Great and humble gather to honour Mandela
SOWETO, SOUTH AFRICA
TENS of thousands of people streamed into a huge soccer stadium here yesterday to bid farewell to Mr Nelson Mandela. Along with leaders and celebrities from around the world, they gathered to pay common tribute to the man credited with inspiring the fight against apartheid from his prison cell.
"There was no way I was not going to be here," Mr Wandisila Mafunya shouted over the ululating crowd. "If it wasn't for Mr Mandela, I would not be here, living the life of freedom I live."
Mr Mafunya had left his house in Kipler Park well before sunrise, hoping to be the first in line, joining a crush of people who sang songs, stomped their feet and shouted the name of the man whose life they had come to celebrate.
"Viva, Nelson Mandela, viva!" Mr Mafunya, a 30-year-old flight attendant, shouted as he joined the thousands who braved a steady drizzle to attend the national memorial for Mr Mandela, who died on Thursday aged 95.
His last public appearance, during the World Cup soccer tournament in 2010, was in the same stadium, FNB Stadium, that was the setting for his national memorial, held midway through 10 days of mourning before his state funeral on Sunday in his childhood village of Qunu in the Eastern Cape.
Mr Mandela's memorial service drew an unprecedented crowd of global VIPs, including at least 91 heads of state and government, celebrities as well as royalty, including Prince Charles.
"His struggle was your struggle. His triumph was your triumph," United States President Barack Obama said in an address to the cheering crowd. He described the former president as "a giant of history" who moved his country towards justice and inspired the world.
Mr Mandela's widow, Graca Machel, and former wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, were at the stadium. They gave each other a long hug before the ceremonies began. So were actress Charlize Theron, model Naomi Campbell and singer Bono.
While there was a roar of welcome for former South African president Thabo Mbeki as he entered the stadium in Soweto, near Johannesburg, boos greeted the incumbent Jacob Zuma.
Yesterday was the 20th anniversary of the day when Mr Mandela and South Africa's last apartheid-era president, Mr F.W. de Klerk, received the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts to bring peace to their country. Mr de Klerk, a political rival who became friends with Mr Mandela, was also in the stadium.
AP, BLOOMBERG, NYT