Leaders mass in Mandela farewell

2013-12-10 13:52
Scenes from the Nelson Mandela memorial service at FNB Stadium. (Ben Curtis, AP)

Scenes from the Nelson Mandela memorial service at FNB Stadium. (Ben Curtis, AP)

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Johannesburg - Mourning South Africans and more than 90 world leaders - including bitter foes - massed in Soweto's FNB Stadium on Tuesday to honour former president Nelson Mandela as one of recent history's most beloved figures.

Mandela's official memorial started at noon, an hour behind schedule, with tens of thousands of mourners singing the national anthem in drizzling rain at the stadium where an increasingly frail Mandela made his last public appearance in 2010.

African National Congress deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa solemnly opened the ceremony saying "Long live, long live Nelson Mandela" before welcoming dignitaries and Mandela's widow Graca Machel and ex-wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.

It was Ramaphosa too who delivered the first, brief eulogy and, commenting on the sheer number of political leaders present, said they were "easily representing billions of people around the world who are saying farewell to Nelson Mandela".

Ramaphosa said Mandela had borne the pain and humiliation of all oppressed South Africans, and eventually united the nation, leading "black and white on a journey to bury hatred".

Gesturing to the rain, he said it would have made Mandela happy, because in African culture "these are blessings" meaning that you are likely to be welcomed into heaven.

The crowd at FNB Stadium made no secret of its sentiments as images of politicians and others were shown on the big screen at the memorial

President Jacob Zuma was repeatedly booed each time he was shown on a large screen at the stadium.

US president Barack Obama was welcomed shortly before 13:00 with a sustained shout of joy by the crowd.

Humility

However, the second the image on the screen changed to that of Zuma, the crowd began an equally passionate boo.

The crowd cheered Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe and former presidents FW De Klerk and Thabo Mbeki.

Two hours earlier, as Mbeki arrived at the stadium, the crowd eagerly chanted the name of the man who succeeded Mandela and was in effect his prime minister during his single-term presidency.

When Zuma arrived, a number of people in the crowd made a rolling hand signal, usually interpreted to mean change is wanted.

Ramaphosa's speech was followed by inter-faith prayers, which were closed by Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town Thabo Makgoba, before ANC national chairperson Baleka Mbete struck up a praise song for Mandela that drew the crowd to their feet.

Mandela's fellow prisoner and Rivonia trialist Andrew Mlangeni, then spoke of their long shared political journey. He said Mandela's humble, but great presence in prison had changed him as a person, and his leadership had shaped history.

"Mandela's leadership stems from his humility and his beliefs... God bless Madiba, may his soul rest in peace."

The four-hour memorial would see US President Barack Obama among those paying tribute to the man he has said "belongs to the ages".

Three former US presidents - Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and George W Bush - arrived to honour Mandela along with the leaders of China, Brazil, India, and Cuba - all due to deliver eulogies.

Memories of the times

Several countries sent past and present leaders - French President Francois Hollande arrived accompanied by his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy.

British Prime Minister David Cameron told reporters that Mandela, who died aged 95 on Thursday, was a beacon for people around the world and he would cherish forever memories of the times they met.

"He did so much not just for South Africa, but set such an example for the world," said Cameron, who came to South Africa with his predecessors Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

Among the many African leaders present was Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe, who has flung insults like "liar" at Blair in their war of words over the former British colony's increasingly controversial policies.

Mandela's old-time friends, among them human rights lawyer George Bizos SC, who defended him on treason charges half a century ago, and Anglican Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, were joined at the memorial by many of the stars who courted him once he became president.

Oscar-winning actress Charlize Theron, U2 frontman Bono and model Naomi Campbell were among them.

The vast event saw the government scramble to accommodate so many of the powerful and famous at short notice, while ordinary South Africans privately travelled long distances to say good-bye.

Security

"No amount of bad weather could stop me from paying my respects to president Mandela. He suffered for my freedom," said Pule Ngoako from Modimolle in Limpopo.

"It is sad to accept that this day and other days to come in my life will be without Mandela. It is a great loss to South Africa and the world."

In boxes at the stadium, sports stars took their seats, among them former Springbok rugby captain Francois Pienaar whose jersey Mandela famously donned in 1995 in an attempt to unite black South Africans behind the national team.

Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa was at the stadium from early, telling reporters the government had done its all to ensure top security for the event. He said he was touched by the international support shown to South Africa following Mandela's death.

"It's a great day for us. We owe everything we have and we know [to Mandela].We are feeling humbled by the international support."

His spokesman Zweli Mnisi said private security was being used at the event, which is expected to far overshadow in scale Mandela's state funeral in Qunu in the Eastern Cape on Sunday. Only 5000 people are expected at the burial in the rural backwater where Mandela grew up.

Friends, colleagues, comrades and family of Nelson Mandela are invited to share their memories and tributes, and to light a candle for him, on his profile at Remembered.co.za.

- Share your memories of Nelson Mandela with us.

- SAPA

Read more on:    nelson mandela
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