T&T PM and company en route for Mandela memorial

(Trinidad Express)  They are off to South Africa to pay their respects to the late, great Nelson Mandela.

One Head of State, two heads of government and other dignitaries representing seven members of the Caribbean Community (Caricom) yesterday boarded a chartered Caribbean Airlines (CAL) flight at Piarco International Airport destined for South Africa to attend the official memorial service for the former South African president and anti-aparthied hero, Nelson Mandela.

Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, one of the two heads of government onboard the chartered flight, led the delegation.

The flight which was originally scheduled to leave at 10 a.m. was delayed until noon as the delegation awaited the arrival of Haitian President Michel Martelly.

Martelly arrived at Piarco International Airport around 11.30 a.m. aboard a private jet.

Persad-Bissessar delivered a brief statement at the Diplomatic Lounge of the airport prior to the departure of the delegation.

“We welcome you and we look forward to your company over a very long flight. I’m sure we will have a lot of Caricom discussions during those many hours on board the aircraft,” Persad-Bissessar said.

Persad-Bissessar, the current chairman of Caricom, said she was “honoured and privileged to be leading this very distinguished delegation”.

The chartered flight is expected to arrive at 6 a.m. today, South African time, Persad-Bissessar said.

The time in T&T when the service is taking place will be 5 a.m.

The one stop the plane is scheduled to make is to refuel in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The entire flight is expected to last more than 16 hours.

On the itinerary for the leaders is the “official State memorial service for Mr Nelson Mandela”, Persad-Bissessar said.

“The memorial service is to begin at 11 a.m. so we will have a very rushed time when we get there,” she said.

The official memorial service will be held at the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg, commonly called the Soccer City stadium where the 2010 World Cup final was held.

This service is expected to be attended by members of the public and by a number of visiting heads of state and government.

The delegation led by Persad-Bissessar is also expected to attend the “lying in state viewing” of Mandela’s body which is carded for tomorrow.

Mandela’s body will lie in state in an open casket for three days at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, the seat of the South African government, where it will be viewed by citizens and selected international visitors and guests.

Bahamas Prime Minister Perry Christie was the only other head of government on the chartered flight.

Grenada and St Lucia were both represented by their deputy prime ministers,  Elvin Nimrod and Philip J Pierre, respectively.

Antigua and Barbuda was represented by Ambassador Colin Murdoch and Barbados was represented by its Foreign Affairs Minister, Maxine McClean.

Persad-Bissessar said President of Guyana Donald Ramotar, President of Suriname Dési Bouterse and Prime Minister of Jamaica Portia Simpson-Miller were all already on their way to South Africa.

Persad-Bissessar said by the time she sent an invitation to Simpson-Miller she was already in transit.

Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley and Opposition Senator Faris Al-Rawi were among those in the delegation yesterday.

Head of the Emancipation Support Committee, Khafra Kambon, and the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Margaret Parillon, were also on the flight.

Juhel Browne, a Senior Multimedia Journalist with Caribbean Communications Network (CCN), is representing the media house and is among four local journalists from separate media organisations included in the delegation.

The delegation is expected to return to this country on Thursday.

A state funeral will take place next Sunday at Mandela’s home and final resting place at the family homestead in the village of Qunu in the Eastern Cape.

Local Government Minister Marlene Coudray is acting as prime minister during Persad-Bissessar’s absence.



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