The ceremony at Soweto’s Soccer City Stadium was attended by over 100 world leaders and was marked by Barack Obama’s handshake to Cuban leader Raul Castro, a sign that Mandela’s diplomacy survives. Romanian PM Victor Ponta and ex-president Emil Constantinescu travelled to South Africa to personally pay a last homage to the freedom fighter.
World leaders, from US President Barack Obama to Cuba’s Raul Castro, paid Tuesday homage to Nelson Mandela at a mass memorial in South Africa that recalls his gift for bringing enemies together across political and racial divides, Al Jazeera reports. Tens of thousands of South Africans have joined the dozens of world leaders for the national memorial service, one of the biggest gatherings of international dignitaries in recent years, according to the BBC. The service was held in front of a vociferous crowd in the FNB stadium in Johannesburg. The death of the globally-admired statesman last Thursday launched a logistical nightmare for organisers with over 90 current heads of state or government attending the ceremonies.
Introducing the proceedings, the master of ceremonies, Cyril Ramaphosa, said that Mr Mandela’s “long walk is over… and he can finally rest”.
The first speaker, friend and fellow Robben Island inmate Andrew Mlangeni, said Mr Mandela had “created hope when there was none”.
Mr Obama delivered his address, carried on the White House web site, to huge cheers. He said Nelson Mandela earned his place in history through struggle, shrewdness, persistence and faith, comparing him to Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Lincoln. Mr. Obama urged the world to act on Mandela’s legacy by fighting inequality, poverty and racism. He said progress in the US and South Africa mustn’t cloud the fact there’s still work to be done. He said “South Africa shows us that we can change”. Obama called Mandela the last great liberator of the 20th century, and said he thought about how to apply Mandela’s lessons to himself as a man and as president.
On his way to the podium, President Obama shook hands with Cuban President Raul Castro, an unprecedented gesture between the leaders of two nations that have been at loggerheads for more than half a century. Castro smiled as Obama shook his hand on the way to the podium. Castro was also among the designated orators at a Johannesburg football stadium where 23 years earlier Mandela – freshly freed from apartheid jail – was hailed by cheering supporters as the hope for a new South Africa. In his address, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said there was “sorrow for a mighty loss and celebration of a mighty life”.
He said: “South Africa has lost a hero, it has lost a father… He was one of our greatest teachers. He taught by example. He sacrificed so much and was willing to give up all he had for freedom and democracy.”
All the speakers selected were leaders and statesmen from countries that had previously been under colonialist rule. There was no head of state from the UK or the commonwealth speaking at the funeral, Al Jazeera reported. President Obama was asked to speak because of the close relationship between the US and Mandela. The US president and his wife Michelle were followed down the steps by former president George W Bush and his wife Laura. Two other former US presidents, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, arrived separately. Coinciding with UN designated Human Rights Day, the memorial service for Mandela in the 95,000-seat Soccer City stadium is the centrepiece of a week of mourning for the globally-admired statesman, who died on Thursday aged 95.
A light rain fell on Tuesday as thousands of mourners gathered at the stadium in Soweto, the Johannesburg township that was a stronghold of support for the anti-apartheid struggle that Mandela embodied.
Singing, joyous crowds are swelling in the stands despite the rain. Workers still were welding at a VIP area as the first spectators arrived.
Israel’s top leaders will be conspicuous by their absence at the memorial, skipping the ceremony for the anti-apartheid hero whom Palestinians have always viewed as their comrade in the struggle for freedom. Neither Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor President Shimon Peres will attend the event, officials said on Monday, citing costs and health reasons.
Prime Minister Victor Ponta and former President Emil Constantinescu attended the funeral ceremony in Johannesburg. Before landing in South Africa, Ponta wrote on his Facebook page that this is the right day to pay homage to the former South African President Nelson Mandela, considering that exactly 65 years ago the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted. ‘Madiba talked us that justice, equality, freedom and peace are values aspired by the entire humanity. It is important to remember that we all have the right to live in harmony’, said the Prime Minister.
Meanwhile, in Bucharest, President Traian Basescu signed the condolence book opened at South Africa’s Embassy. He said that ‘we shall need a second Mandela for the conciliation among religions. “I believe what Mandela did in South Africa is unrepeatable. Such thing has never happened in the history of mankind, for a hunted man to be able to bring peace without violence and a democratic system. (…) It would be good to have another Mandela to conciliate Christianity with Islamism, for instance, many wars could be avoided. Unfortunately, a second one has not come into view yet,’ Basescu said.
The Romanian Senators held a moment of silence in the memory of the former South-African President Nelson Mandela.