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Mandela memorial

December 10, 2013

Mourners from South Africa and around the globe have gathered in FNB Stadium to remember the life of Nelson Mandela, who passed away on Thursday, aged 95. Nearly 100 world leaders are in attendance.

Mandela Trauerfeier Johannesburg 10.12.2013
Image: Reuters

Mandela memorial in Soweto

Rain poured down on FNB Stadium on Tuesday, but failed to dampen the celebratory atmosphere of South Africans and foreign dignitaries gathered for Nelson Mandela's memorial service. Ahead of the service, mourners filled the stadium with anti-apartheid songs and shouts of "Viva Tata Madiba" - "Long live Papa Madiba," Mandela's clan name.

Spiritual leaders from different faiths opened the event with prayers for the deceased leader. They called on the world to follow his example as a proponent of peace and as a reconciler.

High-profile guests delivered eulogies during the four-hour event, among them UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, US President Barack Obama and President Jacob Zuma.

'All are united today'

After three of Mandela's grandchildren paid tribute, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon delivered the first eulogy.

"This stadium hold tens of thousands of people ... but even an arena as big as the African continent could not contain our pain today," Ban Ki-moon said.

Mandela memorial in Soweto

Some 100 world leaders were on the guest list, reflecting Mandela's ability to bring enemies together across political and racial divides.

The UN chief praised Mandela's sacrifice in the fight for freedom, praising his "unique gift" to forgive and connect people.

"All are here, all are united today," Ban said.

German President Joachim Gauck, British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande were just a few of the European leaders in attendance on Tuesday. They joined their counterparts from across Asian, African and South American nations.

'A giant of history'

US President Barack Obama thanked South Africa for sharing Mandela with the world, emphasizing how deeply the loss was felt by all who were impacted by the anti-apartheid icon's work.

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"It is hard to eulogize any man ... to capture the essential truth of a person ... how much harder to do so for a giant of history, who moved a nation toward justice," Obama said.

The world would never see another Mandela, he added, "the last great liberator of the 20th century."

Recounting Mandela's work, he called on people to action against continued injustices: "You too can make his life's work your own."

Zuma booed

In contrast to its enthusiasm for some of the speakers, the crowd openly showed disdain for South African President Jacob Zuma, who was the last to address the mourners. He and his party, the African National Congress, have lost popularity over state corruption scandals.

The jeers did not stop President Zuma from delivering a lengthy speech in which he praised his fellow countryman.

"There is no one like Madiba. He was one of a kind," he said.

"He never wanted to be viewed as a messiah or a saint ... Rest in peace, our father and our hero," Zuma said.

Tight security for the high-profile event

Security officials in South Africa worked to ensure the safety of civilians and high-profile guests on Tuesday.

Three other stadiums in the vicinity of the FNB stadium, which is located in Soweto township near Johannesburg, accommodated the overflow of mourners and broadcast the event live. Public viewings were also occurring simultaneously across cities in South Africa.

Workers constructed a stage surrounded by bulletproof glass to protect the world leaders. "Thousands" of police officers were reportedly deployed in the stadium to secure the area.

The last memorial on this scale was the 2005 funeral of Pope John Paul II, which drew dignitaries from more than 80 countries, as well as a crowd of 300,000 people who filled St. Peter's Square.

Following Tuesday's service, Mandela's body is to lie in state in the capital city, Pretoria, for several days. On Friday, he is to be laid to rest in his ancestral village of Qunu in South Africa's Eastern Cape Province, located south of Johannesburg.

Nelson Rolilahla Mandela left an indelible mark on South Africa and the world. Following nearly three decades as a political prisoner on Robben Island, he became the racially divided country's first black president. He won the respect and support of people across the globe for his efforts in helping heal the wounds of apartheid in his homeland through a spirit of reconciliation. Mandela was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.

kms/ph (AP, AFP, Reuters)