A memorial service has begun for former South African President Nelson Mandela at an open-air football stadium in Soweto on Tuesday, with rain falling steadily on the crowd that includes family members, world leaders and tens of thousands of South Africans.
The service began, about an hour behind schedule, with a singing of the country’s national anthem by a choir and military marching band.
Many in the crowd joined in the singing.
Joyous, singing South Africans gathered in the rain to honour Mandela at a massive memorial service that is expected to draw some 100 heads of state and other luminaries, united in tribute to a global symbol of reconciliation.
Crowds converged on FNB Stadium in Soweto, the Johannesburg township that was a stronghold of support for the anti-apartheid struggle that Mandela embodied as a prisoner of white rule for 27 years and then during a peril-fraught transition to the all-race elections that made him President.
“I would not have the life I have today if it was not for him,” said Matlhogonolo Mothoagae, a postgraduate marketing student who arrived hours before the stadium gates opened. “He was jailed so we could have our freedom.”
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,” Mr. Lair said. “I honestly don’t think the world will see another leader like Nelson Mandela.”
Workers were still welding at a VIP area as the first spectators arrived amid an enormous logistical challenge of organising the memorial for Mandela, who died on December 5, 2013 in his Johannesburg home at the age of 95.
U.S. President Barack Obama landed in South Africa early Tuesday. Besides Mr. Obama, eulogies were to be delivered by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Chinese Vice-President Li Yuanchao and Cuban President Raul Castro.. see more