Nelson Mandela Memorial: World Leaders In SA

US President Barack Obama has paid tribute to Nelson Mandela as "the last great liberator of the 20th century" at a memorial service in Johannesburg.

He told a jubilant and emotional crowd in Soweto's FNB Stadium: "To the people of South Africa - people of every race and walk of life - the world thanks you for sharing Nelson Mandela with us. 

"His struggle was your struggle. His triumph was your triumph. Your dignity and hope found expression in his life, and your freedom, your democracy is his cherished legacy."

Comparing Mr Mandela to Gandhi and Martin Luther King, the President said: "Born during World War I, far from the corridors of power, a boy raised herding cattle and tutored by elders of his Thembu tribe - Madiba would emerge as the last great liberator of the 20th century."

Mr Obama told how he had been inspired by Mr Mandela's story and the struggle against apartheid as a student.

He said: "It stirred something in me. It woke me up to my responsibilities - to others, and to myself - and set me on an improbable journey that finds me here today.

"And while I will always fall short of Madiba’s example, he makes me want to be better. He speaks to what is best inside us."  

The service brought together an unprecedented number of dignitaries, who were commemorating the anti-apartheid icon alongside tens of thousands of South Africans who had queued since before dawn to secure a seat.

The memorial was delayed as thousands of people who had travelled to the event on free buses in bad weather streamed into the arena after the planned 9am start time.

But rain falling on Soweto failed to dampen the spirits of those singing and dancing inside and outside the stadium, with one woman telling Sky News the downpour is a "shower of blessing" for Mr Mandela.

The event got under way with a rousing rendition of South Africa's national anthem before programme director Cyril Ramaphosa, the ANC's deputy president, declared: "Long live the spirit of Nelson Mandela."

He added: "We are here to tell Madiba that his long walk is over, he can finally rest and enjoy the view of our beautiful country."

After interfaith prayers, ANC veteran Andrew Mlangeni, who was imprisoned with Mr Mandela, told the crowd: "I have the honour to say something about Madiba and how he touched my heart, my soul, my life, those of South Africans and how he will continue to touch lives.

"Madiba is looking down on us now and there is no doubt he is smiling."

General Thanduxolo Mandela, speaking for the Mandela family, said their grief was being "lessened" by the outpouring of sympathy in South Africa around the world.

He said: "In his lifetime, Madiba mingled with kings, queens and presidents, prime ministers, captains of industry and ordinary workers.

"At the core of his being was a man of the people, a simple man and one who knew that no matter how great the accolades he attained in life, what he was in life - a son of Africa." 

Three of Mr Mandela's grandchildren took the stage together to deliver their own tribute, telling the crowd, "a great tree has fallen... shall we walk in his footsteps?"

President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama were welcomed by cheers when the crowd realised they had taken their seats moments after the grandchildren's speech. 

Three former US Presidents - George W Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter - also attended the event.

The memorial united leaders who would never normally share a stage and some observers were surprised to see Mr Obama shake the hand of Cuba's President Raul Castro.

President Barrack Obama gestures as he speaks on stage during the memorial service for Nelson Mandela. (PA)
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Press Association Images | Photo by PA / PA
Tue, Dec 10, 2013 15:00 GMT
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said Mr Mandela had a smile that "lit up the world," adding: "It is our duty to keep his memory alive and embody his example in our lives."

South Africa's President Jacob Zuma was repeatedly booed when his face appeared on a big screen and again when he made his keynote speech - by which time many people had already left the stadium.

He said: "We do not call Madiba the father of our rainbow nation for reasons of political correctness. We do so because he laid a firm foundation for the South Africa of our dreams."

The British delegation included Prime Minister David Cameron and his predecessors Gordon Brown, Tony Blair and Sir John Major.

Speaking shortly after his arrival, Mr Cameron told Sky News: "I think it's very important to show our respects and say goodbye to a remarkable man who did extraordinary things in South Africa but has also been such an inspiration to people across the world.

"It was an enormous honour to meet him and to talk to him and to be here today and to feel this atmosphere, I think will be a remarkable occasion."

Mr Blair told Sky News presenter Jeremy Thompson he still treasures photos of his youngest child Leo sitting on Mr Mandela's knee and added: "He was someone who was everything you hoped he would be when you met him."

Labour leader Ed Miliband told Sky the success of Mr Mandela's struggle against apartheid gives him hope about other problems around the world that seem insoluble.

Western leaders brushed shoulders with the Iranian President, African heads of state and other leaders and royalty from around the world.

U2 singer Bono and Oscar-winning actress Charlize Theron were among the first celebrities to arrive at the stadium.

Francois Pienaar, captain of South Africa's 1995 Rugby World Cup winning team, wore his Springbok blazer to the memorial.

He told Sky: "The ANC wanted the Springbok taken away for very good reasons but Mr Mandela had a vision.

"He said 'no, these are our boys, they're playing for us, let's embrace them,' and if it wasn't for that there is no doubt in my mind we would not have been able to wear our Springbok blazers to come and say goodbye and to say thank you to such a wonderful man."

Graca Machel, the wife who nursed Mr Mandela through his later years, and his second wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela embraced as they took their seats at the memorial.

The event - one of the biggest in South Africa's history - was broadcast live on television around the globe.

It was a huge security operation for South Africa's military, which was drafted in to protect the world's most powerful men and women and control the crowds.

South Africans who were not able to gain entry to the stadium were able to watch at several public venues around the country where big screens were erected.

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