Presidency Reveals State Funeral Procedures

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If you ever wondered what goes into orchestrating a state funeral for government dignitaries, you can now put your curiosity to rest. The presidency has made public its State, Official and Provincial Official Funeral Policy Manual, which describes the categories and procedures of state funerals. 


Like most countries, it is customary for the South African government to pay for and manage the burial of office bearers. Unlike a traditional Funeral Cover policy, these funds will not be paid out to the next of kin of the deceased, although they will have a high level of involvement in the funeral arrangements. Based on unique experiences and practices, the manual classifies three main types of funerals reserved for high-ranking public servants.


Types of state funerals


The manual states that after the death of former president Nelson Mandela, its structures and processes were revised for the third time within the context of freedom and democracy. The current manual classifies three main types of funerals reserved for high-ranking public servants: state, official and provincial.


Only the president, president-elect and former presidents of South Africa are granted a category 1 state funeral (see processes below). State funeral category 2 is given to the deputy president, acting president and former/deputy presidents of South Africa.


The funeral of serving ministers, provincial premiers, Speaker of the National Assembly, Chief Justice of the Republic of South Africa, and chairperson of the National Council of Provinces is classified as a category 1 official state funeral. Category 2 of an official state funeral is reserved for the spouse of a serving president, the spouse of a serving deputy president, deputy ministers, Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly, and the permanent deputy chairperson of the National Council of Provinces.


A provincial official funeral is held for the Speaker of the Legislature, Members of the Executive Committee and the Deputy Speaker of the Legislature. Upon approval by the president, distinguished individuals may be granted a special provincial official funeral, as in the case of the late Bafana Bafana captain, Senzo Meyiwa. Any province can request and motivate to the presidency why popular residents deserve a special provincial official funeral.


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The manual outlines the following protocols in the event of a presidential state funeral:


  • The national flag must fly at half-mast at all flag stations in the country from the date of announcement of death to the evening of the funeral. National days of mourning are also declared for this period.
  • A state memorial service shall take place at Pretoria City Hall, where the seat of government is located.
  • Black cloth must be draped around the balustrades and pillars of the Union Buildings and Pretoria City Hall. A commemorative plaque that shows details of the funeral and the last resting place must be attached to a wall at a specified venue.
  • The remains usually lay in state at the Union Buildings' Nelson Mandela Amphitheatre for a period determined by the acting president.
  • The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) must assemble a rapid response team that will act as guard of honour during the arrival and removal of the body. They must guard the coffin continuously for the duration of the funeral service.  


With a state, official and provincial official funeral, the relevant departments are responsible for the "reasonable cost" of the burial related to the services they are expected to offer. These include funeral undertaker costs and limited catering for the family and official state guests.


The director general of the presidency will assign a special aide to contact family members of the deceased, find out and report on the wishes for the funeral. After this, a special operations team appointed by the interim president will plan the funeral in collaboration with the next of kin. Diplomats are responsible for organising VIP attendees.


The cost of a state-funded funeral


While the manual does not disclose how much government spends on the burials of public figures, Mail and Guardian earlier reported that R30 million was allocated for state funerals this year. Provincial governments have thus received about R3.2 million each for such funerals. Even though the Kwazulu-Natal province admitted that they splurged R3 million on Meyiwa's burial, the Mail and Guardian estimates that provinces will be able to lower the cost of funerals to R500 000 and fund about 58 funerals, if they follow the national austerity guidelines from the treasury.


This year, state-funded funerals were given to the Limpopo MEC for agriculture, Joy Matshoge, social development MEC, Kgakgamatso Nkewu, and former sports minister Reverend, Makhenkesi Stofile.

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