13 December 2013
Mthatha Airport is perfectly capable of handling the heavier air traffic expected ahead of Nelson Mandela’s funeral service this weekend, Eastern Cape Premier Noxolo Kiviet said on Thursday.
Mandela will be buried in his birthplace, Qunu, on Sunday.
In an interview with SAnews, Kiviet assured visitors that the airport, which has just been renovated, can accommodate any size of aircraft, with the only challenge being aircraft parking space.
Contingency plans had been made for some flights to drop off the dignitaries and fly to East London and Bisho, where parking space would be provided. The airport usually receives two planes from Johannesburg daily, but traffic is expected to increase this week ahead of the state funeral.
“It will be a drop off for some that do not have space,” Kiviet said. “There is no crisis, as we have just renovated this airport and so it meets all international safety standards.”
Security has also been tightened, and the army has effectively taken control of the airport. SAnews spoke to different police officers and army officials the airport who said they were guarding the facility around the clock.
“We want to ensure that nobody is compromised, all our dignitaries will be able to land safely and security around them is guaranteed,” Kiviet said.
Heavy rains and mist over Mthatha made it impossible for several flights to land at the airport on Wednesday, and flights were diverted to East London airport. It has been raining in Mthatha since Monday, but the clouds were starting to clear on Thursday, with the South African Weather Services saying clear weather could be expected by the weekend.
‘Watch the funeral at public viewing areas’
With thousands of people from around the province said to be planning to travel to Qunu this weekend, Kiviet urged them to rather watch the funeral at one of the 18 public viewing areas the government has set up across the province.
“We advise people not to even think of going to Qunu, because it’s going to be difficult for them.”
The government in Pretoria issued the same request earlier this week, calling on people rather to watch the funeral at home or at one of the public viewing areas set up countrywide.
Kiviet said there would be three public viewing areas for Qunu residents, while another three would be set up in Mthatha.
Qunu residents remember Madiba
Meanwhile, as the day of the funeral drew closer, the people of Qunu continued to pay their tributes to Mandela. Hundreds of Qunu residents braved the rainy weather to line the village streets on Thursday chanting songs praising their fallen hero.
Mandela grew up in Qunu after his parents relocated from the nearby Mvezo village. At the school where the former president attended as a young boy, several messages of love were on display, while posters with Mandela’s face were to be seen hanging on fences and street poles and on the walls of many houses.
Qunu was very close to Madiba’s heart. In his later years he spent most of his time at his home in the village, and it became a tradition that whenever he was around there would be some kind of activity taking place at the family residence.
Nolusapho Gibisela, who lives a few metres away from Mandela’s house, recalled that, on Christmas Day every year, Mandela invited children from the village to his home, where they would be given gifts and have an opportunity to play with Tata.
“This became a tradition in Qunu, and whenever Tata is around children will be called to go see him, and no child will leave that house empty handed, and that’s how our children got to know him,” Gibisela said.
“The whole village was saddened to learn of his passing, but we were not shocked. He was an old man who had done his work on earth; he completed the task.”