Of all the remarkable scenes prompted by the death of Nelson Mandela, one of the most astonishing will happen inside the VIP section at his memorial service Tuesday and his funeral Sunday. The full list of foreign heads of states and royalty released by the South African government runs to 84 countries — a literal A to Z of the world — as well as several international organizations.
For the host, South Africa, the guest list also throws up some intriguing, and some awkward, seating possibilities for the main memorial on Dec. 10. How will Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s experience of American pressure compare with that of Afghan President Hamid Karzai? Maybe they could open the discussion to a round table with U.S. President Barack Obama, and former Presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter.
It might get awkward if the President of India, Pranab Mukherjee, finds himself next to the President of Pakistan, Mamnoon Hussain, or the President of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapaksa, for that matter. And just to be safe, keep Serbia’s President Tomas Tomislav Nikolic away from Croatia’s President Josipovic Ivo, and Sudanese Vice President Bakri Hassan Salih apart from South Sudanese President Salva Kiir Mayardit.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not attending, which makes seating Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Saudi Arabia’s Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz al-Saud perhaps a bit easier. And, hey, just for kicks, why not stick Prince Charles next to Cuba’s Raúl Castro? They’ve got keeping it in the family in common, after all.
The attendees for Mandela’s burial Dec. 15 in his home village of Qunu in the Eastern Cape are yet to be confirmed, though that ceremony is expected to be focused on family and friends. Tuesday’s national memorial service, held at the FNB Stadium, also known as Soccer City, outside Johannesburg, is the more global event and its speakers will have a distinctly new world flavor. Apart from Obama, Mukherjee and Castro, they include U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, African Union Commission chair Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, Chinese Vice President Li Yuanchao and Namibian President Hifikepunye Pohamba. South African President Jacob Zuma will give the keynote address and four of Mandela’s grandchildren will also speak.
Broadcast live around the world from 11 a.m. South African time, the four-hour service will be something of a marathon event. Expect tears to flow early. Starting the program will be a supersize choir singing perhaps the most moving of all national anthems, South Africa’s “Nkosi Sekelel iAfrica.”