AFB Waterkloof will on Saturday host a strictly ANC only farewell service for Nelson Mandela before his body is flown to Umtata ahead of Sunday’s burial at Qunu.
ANC spokesman Keith Khoza told Afrikaans daily Beeld the party had to arrange the service at the Centurion air force base because Mandela’s mortal remains are in the custody of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF).
“With this in mind and the limited options available to the ANC it was decided to hold the farewell service at Waterkloof,” he said.
Approval for the service, reportedly to be attended by around a thousand senior ANC members, has apparently come from government. This, despite prescripts in chapter 11 of the Constitution that government security services, including the SANDF, may not be used to favour any political party.
The use of the base on Saturday is also seen as being in conflict with the SANDF Code of Conduct which prohibits soldiers from being active participants in party politics.
SAAF members based at Waterkloof told the newspaper they were unhappy about being ordered to assist with arrangements for the ANC only service while their colleagues from other arms of service were involved with other events around the national week of mourning for South Africa’s first democratically elected president.
They also pointed to the arrival of a privately chartered jet at AFB Waterkloof in March this year as an example of misuse of a military facility for personal gain. The landing of a private jet, chartered by the politically connected Gupta family, to bring guests from India to Sun City for a family wedding, caused a massive public outcry and resulted in a director general level investigation as well as Military Court proceedings, which are still underway.
Mike Ramagoma, a Defence and Military Veterans Ministry special advisor, told Beeld that government had approved the Waterkloof service to allow Mandela’s extended family an opportunity to bid farewell to him. The ANC and the Eastern Cape Tembe clan are part of this extended family.
The service will be strictly off limits to all SANDF personnel, the public and the media.
The service is expected to start at 7am when Mandela’s coffin arrives at the base draped in the South African flag. The flag will be removed for the ANC only farewell service and then replaced prior to the coffin being loaded aboard a 28 Squadron C-130BZ for the flight to Umtata airport before final internment at Qunu the same day.