Barack Obama today paid an emotional tribute to Nelson Mandela, calling the South African leader a ‘giant of history’ as he spoke at a memorial service in a stadium where around a third of the seats were mysteriously left empty.

The U.S. President, who moments earlier had shaken hands with Cuba’s Raul Castro in a historic moment of reconciliation, receivied a rapturous reception for his eulogy at the service in Johannesburg’s FNB Stadium, which started an hour late in the pouring rain.

Cyril Ramaphosa, the deputy president of the ruling ANC party who opened the proceedings, said: ‘In our tradition, when it rains when you are buried, your gods are welcoming you to heaven.’

Mr Obama arrived almost an hour after the ceremony started, but was greeted with prolonged applause by the crowd – in stark contrast to South African president Jacob Zuma, who was loudly booed whenever he appeared on the stadium’s big screen.

When Mr Zuma walked up to the podium to deliver the keynote speech at the ceremony, he was met with a huge chorus of boos, forcing organisers to bring in a choir to drown out the noise of the crowd and save the president’s blushes.

Scroll down for a live stream of the ceremony

Eulogy: U.S. President Barack Obama acknowledges the crowd as he delivers his speech at the memorial service for Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg

Eulogy: U.S. President Barack Obama acknowledges the crowd as he delivers his speech at the memorial service for Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg.

Fitting setting: A general view of the arena which was the location of Mr Mandela's first speech in Johannesburg after he was released from prison in 1990

Fitting setting: A general view of the arena which was the location of Mr Mandela’s first speech in Johannesburg after he was released from prison in 1990.

Mr Obama opened his speech by thanking Mandela’s family, then continued: ‘To the people of South Africa – people of every race and walk of life – the world thanks you for sharing Nelson Mandela with us.

‘His struggle was your struggle. His triumph was your triumph. Your dignity and hope found expression in his life, and your freedom, your democracy is his cherished legacy.’

He continued: ‘Mandela taught us the power of action, but also ideas; the importance of reason and arguments; the need to study not only those you agree with, but those who you don’t.’

Referring to the anti-apartheid icon’s friendship with his own prison warders, the President said: ‘It took a man like Madiba to free not just the prisoner, but the gaoler as well.’

Sombre occasion: Members of Nelson Mandela's family take their seats amid heavy rain ahead of his memorial service at the FNB Stadium in Soweto, near Johannesburg

Sombre occasion: Members of Nelson Mandela’s family take their seats amid heavy rain ahead of his memorial service at the FNB Stadium in Soweto, near.

He also spoke out against the dictators from countries such as Zimbabwe and China who pay lip service to Mandela’s legacy while repressing their own people, saying: ‘There are too many of us who happily embrace Madiba’s legacy of racial reconciliation, but passionately resist even modest reforms that would challenge chronic poverty and growing inequality.

‘There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba’s struggle for freedom, but do not tolerate dissent from their own people. And there are too many of us who stand on the sidelines, comfortable in complacency or cynicism when our voices must be heard.’

Mr Obama concluded: ‘We will never see the likes of Nelson Mandela again. But let me say to the young people of Africa, and young people around the world – you can make his life’s work your own.’

On his way to the podium, the President shook hands with Raul Castro, whose brother Fidel has long been one of the fiercest enemies of the U.S. – testament to Mandela’s ability to bring warring parties together in his memory.

The two countries have not had diplomatic relations since the Communist revolution of 1959, and their leaders are not believed to have communicated with each other in recent years.

Among the other international dignitaries to attend the event are several current and former British leaders, including David Cameron, Nick Clegg, Gordon Brown, Tony Blair and John Major.

The memorial featured tributes by some of the anti-Apartheid icon’s family and a speech from United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

Mr Ban told the service: ‘South Africa has lost a hero, we have lost a father and the world has lost a beloved friend and mentor.

‘Nelson Mandela was more than one of the greatest leaders of our time, he was one of our greatest teachers. He taught by example, he sacrificed so much and was willing to give up everything for freedom, equality and justice.

‘His compassion stands out most.’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
David Cameron
Nick Clegg
 

Representatives: David Cameron and Nick Clegg were attending the ceremony along with three former Prime Ministers of Britain

Rivals: But George W. Bush, pictured with wife Laura, apparently got on well with his successor Bill Clinton, pictured with wife Hillary and Chelsea

Rivals: But George W. Bush, pictured with wife Laura, apparently got on well with his successor Bill Clinton, pictured with wife Hillary and Chelsea

 
John Major
Tony Blair
 
 

Dignitaries: Sir John Major and Tony Blair were two of the former Prime Ministers of the UK to attend in honour of Mandela.

The event at the 95,000-capacity FNB Stadium in Soweto began with a rendition of South Africa’s national anthem – the only music in the order of service.

Mr Ramaphosa told the crowd during his opening address: ‘We wish to applaud the people of South Africa for the dignified manner in which they have honoured and remembered the memory of Nelson Mandela since he passed away. We applaud you and thank you for it.’

