This year’s Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo, always held on December 10, will proceed on Tuesday as tens of thousands of people simultaneously gather in South Africa for a memorial to honor one of the greatest Peace Prize winners ever. The memorial to the late Nelson Mandela is due to take place exactly 20 years to the day that Mandela was awarded the Peace Prize in Oslo, along with his counterpart president at the time, FW de Klerk.
The timing of Mandela’s memorial ceremony in Johannesburg means that neither Norway’s prime minister nor crown prince will be attending the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony as usual in Oslo’s City Hall, where the award this year will go to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). Crown Prince Haakon and Prime Minister Erna Solberg will instead travel to South Africa to represent Norway at the Mandela memorial, to be held inside Johannesburg’s huge football stadium known as Soccer City.
That’s where the wildly popular Mandela, who died Thursday at the age of 95, himself made his last public appearance, during the World Cup in 2010. The stadium can hold 95,000 people, with royalty, government leaders and a long list of dignitaries to be among them on Tuesday including four US presidents: Jimmy Carter, George Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Mandela’s funeral was scheduled for December 15.
Mandela was also expected to be remembered during the Nobel ceremonies in Oslo, which will be attended as usual by King Harald and Queen Sonja and other government ministers and dignitaries. The Norwegian Nobel Committee called Nelson Mandela “one of the greatest names in the long history of the Nobel Peace Prize.” The committee noted that Mandela and de Klerk were honoured “for their work for a peaceful end to the apartheid regime and for having laid the foundation for a new democratic South Africa.”
The committee, in a statement issued on Friday, claimed that both men “showed great personal integrity and political courage by choosing the road of negotiation and reconciliation.” The committee added, though, that “most of the credit” for that “undoubtedly goes to Nelson Mandela who, after 27 years in prison, chose to focus on the possiblities of the future instead of the horrors of the past. As the president of the new South Africa, Mandela pointed the way towards human rights and democracy, appealing to generations all over the world.” The Nobel committee stressed that “even the most bitter of conflicts can be solved by peaceful means.”
The Norwegian government, meanwhile, remains the target of Chinese anger over the Peace Prize, after the Nobel committee’s awarded it to one of China’s own jailed dissidents three years ago, Liu Xiaobo. China government leaders have refused to have any contact with the Norwegian government since, holding it responsible for the prize to Liu, even though neither Solberg’s government nor the last government has any say in the Nobel committee’s choices. China’s ambassador to Norway, said to be on “a short holiday” outside Norway, will not be attending the ceremony on Tuesday, effectively carrying on a Chinese boycott of the award ceremony that began in 2010.
Most all other ambassadors in Norway will be attending as usual, though, as will members of the government, who traditionally support the prize no matter who wins. Jailed dissident Liu, who was not allowed to attend the ceremony when he won the prize in 2010, continues to languish in jail in China, although not yet for as long as Mandela was imprisoned on Robben Island off Cape Town. Liu’s wife Liu Xia also remains under house arrest in Beijing and reportedly is ill and suffering depression. Friends told news bureau Reuters recently that she doesn’t dare seek medical help for fear of receiving even tougher treatment from Chinese authorities.