10 December 2013
Nelson Mandela was hailed as a champion of reconciliation on Tuesday as world leaders, international guests and ordinary South Africans braved the rain to attend his official memorial service at the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg.
Three years ago, South Africans packed the same stadium in celebrating the first ever Soccer World Cup to be played on African soil. On a cold winter night on 11 July 2010, a smiling Mandela made his last public appearance at the closing ceremony of the event.
But on Tuesday, South Africans, joined by some 70 heads of state and an array of royalty and celebrities, gathered there to convey their goodbyes to the man who will be remembered for his leading role in defeating an unjust system and uniting the country’s people.
US President Barack Obama thanked South Africa for sharing Nelson Mandela with the world. “His struggle was your struggle. His triumph was your triumph.”
Quoting the word “ubuntu”, to loud cheers from the crowd, Obama said Mandela had not only embodied this quality, but had taught millions to look for it within themselves.
He said that like South Africa, the US had overcome years of segregation. “Like her, it took the sacrifices of countless people to see the dawn of a new day. Michelle and I are beneficiaries of that struggle, but in America and in South Africa and in countries around the world … our work is not yet done.”
Around the world, he said, there were still children suffering from hunger and disease, run-down schools and young people without prospects for the future.
“We will never see the likes of Nelson Mandela again,” Obama said. “But let me say to the young people of Africa and the young people around the world, you too can make his life worth your own.”
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff said Mandela was a source of inspiration for similar struggles around the world.
Indian President Pranab Mukherjee said the world was richer for Mandela’s legacy. “He epitomised an uncommon humanness that inspired all of mankind. He guided his nation to embrace his simple message of tolerance and harmonious co-existence.”
Chinese Vice-President Li Yuanchao said Mandela was a household name. “We have travelled from different parts of the world to be here today … I wish to express my deep condolences to the family of this towering figure … whose smile we remember fondly.”
Cuban President Raul Castro said Mandela, knowing that a new South Africa could not be built on hatred and vengeance, had taught the world how to overcome challenges through dialogue. “Honour and glory forever to him and the people of South Africa,” Castro said.
Namibian President Hifikepunye Pohamba said Mandela had “sacrificed his life for the dignity of others because he believed in the worth of every human being,” adding that Madiba had been an inspiration to the people of Namibia in their own struggle for freedom.
He wished South Africa strength and thanked the country for sharing “this extraordinary person with us”.
African Union Commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma said Mandela’s compassion, courage and openness meant that working with him, listening to him, talking to him was always a lesson.
“Tata, Africa shall be prosperous, shall be integrated and at peace with itself, and shall play a dynamic role in the world … We stand proud of you Madiba, who represents the best in African values.”