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Mandela memorial: Thousands attend in Johannesburg

From BBC
South African celebrating the life transition  to enternity of Nelson Mandela
South African celebrating the life transition to enternity of Nelson Mandela

The national memorial service for former South African President Nelson Mandela is under way in Johannesburg.

Tens of thousands of South Africans have joined dozens of world leaders in the FNB stadium.

Friend and fellow Robben Island inmate Andrew Mlangeni said Mr Mandela had "created hope when there was none". US President Barack Obama, Cuban President Raul Castro and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will also address the service.

The former South African president died aged 95 last Thursday. The country is observing a series of commemorations leading up to the funeral on Sunday.

'A mighty life'

The memorial service is one of the biggest gatherings of international dignitaries in recent years.

It began about an hour late, with the singing of the national anthem. Introducing the proceedings, the master of ceremonies, Cyril Ramaphosa, said that Mr Mandela's "long walk is over... and he can finally rest". Interfaith prayers were then held.

The first speaker, Mr Mlangeni, said Mr Mandela was looking down on the ceremony: "There is no doubt he is smiling as he watches his beloved country, men and women unite to celebrate his life and legacy."

Three of Mr Mandela's grandchildren then delivered eulogies. Many people stood in the rain waiting for several hours to get into the stadium, the BBC's Pumza Fihlani reports from the scene.

She says the crowds are in high spirits - singing and dancing, stomping their feet - and the stadium has the feel of a political rally.
Rather than seeing the rain as a dampener, many in South Africa have welcomed it.

Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said: "It's a blessing from the ancestors welcoming a son of the soil." One of those attending, Shahida Rowe from Johannesburg, told the BBC: "The core of Mandela's life was humanity. That is why I am here today and the world is celebrating.

"Thanks to him, I was recognised as a human being." Mr Mandela's widow, Graca Machel, arrived at the stadium to huge cheers as she was shown on the big screen. 


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