After interfaith prayers, the service then heard from Andrew Mlangeni, a former prisoner on Robben Island with Mr Mandela, who spoke of the ‘outpouring of love’ following his death.

‘Madiba is looking down on us. There is no doubt he is smiling and he watches his beloved country, men and women, unite to celebrate his life and legacy,’ he said.g at the stadium

‘THANK YOU FOR SHARING MADIBA’: HIGHLIGHTS OF OBAMA’S HEARTFELT EULOGY FOR NELSON MANDELA

To the people of South Africa – people of every race and walk of life – the world thanks you for sharing Nelson Mandela with us. His struggle was your struggle. His triumph was your triumph.

Born during World War I, far from the corridors of power, a boy raised herding cattle and tutored by elders of his Thembu tribe – Madiba would emerge as the last great liberator of the 20th century.

He was not a bust made of marble; he was a man of flesh and blood – a son and husband, a father and a friend.

Mandela showed us the power of action; of taking risks on behalf of our ideals.

Mandela understood the ties that bind the human spirit. There is a word in South Africa – ‘Ubuntu’ – that describes his greatest gift: his recognition that we are all bound together in ways that can be invisible to the eye; that there is a oneness to humanity; that we achieve ourselves by sharing ourselves with others, and caring for those around us.

It took a man like Madiba to free not just the prisoner, but the gaoler as well; to show that you must trust others so that they may trust you; to teach that reconciliation is not a matter of ignoring a cruel past, but a means of confronting it with inclusion, generosity and truth. He changed laws, but also hearts.

There are too many of us who happily embrace Madiba’s legacy of racial reconciliation, but passionately resist even modest reforms that would challenge chronic poverty and growing inequality. There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba’s struggle for freedom, but do not tolerate dissent from their own people. And there are too many of us who stand on the sidelines, comfortable in complacency or cynicism when our voices must be heard.

We will never see the likes of Nelson Mandela again. But let me say to the young people of Africa, and young people around the world – you can make his life’s work your own. Over thirty years ago, while still a student, I learned of Mandela and the struggles in this land. It stirred something in me. It woke me up to my responsibilities – to others, and to myself – and set me on an improbable journey that finds me here today. And while I will always fall short of Madiba’s example, he makes me want to be better.

Tributes were also made by General Thanduxolo Mandela, and ‘Madiba’s’ grandchildren Mbuso Mandela, Andile Mandela, Zozuko Dlamini and Phumla Mandela.

Chinese vice-president Li Yuanchao, Brazilian president Dilma Roussef, Namibian president Hifikepunye Pohamba and Indian president Pranab Mukherjee also made speeches before a keynote address by South Africa’s president Jacob Zuma and a sermon by Bishop Ivan Abrahams. 

Speaking through a translator, Mr Castro said: ‘Let us pay tribute to Nelson Mandela: The ultimate symbol of dignity and unwavering dedication to the revolutionary struggle, to freedom and justice, a prophet of unity, peace and reconciliation.

‘As Mandela’s life teaches us, only the concerted effort of all nations will empower humanity to respond to the enormous challenges that today threatens its very existence.’

In her address, Ms Rousseff said: ‘He also was a source of inspiration for similar struggles in Brazil and across South America.

‘His fight reached way beyond his nation’s border and inspired young men and women to fight for independence and social justice.’

Mr Li told how Mr Mandela was the ‘pride of the African people’, adding: ‘He has dedicated his entire life to the development and progress of the African continent.’

Crowds started pouring in from early in the morning, undeterred by persistent rain, and in the build-up to the ceremony mourners screamed in celebration whenever members of Mandela’s family appeared on the big screen.

The rain, seen as a ‘blessing’ among South Africa’s majority black population, enthused the crowd.

‘In our culture the rain is a blessing,’ said Harry Tshabalala, a government driver. ‘Only great, great people are memorialised with it. Rain is life. This is perfect weather for us on this occasion.’

However, some of the dozens of trains laid on to ferry people to the stadium were delayed due to a power failure. A Metrorail spokeswoman said more than 30,000 mourners were successfully transported by train.

When Mr Ramaphosa introduced the assembled dignitaries at the start of the service, nearly all were welcomed by cheers – except current president Jacob Zuma, whose name was met by loud booing.

Those attended seemed to be in celebratory spirits, but the rain meant that most of the uncovered lower section of the stadium was left empty.

Among the mourners pictured arriving at the ceremony were former UN secretary general Kofi Annan, ex-U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Desmond Tutu, the Archbishop of Cape Town who was Mandela’s ally in bringing apartheid to an end.

However, Israel’s president Benjamin Netanyahu decided not to attend, because the cost of providing security for him would be too great.

A number of African presidents – including the reviled Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe – arrived in South Africa overnight.

 

 

 
 
Naomi Campbell arrives for the service
Naomi Campbell arrives for the memorial service
 

Close ties: Supermodel Naomi Campbell, who Mr Mandela described as his ‘honorary granddaughter’, enters the FNB stadium ahead of the service

 

 

 

 

 
Controversial: Reviled Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe is questioned by reporters as he makes his way into the stadium

Controversial: Reviled Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe is questioned by reporters as he makes his way into the stadium

David Cameron paid tribute to the spirit of forgiveness shown by the anti-apartheid hero as he arrived for the service.

