Obamas, Royalty Slated to Attend Mandela Memorial on Tuesday

The service for the former South African president is expected to be one of the largest gatherings in generations.

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President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama pause at the memorial for President John F. Kennedy at Arlington National Cemetery last month. 

Pat Benic-Pool/Getty Images

President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama are scheduled to join tens of thousands of local mourners, dozens of other foreign leaders at the memorial service Tuesday for former South African President Nelson Mandela, the Associated Press reports.

South African officials told the AP that the crowd would likely surpass the normal seating capacity of Johannesburg's FNB stadium, where security is expected to be tight, as the list of presidents, heads of government, royalty and celebrities continues to grow.

An estimated 53 heads of state, government and ministers have confirmed attendance with the South African government, officials said Sunday. Also on Sunday, South Africans held a day of prayer and reflection for the country’s first black president, who died on Thursday.

Beside the Obamas, the AP said, a number of luminaries are scheduled to attend the memorial, including former presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter; U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and his predecessor Kofi Annan; British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande. Peter Gabriel and Bono, celebrities who participated in the anti-apartheid movement, are also expected to attend the memorial.

BBC News Africa says a smaller number of international dignitaries, including the Prince of Wales, will attend the burial in the Eastern Cape village of Qunu, where the late president grew up.

"Madiba did not doubt the light. He paved the way for a better future, but he cannot do it alone," Sebastian Roussouw, a priest at Soweto's Regina Mundi Catholic Church, which was a center of the anti-apartheid struggle, told the BBC.

In Cape Town, the BBC reports, Archbishop Thabo Makgoba called Mandela “a powerful and continuing reminder that individuals have the power to make change happen in the world.”

Until the funeral on Dec. 15, a number of events will be held to commemorate the leadership of Mandela, who helped navigate the country away from white-minority rule.

His body will lie in state on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at the heart of the South African government in Pretoria, the BBC says.

Each morning it will be taken from the mortuary to city hall through the streets of Pretoria. Members of the public have been encouraged to line the route and form a "guard of honour".

To be sure, the eulogies and memorials might have have made the humble and self-effacing Mandela just a bit uncomfortable. 

"It would be very egotistical of me to say how I would like to be remembered," Mandela said, according to a statement of his relased by the government. "I'd leave that entirely to South Africans. I would just like a simple stone on which is written, 'Mandela'."

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