airport for funeral VIPs only

FILE PICTURE: A policeman moves a road sign in front of an electronic message that reads 'Rest in Peace Father Madiba' in Xhosa near Nelson Mandela's former home in Qunu this week. Qunu, the village where Mandela grew up, will be his final resting place. Picture: AFP.

Today is the last day that commercial flights will be allowed to land at Mthatha Airport, which is located just over 30 minutes away from Qunu in the Eastern Cape, where former President Nelson Mandela will be buried on Sunday.

OR Tambo Municipality mayor Nomakhosazana Meth told The Citizen yesterday that only the Port Elizabeth and East London airports will remain open in the province.

She said the Mthatha Airport will from tomorrow only welcome delegates headed to Madiba’s birthplace in Qunu, a small village south-west of Mthatha.

“The target number of people for the funeral in Qunu is about 4 500, but more than 70 000 people are expected, hence we have arranged three stadiums to be used, and five other centres in the vicinity of Mthatha, including a college,” she said.

Meth, who said it was all systems go with the preparation of infrastructure in the area, added that arrangements had already been made for ongoing water supply in the area where the Mandela family and the expected influx of both local and international delegates will be.

“We have also arranged a memorial service for the local community (it will be held today), however, we had to change the initial venue due to the rainy weather. We are yet to decide between the OR Tambo and Zamokuhle halls as the new suitable venue,” she said. The SA Weather Service has forecasted a 30% chance of rain in Qunu on Sunday.

However, Meth said contingency plans were already in place and that despite the ongoing wet weather, the Qunu community was going to be part of the historic national event as the heart of it will be happening in their backyards.

In anticipation of the greater numbers of delegates, South African Airways yesterday also announced that it will be deploying its bigger aircraft on specific days leading up to the political stalwart’s funeral.

“SAA would like to clarify that the special air transport arrangements to the funeral service of former President Nelson Mandela is handled through a separate mechanism. This chartered service is for guests invited by the state and details regarding that service are communicated directly to the guests at the time when they are invited,” the airline’s spokesperson Tlali Tlali said in a statement.

He reminded passengers interested in flying between Johannesburg and Cape Town or Johannesburg and East London to follow the normal booking and reservations procedures which remained in place. The scheduled regular operations to East London, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town will stay the same, Tlali said.

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