State Funerals

Monday, 12 September 2011

At a State funeral in South Africa the State assumes responsibility for the ceremonial arrangements and provides appropriate military honours. Such a funeral constitutes the final act of homage by the State and the nation to South Africans who have held high public office or rendered distinguished service. The Cabinet decides whether a State funeral should be offered. It is guided by precedent and by such considerations as the public office which the deceased held, the nature of the services rendered to the nation and the public esteem which the deceased enjoyed.

For example The government decided to grant a state funeral to Walter Sisulu, who led the decades-long campaign against apartheid alongside Nelson Mandela. Mr. Sisulu, 90. The state funeral was helod on May 17 in the Johannesburg township of Soweto. An official state funeral means the government will bear some of the costs, members of the South African military will participate, and flags will be flown at half-staff during a period of mourning.

If the offer of a State funeral is accepted by the family, the funeral service is usually held in a church of the denomination to which the deceased belonged. A historic change was introduced on the death of Prime Minister Strijdom when the Cabinet decided that the service should be held in the amphitheatre of the Union Buildings in Pretoria. This precedent was followed a few years later at the time of Dr. Verwoerd’s death. The officiating clergymen are selected in consultation with the deceased’s family, whose wishes are also sought on such matters as the order of service and choice of hymns. Clergymen are drawn from both language groups. The military honours, which are an integral part of State funerals, are determined by military protocol, by the deceased’s military associations and the public office which the deceased held. Flags are flown at half-mast from Government buildings on the day of the State funeral. South African diplomatic and consular missions abroad also fly their flags half-mast on that day.