December 11, 2013

Obama thrills crowd as he honors Mandela

At a memorial service in Johannesburg, he compares the former South African president to Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Lincoln.

The Associated Press

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President Barack Obama waves as he arrives to speak at the memorial service for former South African president Nelson Mandela at the FNB Stadium in the Johannesburg, South Africa township of Soweto, Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013. World leaders, celebrities, and citizens from all walks of life gathered on Tuesday to pay respects during a memorial service for the former South African president and anti-apartheid icon.

AP Photo/Evan Vucci

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A view of the arena during the memorial service for former South African President Nelson Mandela at the FNB Stadium in Soweto, near Johannesburg.

The Associated Press

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"Mandela was a very humble man, and he gave himself to the world. He sacrificed time with his family for us and for me. It is a privilege to be here, it is a humbling experience," said 35-year-old Dipolelo Moshe, who works for a marketing company.

She had a South African flag draped over her shoulders and carried a big photo of Mandela as she stood in line at the stadium.

Rohan Laird, the 54-year-old CEO of a health insurance company, said he grew up during white rule in a "privileged position" as a white South African and that Mandela helped whites work through a burden of guilt.

"His reconciliation allowed whites to be released themselves," Laird said. "I honestly don't think the world will see another leader like Nelson Mandela."

A dazzling mix of royalty, statesmen and celebrities was in attendance.

Thabo Mbeki, who succeeded Mandela as president, got a rousing cheer as he entered the stands. French President Francois Hollande and his predecessor and rival, Nicolas Sarkozy, arrived together. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon waved and bowed to spectators.

Mandela's widow, Graca Machel, and his former wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, gave each other a long hug before the ceremonies began.

Actress Charlize Theron, model Naomi Campbell and singer Bono were among the celebrities paying final tribute.

Symbolically, Tuesday was the 20th anniversary of the day when Mandela and South Africa's last apartheid-era president, F.W. de Klerk, received the Nobel Peace Prize. De Klerk, a political rival who became friends with Mandela, was also in the stadium.

In his Nobel acceptance speech at the time, Mandela said: "We live with the hope that as she battles to remake herself, South Africa will be like a microcosm of the new world that is striving to be born."

The rain was seen as a blessing among many of South Africa's majority black population.

"Only great, great people are memorialized with it," said Harry Tshabalala, a driver for the justice ministry. "Rain is life. This is perfect weather for us on this occasion."

People blew on vuvuzelas, the plastic horn that was widely used during the 2010 World Cup soccer tournament in South Africa, and sang songs from the era of the anti-apartheid struggle decades earlier.

"It is a moment of sadness celebrated by song and dance, which is what we South Africans do," said Xolisa Madywabe, CEO of a South African investment firm.

After Tuesday's memorial, Mandela's body will lie in state for three days at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, once the seat of white power, before burial Sunday in his rural childhood village of Qunu in Eastern Cape Province.

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Additional Photos

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Faces of Nelson Mandela through the ages are shown on a big screen during the memorial service for former South African president Nelson Mandela at the FNB Stadium in Soweto, near Johannesburg, South Africa, Tuesday.

The Associated Press

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Cuba’s President Raul Castro Ruz arrives for the memorial service for former South African president Nelson Mandela at the FNB Stadium in Soweto near Johannesburg, Tuesday.

The Associated Press

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Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, left, Nelson Mandela’s former wife, attends the memorial service for former South African president Nelson Mandela at the FNB Stadium in Soweto near Johannesburg, Tuesday.

The Associated Press

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South Africa’s last apartheid-era president, F.W. de Klerk, right, looks over as President Barrack Obama waves to mourners after speaking at the memorial service for former South African president Nelson Mandela at the FNB Stadium in Soweto near Johannesburg on Tuesday.

The Associated Press

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Mourners from Nigeria sing outside the home of Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg, South Africa, Monday. Tens of thousands are expected to attend the memorial service that is being staged in memory of the beloved leader.

The Associated Press

 


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