World leaders eulogise Nelson Mandela at massive memorial in Soweto
Posted Wednesday, December 11 2013 at 11:52
Memorial. Rain falling in Johannesburg all day did not dampen the spirits of mourners as they sang and danced inside and outside the stadium.
The world yesterday joined tens of thousands of South Africans at the memorial service for former South African president Nelson Mandela, with world leaders describing him as a” giant of history.” The rain falling in Johannesburg all day did not dampen the spirits of mourners as they sang and danced inside and outside the stadium, with many saying it was a blessing.
Leaders of opposing philosophy, political camps shook hands and sat together in the VIP shade, united by grief.
The day-long service got underway at about 11.30pm Ugandan time, with a rousing rendition of South Africa’s national anthem. Before inviting religious leaders to say the interfaith prayers, African National Congress deputy leader Cyril Ramaphosa, declared: “Long live the spirit of Nelson Mandela. We are here to tell Madiba that his long walk is over.”
In their prayers, the Christian leaders said: “May Mandela’s long walk to freedom be realised and enjoyed... may he rest in peace and rise in glory.”
Mandela family speech
Gen Mandela Thanduxolo, speaking on behalf of the family, said the outpour of sympathy from across the world had lessened their pain. He said: “We have always been mindful that we share Madiba with South Africa, Africa and the world. Madiba saw his greatness as a means to make all men and women equal so they could live their lives to their fullest potential.”
Three of Mandela’s grandchildren, each from a child born by each of his three wives, then took to the stage to pay their tribute, they told the world that a “great tree had fallen,” and asked “shall we walk in his footstep”. Moments after they had spoken, US President Obama, and his wife Michelle arrived and the crowd welcomed them with wild cheers.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon said that even in death, Nelson Mandela has managed to unite people of opposing political and social camps. “He showed the awesome power of forgiveness -- and of connecting people with each other... the true meaning of peace,” Ban told a memorial service for the democracy icon in Soweto.
People united in mourning
“He has done it again,” the UN Secretary General said, looking around the stadium where rivals both local and international had gathered to honour the memory of South Africa’s first black president.
“Look around this stadium and this stage,” Ban said. “We see leaders representing many points of view, and people from all walks of life. All here, united.”
Among those in attendance were the rival leaders of the United States and Cuba, Zimbabwe and Britain -- as well as competing South African political parties.
Mr Obama hailed Mandela for his compassion and sense of justice, and described him as “a giant of history”
Cuban President Raul Castro told mourners that Cuba has had the privilege of fighting alongside African nations.
But perhaps the highlight of the moment at the VIP tent was when historical rivals US and Cuba through their President Obama and Castro shook hands.
It was only the second time in the past 60 years that leaders of the two Cold War antagonists have pressed the flesh.
Graca Machel, his current wife and his second wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela plus other family members were all at the memorial.
Additional reporting by agencies