Tens of thousands of South Africans yesterday joined dozens of world leaders for the national memorial service for former President Nelson Mandela.
The service was held at in the FNB stadium in Johannesburg, where Mr Mandela made his last public appearance. It is also being shown on big screens at three “overflow” stadiums. It was held in front of a vociferous crowd.
US President Barack Obama said Mr Mandela was a “giant of history”, describing him as the last great liberator of the 20th Century.
The former South African president died last Thursday, aged 95.
The country is observing a series of commemorations leading up to the funeral on Sunday.
‘A mighty life’ The memorial service, which began at about 12:00 (10:00 GMT), lasted about four hours.
It was one of the biggest gatherings of international dignitaries in recent years, with more than 100 current or former heads of state or government attending.
There had been fears people would be turned away. But with heavy rain, security and transport issues, and the fact that Tuesday was not declared a national holiday, areas of the 95,000-capacity stadium remained empty.
Introducing the proceedings, the master of ceremonies, Cyril Ramaphosa, said that Mr Mandela’s “long walk is over… and he can finally rest”.
Mr. Obama delivered his address, carried on the White House web site, to huge cheers. He said: “It is hard to eulogise any man… how much harder to do so for a giant of history, who moved a nation towards justice.”
He said Nelson Mandela had taught the world the power of action and the power of ideas, and that it had taken a man like Mr Mandela to free not only the prisoner but also the jailer.
Mr Obama said: “We will never see the likes of Nelson Mandela again. While I will always fall short of Madiba (Mr Mandela’s clan name), he makes me want to be a better man.”
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.
In his address, Mr Castro paid tribute to Mr Mandela as the “ultimate symbol of dignity and the revolutionary struggle”.
Under his brother, Fidel, Cuba was a staunch critic of apartheid, and Mr Mandela had expressed gratitude for that support.
In his speech, 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.”
Meanwhile, Liberians are mourning the passing away of the Diva of South Africa back home in Liberia with several actions among which are the lowering of the flag of the country for three days and the holding of a reflection and memorial service as well as the signing of a book of condolence.
During the signing ceremony yesterday, Liberia’s Vice President, Joseph N. Boakai who led an array of government officials at the South African Embassy near Monrovia described the death of Africa’s fallen hero Mandela as a great loss but that his death is also a celebration.
Vice President Baokai said Mandela was a strong leader and that his legacy has to live on. At the special service, Vice President Boakai said Liberia cherishes every moment she invested in the fight against discrimination, exploitation, inhumanity and violence, vices that wove the fabric of the loathsome apartheid.
He described it a blessing that Liberia destined by providence played a recognizable role even in the modest measure toward advancing the cause to which Nelson Mandela surrendered his entire life noting that Mandela taught the world that greatness is encapsulated in humility.
“He showed that prominence lies in the simplicity of the ordinary. He demonstrated that true greatness is not just in what we say but in what we do. Indeed the Lord has granted us an abundance of His favor. We must be thankful to God for giving us this role model of meaningful living,” he motivated the mourning audience.
Among dignitaries who trooped at the South African Embassy yesterday were United States Ambassador to Liberia Deborah Malac, Speaker Alex Tyler, Minister of Defense Brownie Samukai, Bong County Senior Senator Jewel Howard Taylor, Minister of Finance, Amara Konneh, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Augustine Ngafuan and the General Service Agency Director General, Mary Broh.
South Africa’s Ambassador accredited to Liberia, Masito E. Mabeta, said Mandela had the spirit of unity and encouragement. He said the world will see Nelson Mandela through the legacy Mandela has left behind.
Speaking with emotion he added that the former Nobel Peace Laureate was a great leader, a man who stood for what was right. Ambassador Mabeta mentioned that because of Mandela’s strong leadership and love for his people, South Africans and other Africans are walking in Mandela’s steps.
Amb. Mabeta said Mandela bore names which in its meaning meant ‘he was a person because of other person as well as a hand that washes other hands,’ adding that Mandela believed his cause was just and his struggle was victorious.
At the memorial and reflection service, the preacher, Dr. Barthelomeu Bioh Colley of the Trinity Lutheran Church reflected Mandela’s legacies to mean that power is a transition, struggle for freedom is not for enmity instead it is for liberation and that politics can be non violent because it is a win-win game therefore winners must not take all.
Liberia’s Peace Ambassador, George Weah said Mandela was a tower that Africa and the world in general cannot rebuild while the head of the University student group said that mourners are militants who share deeply in the legacies of Diva Mandela giving a reminder that apartheid is not only about the color but the attitude therefore governments should begin taking postures that would treat all its citizens equally.