World leaders, including United States President, Barack Obama,
Tuesday took their turns to pay tributes to South Africa's former
President Nelson Mandela, who died last Thursday at the age of 95.
They had gathered at the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg, along with a
mammoth crowd, to celebrate a man whose personal traits had made him a
The national memorial service that brought about 91 heads of state and
governments to converge on South Africa, the largest concentration of
world leaders in a nation in a long while, was more of a celebration
of life than mourning as the ambience was feisty instead of funereal.
There was music, dancing and speeches. The heavens opened in
celebration of a man who gave his all for freedom and equality among
people of his rainbow nation. Old foes set aside hostilities to
exchange pleasantries, while South Africans seized the occasion to
demonstrate their displeasure with the administration of President
Jacob Zuma, whose speech was interrupted by jeers from the crowd.
The two women who played important roles in the life of Mandela,
Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, his former wife who married him before he
bagged life imprisonment and the widow, Graca Machel, the woman who
made history marrying two presidents, including the iconic South
African statesman, hugged. At the stadium, the two women, united in a
portrait of grief, sat near each other.
Yesterday's national memorial service was one of the key activities in
the rites of passage for Mandela whose final journey will end at his
ancestral village in Qunu on Sunday after a state funeral.
The Nigerian Senate also yesterday devoted its entire plenary session
to pay glowing tributes to Mandela, with a resolve to send a
condolence message to his family, the South African parliament, people
and government of the nation.
While introducing the proceedings at the national memorial service,
the master of ceremonies, Cyril Ramaphosa, said Mandela's "long walk
is over... and he can finally rest."
The first speaker, friend and a fellow Robben Island inmate, Andrew
Mlangeni, said Mandela had "created hope when there was none."
Obama, in his tribute, eulogised Mandela, saying he lived "a life like
He described him as a "giant of history" and told South Africans that
"the world thanks you for sharing Nelson Mandela with us."
Obama, in his address, carried on the White House web site, to huge
cheers, said: "It is hard to eulogise any man... how 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.
"We will never see the likes of Nelson Mandela again. While I will
always fall short of Madiba (Mr Mandela's clan name), he makes me want
to be a better man," he said.
On his way to the podium, Obama shook hands with his Cuban
counterpart, Raul Castro - an unprecedented gesture between the
leaders of two nations that have been at loggerheads for more than
half a century.
In his address, United Nations (UN) Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon,
said there was "sorrow for a mighty loss and celebration of a mighty
He said: "South Africa has lost a hero, it has lost a father... He was
one of our greatest teachers. He taught by example. He sacrificed so
much and was willing to give up all he had for freedom and democracy."
According to BBC's report, many people stood in the rain waiting for
several hours to get into the stadium; and the crowds were in high
spirits - singing and dancing, stomping their feet.
Rather than seeing the rain as a dampener, many in South Africa 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."
Mandela's widow, Graca Machel, arrived at the stadium to huge cheers
as she was shown on the big screen.
There were cheers too of "Winnie! Winnie!" for Madikizela-Mandela, who
hugged and kissed Machel.
However, there were boos for current President Zuma.
Brazilian President, Dilma Rousseff, Chinese Vice-President Li
Yuanchao, President Hifikepunye Pohamba of Namibia and Indian
President Pranab Mukherjee also made speeches.
Raul Castro was also expected to speak, reflecting the fact that
under his brother, Fidel, Cuba was a staunch critic of apartheid and
that Mandela had expressed gratitude for that support.
The line-up of world leaders is a sign of how South Africa has seen
its partners and place in the world since the Mandela presidency.
Mandela made his final major public appearance at the stadium at the
2010 football World Cup.
Former South African President, FW De Klerk, arrived at the stadium
with his wife, Elita. Singer Bono and actress Charlize Theron also
attended the ceremony.
Mandela's body will lie in state in Pretoria on the following three
days and a state funeral takes place on Sunday in Qunu in Eastern Cape
More than 100 current or former heads of state or government will
attend the funeral or the national memorial, according to the South
Also yesterday, the Senate devoted its entire plenary session to
eulogise Mandela and decided to send a condolence message to the South
African parliament, the people and the government.
The parliament which also observed a minute silence in honour of the
departed leader, recalled the uncommon life led by Mandela and tasked
African leaders to learn from his sense of forgiveness.
