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World leaders bid farewell to Mandela
December 10, 2013, 7:07 pm

World leaders from around 90 countries, along with tens of thousands of South Africans, are paying their tributes to Nelson Mandela, iconic former South African president, at a memorial service in Johannesburg, recalling his contributions for reconciliation across political and racial divides.

In his address at the ceremony at Johannesburg's Soccer City Stadium on Tuesday, Barack Obama, the United States president, called Mandela, who died last Thursday at the age of 95, the "giant of history" and described him as a leader who "moved a nation towards justice".

Speaking under rain on Tuesday, Obama said that Mandela earned his place in history through struggle, shrewdness, persistence and faith, comparing him to Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Lincoln.

"There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba's (Mandela's clan) struggle for freedom, but do not tolerate dissent from their own people," he said, stabbing his finger in the air.

"Nothing he achieved was inevitable. In the arc of his life, we see a man who earned his place in history through struggle and shrewdness, persistence and faith.”

Zuma booed

Jacob Zuma, the South African president, was booed and jeered before his speech at the memorial as in a major public humiliation in front of leaders six months before national elections. Many South Africans in the ten thousands-strong crowd emptied their seats of the stadium during his address.

Zuma said that everyone had a Madiba moment in their life as Mandela "touched their lives".

"That we are Madiba's compatriots and that we lived in Madiba's time is a reason for great celebration," he said.

At a landmark moment at the ceremony, Obama shook the hand of Raul Castro, leader of long-time Cold War foe Cuba, in an unprecedented gesture between the leaders of two nations which have been at loggerheads for more than half a century. Castro smiled as Obama shook his hand on the way to the podium to make his speech at the commemoration, indicating that such antagonisms have been put on mute on Tuesday.

In his speech, Raul Castro, quoted his brother Fidel Castro, former Cuba leader, and said, "Mandela will not go down in history for the 27 years he spent behind bars... but because he was able to free his soul from the poison that such unjust punishment can cause."

Ban Ki-Moon, the United Nations Secretary-General who is also attending the ceremony, said: "He has done it again.... We see leaders representing many points of view, and people from all walks of life. All here, united... He showed the awesome power of forgiveness and of connecting people with each other."

David Cameron, the British prime minister who did not make an address at the memorial, said it was clear that people of South Africa want to say goodbye to the "great man" and "commemorate what he did", but also "celebrate his life and celebrate his legacy."

Speakers from colonised countries

Al Jazeera's Mike Hanna, reporting from Johannesburg said that all the speakers selected were leaders and statesmen from countries that had previously been under colonialist rule.

"There is no head of state from the United Kingdom or the commonwealth speaking at the funeral," he said. "The list of speakers display South Africa's political orientation away from the West."

"Each of the six selected speakers have had a history of colonialist rule."
Follow our coverage of Mandela's death and legacy

Coinciding with UN designated Human Rights Day, the memorial service for Mandela is the centrepiece of a week of mourning for the globally-admired statesman. Singing joyous crowds are all around around the stadium despite the rain.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, French President Francois Hollande, German President Joachim Gauck, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harpe, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, Indian President Pranab Mukherjee, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and European Union Council President Herman Van Rompuy were among the participants of the memorial.

Robert Mugabe, the Zimbabwean president, and Tony Blair, the former British prime minister, also attended the ceremony, an indicator of many that hostilities are put on hold for the day. Blair has called Mugabe a dictator who should have been removed from power. Mugabe has called Blair an imperialist and once told him to "go to hell".

Israel's top leaders have been conspicuous by their absence at the memorial, skipping the ceremony for the anti-apartheid hero whom Palestinians have always viewed as their comrade in the struggle for freedom. Neither Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor President Shimon Peres attended the event.

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