The British prime minister said Mr Mandela set an example to politicians across the world, not only in the ‘incredible stand he took’ but in the way he treated people once he was released from prison.

He highlighted the moment Mr Mandela appeared with captain of the Springboks Francois Pienaar at the Rugby World Cup final in South Africa in 1995.

Mr Cameron told BBC Breakfast: ‘I will never forget the sight of him with the captain of the Springboks out in the middle of that rugby pitch, that moment is seared in all our memories.

‘And the way that he had treated people who had done such harm to people.

‘I think it was the forgiveness that set an example that so few politicians are able to follow. I think those sort of lessons are what we need to learn and take away with us.’y

 

 

 
 
Associates: Jimmy Carter, Kofi Annan and Henry Kissinger arrived at the memorial service together

Associates: Jimmy Carter, Kofi Annan and Henry Kissinger arrived at the memorial service together

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and leader of the Opposition Ed Miliband are also set to attend the memorial service.

Asked about his decision to wear a black tie, Mr Cameron said: ‘We were told that it was appropriate to wear a black tie but when you come and you hear this great noise and great atmosphere of celebration, it’s clear that people here in South Africa want to, yes, say goodbye to this great man, yes, commemorate what he did, but also celebrate his life and celebrate his legacy and I think that’s right.’

The presence of Sir John Major, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown with Mr Cameron reflects the deep respect in which Mr Mandela is held within British politics.

The Prime Minister and Mr Brown were among MPs who paid tribute to Mr Mandela in a special Commons session yesterday following the Nobel peace prize-winner’s death.

Mr Brown added his tribute to ‘the man that taught us no injustice can last forever’.

He said: ‘Nelson Mandela, the greatest man of his generation, yes, but across generations, one of the most courageous people you could ever hope to meet.’

Before today’s ceremony, the former Prime Minister added: ‘His life was just an extraordinary journey, from beginning to end, with such an effect, both on his own country, and on the rest of the world.

‘So, enjoy today, enjoy and celebrate what he achieved. We may not see his like again.’

Meanwhile, ordinary South Africans today paid tribute to the powerful influence Mr Mandela had on their lives.

Matlhogonolo Mothoagae, a postgraduate marketing student who arrived hours before the stadium gates opened, said: ‘I would not have the life I have today if it was not for him. 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,’ Lair said. ‘I honestly don’t think the world will see another leader like Nelson Mandela.’

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

‘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.

The 95,000-capacity soccer venue was also the spot where Mandela made his last public appearance at the closing ceremony of the World Cup. After the memorial, his body will lie in state for three days at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, once the seat of white power, before burial on Sunday in his rural childhood village of Qunu in Eastern Cape Province.

Police promised tight security, locking down roads for miles around the stadium. However, the first crowds entered the stadium without being searched.

John Allen, a 48-year-old pastor from the U.S. state of Arkansas, said he once met Mandela at a shopping center in South Africa with his sons.

‘He joked with my youngest and asked if he had voted for Bill Clinton,’ Allen said. ‘He just zeroed in on my eight-year-old for the three to five minutes we talked.’

There have been numerous comparisons between Mr Obama and Mr Mandela and a certain number of them are inevitable – as they were both the first black presidents of their respective countries and living symbols of struggles to overcome deep-seated racial tensions.

Adding to that, both were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

But as Obama prepares to honor Mandela , people close to the U.S. president say he is wary of drawing close comparisons between his own rapid rise through America’s political ranks and Mandela’s 27 years in prison fighting against a repressive government.

ICONIC STADIUM WHERE MANDELA MADE LANDMARK SPEECH IN 1990

The 95,000-capacity football stadium where the memorial is being held is a fitting location to pay tribute to Nelson Mandela.

The First National Bank Stadium, more commonly known as the FNB Stadium, is based 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.

It was the place where the iconic leader chose to make his first speech in Johannesburg after his release from prison in 1990.

And it was also the venue where he made his last public appearance at the closing ceremony of the 2010 World Cup.

Rather than view himself as a counterpart to Mandela, Obama has said he sees himself as one of the countless millions who drew inspiration from Mandela’s life.

‘Like so many around the globe, I cannot fully imagine my own life without the example that Nelson Mandela set, and so long as I live, I will do what I can to learn from him,’ Obama said after Mandela died last week at the age of 95.

In the days following Mandela’s death, Obama began crafting the 20-minute speech he will deliver during Tuesday’s service in Johannesburg, where tens of thousands of South Africans and dozens of foreign dignitaries are expected to pack a sports stadium.

Obama is expected to speak of Mandela’s influence on South Africa and on his own life, while also reflecting on the complexity of Mandela’s rise from anti-apartheid fighter and prisoner to president and global icon.

Air Force One touched down at a military base near Johannesburg on Tuesday morning.

 

 

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