Tens of thousands of South Africans have joined dozens of world leaders for the national memorial service for former President Nelson Mandela who died last Thursday. The memorial service is one of the biggest gatherings of international dignitaries in recent years, with up to 100 presidents and heads of government in attendance.
The service is being held in front of a huge crowd in the FNB stadium in Johannesburg.
President Jacob Zuma while eulogizing his mentor said Madiba is no more and that there will be no other like him, but he leaves behind a country that loves him dearly and a continent that is proud to be Africa.
Zuma said that in Mandela’s honour South African leaders are committing themselves to building a nation on democratic principles of equality and human dignity that the anti-apartheid icon espoused.
He also said that African Union continue working to fulfill Mandela’s desire for a more just and equitable society.
Zuma announced that the Union Buildings, the seat of the South African government in Pretoria, are being renamed Nelson Mandela Amphitheater in memory of the man who brought down the apartheid system and restored democracy in South Africa. It is in these buildings that Mandela was inaugurated as South Africa’s first black president after the all-race elections in 1994. His body is to lie in state in the same buildings today and tomorrow as part of the elaborate funeral which climaxes on Sunday December 15, when he will be buried in his ancestral home in Qunu, Eastern Cape Province.
US President Barack Obama said Mandela was a "giant of history" and thanked South Africans for sharing the Nobel Peace Prize winner with the world. The former South African president, who spent 27 years in jail for his anti-apartheid struggle, was aged 95 at the time of his death.
Obama said there are too many leaders who happily embrace Mandela's legacy of racial reconciliation, but passionately resist even modest reforms that would challenge chronic poverty and growing inequality in their own countries.
Obama it is hard to eulogise any man, even much harder to do so for a giant of history, who moved a nation towards justice. He said Mandela had taught the world the power of action and the power of ideas, and that it had taken a man like Mandela to free not only the prisoner but also the jailer from injustice.
The US president said the world will never see the likes of Nelson Mandela again. 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.
The memorial service is one of the biggest gatherings of international dignitaries in recent years, with up to 100 presidents and heads of government in attendance.
Introducing the proceedings, the master of ceremonies, Cyril Ramaphosa, said that Mandela's long walk was over and that he can finally rest, in reference to the late leader’s autobiography, The Long Walk to Freedom.
Andrew Mlangeni, one of the 10 nine men with whom Mandela was sentenced to life in jail in 1964 at the Rivonia Trial, said Mandela had "created hope when there was none".
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said there was sorrow for a mighty loss and celebration of a mighty life. He said South Africa had lost a hero, a father and one of the greatest teachers who taught by example. The UN chief said Mandela sacrificed so much and was willing to give up all he had for freedom and democracy.