4 U.S. presidents to attend Mandela memorial events
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Four American presidents, along with more than 60 other world leaders, will travel to South Africa this week to honor former President Nelson Mandela. One man who won’t be there is the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s spiritual leader.
The Dalai Lama has been denied visas during previous efforts to travel to South Africa, reflecting the sensitivities of China, one of South Africa’s most important trading partners. A spokesman for the Buddhist leader, Tenzin Taklha, said the Dalai Lama had no plans to attend, according to South Africa’s head of public diplomacy, Clayson Monyela.
South Africa has never hosted so many world leaders — or faced such daunting logistical and security challenges. Most, including President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, will attend a memorial Tuesday at the 90,000-seat soccer stadium in Soweto. A select few will attend Mandela’s private funeral Sunday in Qunu, his home village.
The Obamas will be joined at the memorial by former Presidents Carter and George W. Bush. Former President Clinton and his wife, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, are expected to attend one of the events, but it was unclear which one. The only other living U.S. president, George H.W. Bush, has been in frail health and will not make the trip.
Among the others expected for one of the events are U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon; Prince Charles, representing Britain’s Queen Elizabeth; and celebrities including Oprah Winfrey and Bono.
South Africa’s minister of international relations and cooperation, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, said Sunday that there had been “unprecedented interest” from global leaders in attending the memorial or funeral.
Minister in the President’s Office Collins Chabane told reporters, “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.
“We are touched by the fact that many countries have declared periods of mourning, ordered that flags be flown at half-mast and draped or lit landmarks in the colors of the South African flag. We truly appreciate these gestures,” he said. “We appreciate the willingness showed by a broad range of eminent persons to come to South Africa to join us personally at this time of mourning, reflection and celebration of Nelson Mandela’s life and legacy.”
According to Monyela, nations whose leaders are expected include Afghanistan, Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Bahamas, Bangladesh, Belgium, Benin, Canada, China, Colombia, Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Croatia, Cuba, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, France, Gabon, Germany, Guyana, Haiti, India, Ireland, Israel, Ivory Coast, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kenya, Lebanon, Mauritius, Mexico, Mozambique, Namibia, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Niger, Pakistan, Portugal, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Serbia, Seychelles, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Sri Lanka, Suriname, Sweden, Swaziland, Tanzania, Thailand, Tunisia and Turkey.
Times staff writer Kathleen Hennessey in Washington contributed to this report.