South Africa insisted it would be ready for 91 heads of state and government and thousands of other guests at a memorial service on Tuesday for Nelson Mandela just five days after his death.
At the Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg, where Mandela made his last public appearance at the 2010 World Cup, workers busily built a stage protected by bulletproof glass for the four-hour ceremony, due to begin this morning. Police promised that "thousands" of officers would secure the stadium.
Some mourners were already camped out to be the first ones in. Authorities expect overflow crowds to watch the event at nearby stadiums, saying they would shut off access if the crowds grew too large.
From Britain, a large political delegation will include David Cameron, the former prime ministers Sir John Major, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, and Ed Miliband, the Leader of the Opposition. President Barack Obama, former president George W Bush and their wives were sharing a 16-hour flight on Air Force One.
Flying separately will be two other former US presidents, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter. Twenty-six members of the US Congress are making the journey. Obama was expected to deliver remarks at the service, which will also be addressed by the presidents of Brazil, China and Cuba. Robert Mugabe, the Zimbabwean president, confirmed his attendance at the last minute, along with Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president.
Colins Chabane, the South African minister arranging the Mandela mourning events, extended a "warm South African welcome" to all the visitors. "Kings, queens, princes and princesses will be joined at FNB Stadium by representatives of international organisations such as the United Nations, African Union, European Union, the Commonwealth and the World Bank, and other VIPs," he said.
Chabane rejected the suggestion that the apparent last-minute nature of many of the arrangements could lead to chaos, pointing to successfully hosted events such as the rugby and football world cups. "For those who predict chaos, we are used to it," he said. "It's not new and all the time they have been proved wrong."
He conceded that the task of arranging an event for 91 world leaders was daunting, but said the South Africans were proud to do it. After the stadium memorial, the body of Mandela - who died on Thursday aged 95 - will lie in state at the Union Buildings, the seat of government in South Africa's capital, Pretoria. He will be buried on Sunday in Qunu, his rural home town in Eastern Cape Province. Meanwhile, Mandela's oldest daughter described the "wonderful" last days of her father's life, and how she believes he was able to hear his family around him until the end. Makaziwe Mandela, Mandela's daughter with his first wife Evelyn, said she sat by his bed all day before he died, accompanied by his wife Graca and his grandchildren. "I think from last week, Friday until Thursday, it was a wonderful time, if you can say the process of death is wonderful," she told the BBC.
"But Tata [father] had a wonderful time, because we were there. When the doctors told us... that there was nothing that they could do, and said to me 'Maki call everybody that wants to see him and say bye bye', it was a most wonderful day for us because the grandchildren were there." As a prelude to the stadium event, Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary- general, and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu spoke at an event at the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory.
"What a fantastic gift God gave to us in this Mandela, who quickly became an icon, a global icon of forgiveness, of generosity of spirit," Archbishop Tutu said. "He really was like a magician with a magic wand, turning us into this glorious, multi-colored, rainbow people." ---- ?The BBC received 1,350 complaints from viewers and listeners saying that the corporation's coverage of Mandela's death was excessive.
Some complained about a repeat sitcom Mrs Brown's Boys being interrupted by the news. A BBC spokesman said: "Nelson Mandela was a hugely significant world leader with an enormous political and cultural influence across the world."