South African troops and mounted police patrolled Nelson Mandela’s boyhood home of Qunu on Thursday, with the village under virtual security lockdown ahead of the peace icon’s burial there at the weekend.
Thousands of high profile mourners, including numerous heads of state are expected to descend on the remote location in Eastern Cape province where Mandela will finally be laid to rest on Sunday.
Since the beginning of the week, workers have been busy preparing the site outside the small backwater town of Mthatha.
Heavy rain since Tuesday has hampered but not stopped construction of a large, white dome-shaped marquee, where the funeral service will be held.
According to government officials, the venue will accommodate some 5,000 people.
Access into the compound is currently restricted to family members and relatives, some of whom — including Mandela’s eldest daughter Makaziwe — started arriving on Wednesday evening under police escort.
Mthatha Airport manager Anderson Maduneni said the facility, which normally handles two small commercial aircrafts a day, will have to cope with 100 aircraft over the weekend bringing world figures in and out.
The airport has been shut down for commercial flights since the beginning of the week.
“The army has taken over the airport… it will only receive aircraft transporting dignitaries. It’s one of the measures that have been put in place to ensure safety,” said Maduneni.
Police are stationed along the length of the 35-kilometre road from the airport to Qunu, often stopping and searching vehicles.
The section nearest the Mandela homestead has been cordoned off since last week.