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Mthatha gears up for Madiba's arrival

A human chain is expected to form along the route from Mthatha to Qunu in honour of Madiba.

Dozens of military and police trucks arrive at Mthatha Airport on 13 December 2013 ahead of Nelson Mandela’s state funeral on 15 December. Picture: Govan Whittles/EWN.

QUNU - While the ANC conducts an official send-off ceremony for Nelson Mandela this morning at the Waterkloof Air Force Base in Pretoria, Mthatha is gearing up for the arrival of the former president's remains ahead of his state funeral in Qunu tomorrow.

A procession will then accompany Mandela's remains to his hometown and final resting place in Qunu, a small village around 36 km away from Mthatha.

Flags bearing Mandela's face are on display outside the only terminal at Mthatha Airport.

The first plane landed a short while ago.

Around 50 people disembarked, among them was Advocate George Bizos.

He said he is sad that this will be his final goodbye to his friend of 65 years.

"I am sad, but none of us are immortal. He suffered a lot and he will be at peace. I think of the good times and some of the bad times we had together."

The first group of dignitaries attending Nelson Mandela's funeral arrive at Mthatha Airport on 14 December 2013. Picture: Govan Whittles/EWN.

Advocate George Bizos speaks to journalists after landing at Mthatha Airport on 14 December 2013. Picture: Govan Whittles/EWN.

A number of local and government officials were also on the flight.

Several more flights are expected to arrive throughout the day.

Silver SUVs are parked directly outside the terminal and will transport guests to Qunu along the route that has been closed to traffic this morning.

The plane that will be carrying the body of former president Nelson Mandela from the Waterkloof airport base in Pretoria to Mthatha Airport in the Eastern Cape on 14 December 2013. Picture: Reinart Toerien/EWN

TRADITIONAL RITUALS AND PROTOCOL

Xhosa chief Phathekile Holomisa says a series of traditional rituals will be observed when Mandela's body arrives in the Eastern Cape.

Holomisa says it's expected that the AbaThembu or a representative will be on hand to receive Madiba's body when it arrives.

According to tradition, the deceased's spirit must be symbolically carried to the final resting place.

Holomisa says during Madiba's burial, mourners salute him.

Mandela family spokesperson General Temba Matanzima says family members will accompany Madiba on the journey. "In this difficult journey of our father back home, Mama Graca Machel, Winnie Madikizela- Mandela, other family members and elders of our clan will be at his side."

The military will also hold an exercise.

The convoy will proceed from the airport to Mthatha town using Sutherland Road and is then expected to make a brief stop on York Road and then again near a filling station on Nelson Mandela Drive.

The filling station is open to customers and people are going about with their daily business but this scene will change in a few hours when hundreds of people are expected to line the streets.

People have been encouraged to form a human chain along the procession route.

When Mandela's body reaches the end of its journey it will then come under the jurisdiction of the ANC.

After several rituals, the remains will then be handed over to the Mandela family.

Madiba's remains will be kept by elders at his family home until tomorrow's funeral service.

Police officers are stationed along the route from Mthatha, ensuring everything is in place.

Click here for information on road closures around Mthatha.

FUNERAL

Only a select-group of close family members and mourners will be at the burial ceremony.

Around 4,000 people are expected to attend the funeral but only 400 will be allowed at the burial site.

Preparations in Qunu underway where Nelson Mandela's funeral will be held. Picture: GCIS.

High-profile guests include Prince Charles, Oprah Winfrey and a number of heads of state .

Government has released more details about tomorrow's events.

The programme will start at 8am and end at 10am.

Close family members and selected dignitaries will then make their way to the burial site.

President Jacob Zuma has deployed more than 11,000 members of the army to work with the police and maintain law and order during the funeral.

A public vigil will be held in Mthatha this evening at the Walter Sisulu University's Nelson Mandela Drive campus.

Simultaneous vigils will also take place in Johannesburg and Cape Town.

Meanwhile, frustrated residents in the area have voiced their displeasure at the fact that all the main events to honour Madiba have been held in other provinces and that they won't be able to participate in the final ceremony.

But the provincial government says 21 public mourning venues have been established across the province.

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