Moving a motion supported by 107 other senators, Senate Leader Victor
Ndoma-Egba noted that Mandela's message, which he described as that of
reconciliation and not of vengeance, was a great source of inspiration
to the entire world.
Ndoma-Egba also said Mandela's decision not to run for a second term
in 1998 was "an uncommon feat given the disposition of most African
Speaking on the motion, Senator Ahmad Lawan (Yobe North) said Nigeria
was ripe for the emergence of a Mandela who would liberate the nation
and give Nigeria a sense of nationhood as he did in South Africa.
On his part, Senator Magnus Abe said the lessons to be learnt both
from Mandela and South Africa were numerous.
According to him, Mandela understood that politics was not the pursuit
of personal agenda but rather "for you and me and 'you' is bigger than
But Senator Olusola Adeyeye (Osun Central) said he hoped that the soul
of Mandela "would not rest in peace" so that it could travel through
the African continent to torment its leaders until they learn to
exhibit his spirit of patriotism and commitment to nationhood.
Also speaking, Deputy Senate Leader, Abdul Ningi, said Nigeria should
stop wasting time by comparing its leaders with Mandela, saying
neither himself nor Senate President David Mark or any other Nigerian
possesses the extraordinary qualities which he said distinguished
Mandela from other African leaders.
Also, Senator Ita Enang (Akwa Ibom North-east) said he had neither
seen nor heard about a man so honoured in death like Mandela in the
history of human race.
According to him, Mandela's status had been elevated to that of
religion and became a lesson in humanity, forgiveness and sacrifice as
he described him as an ambassador sent to the world to teach people
how they should live.
In his remark, Mark noted that the fact that the whole world stood
still following Mandela's death attests to his greatness, adding that
the greatest of his many attributes and legacy was forgiveness. He
recalled how Mandela said "forget the past, let's move forward."
Meanwhile, President Goodluck Jonathan has advanced reasons why
Nigeria declared three days of mourning for Mandela, saying it was
proper for Nigeria to be part of the celebration of an icon of unity.
Fielding questions from reporters before departing for FNB Stadium in
Johannesburg, the president said Mandela was a symbol of unity that
trascended beyond the shore of African continent.
According to him, Mandela was selfless and towered higher in the
leadership of South Africa.
The president urged world leaders to emulate Mandela's ability to
unite his people irrespective of challenges he faced.
He said: "First I would use this opportunity again to express our
condolences to South Africa and indeed the rest of Africa and indeed
the black race because Mandela grew beyond boundaries, the political
map of South Africa. So this concerns everybody.
"Mandela is a symbol of unity, somebody who took the state and the
interest of the people much more than his own self and he stood out
clearly above a number of people in terms of leadership of our states.
He was able to bring unity to South Africa, peace in spite of the
challenges of apartheid regime. Nigeria during the apartheid struggle
made contributions, all of us including students and workers. That is
why Nigeria was considered a frontline state even though we are quite
far away in the region of West Africa.
"So Nigeria was totally committed to the liberation struggle in South
Africa, all Nigerians including our musicians. And that is why we will
love for them to play some of the records, including that of the late
Sunny Okosun, who used his voice and artistry to really push the
apartheid struggle from back home in Nigeria.
"So since we worked hard with the South Africans during the struggle,
now that Mandela the face of the struggle, is dead, we have to
encourage the South Africans and to reassure them that the
relationship between Nigeria and South Africa will continue to grow
stronger and stronger."
He explained that Nigeria declared three days of mourning and its
flags were flown at half mast because during the apartheid struggle
the country and its people were committed to fighting for freedom and
equality of all South Africans, irrespective of race or clan.
On what Mandela meant to him and Nigeria, Jonathan said: "The lessons
we leaders learnt from Mandela is the ability of a leader to unite the
people irrespective of challenges. Because the struggle to take
political offices is very challenging, you face a lot of obstacles but
when you get there you know you are the president of everybody.
Mandela was able to bring the unity even amongst the blacks of South
Africa not just among the whites and blacks. Even among the blacks,
there were issues but because of his style of leadership, his
commitment to the people he was able to bring that unity, he was able
to show love and peace.
"He was a very courageous man and he used all the skills he had to
challenge apartheid and bring unity to South Africa. So we must all
learn from that to consider our citizens more than our personal
interest and make sure we bring peace and unity. Those are the
elements of development of any society because without peace you
cannot develop economically."