South Africa began preparing Saturday to receive numerous world leaders scheduled to attend the Dec. 15 state funeral of anti-apartheid icon and former President Nelson Mandela.
U.S. President Barack Obama was one of the first to confirm he will travel to South Africa to pay tribute to Mandela, while Brazilian head of state Dilma Rousseff and other leaders also have announced they will make the trip.
Travel agencies say it will be very difficult to find a hotel room in Gauteng, the province where Johannesburg and Pretoria are located, during the 10 days of mourning for Mandela that began Friday.
"They've notified us that, due to the preparations of various governments and consulates, all the hotels in Gauteng will be occupied from Dec. 6 to Dec. 25 (including Christmas Day)," Eric Sakawsky, director of the Corporate Traveller agency, a unit of Flight Centre.
"Therefore, there will be very little lodging available in Johannesburg and Pretoria," South African news agency Sapa reported, citing Sakawsky.
The state funeral for Mandela will be held on Dec. 15 in the southeastern village of Qunu where he grew up, South African President Jacob Zuma said.
The official memorial service for the ex-president will take place on Dec. 10 at FNB Stadium in the Johannesburg township of Soweto. FNB Stadium, then called Soccer City, was the scene of Madiba's last public appearance, the July 11, 2010, closing ceremony of that year's World Cup tournament.
Mandela's body will lie in state from Dec. 11 to Dec. 13 at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, the official seat of the South African government.
Mandela, who died Thursday at the age of 95, had expressed a desire to be buried along with family members in Qunu.
The funeral will bring hundreds of dignitaries from around the world to that small rural community in Eastern Cape province.
The pulmonary problems that ultimately claimed Mandela's life were a legacy of the tuberculosis he contracted during 27 years behind bars for his struggle against South Africa's racist regime.
Mandela joined the African National Congress in 1944, four years before an overwhelmingly white electorate voted into power the National Party that installed the system of strict racial segregation known as apartheid.
Later establishing the ANC's military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), he was convicted in June 1964 on charges of sabotage of power plants and other vital infrastructure and conspiracy to violently overthrow the government.
Mandela became South Africa's first freely elected president in 1994, four years after he was released from prison by order of then-President F.W. de Klerk.
The pair shared the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts that led to an agreement to transfer power to a government representing South Africa's black majority.
Mandela served just one term as president but he is credited with promoting reconciliation among white and black South Africans and helping to avert widespread racial violence in the post-apartheid era. EFE