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Nelson Mandela Memorial Draws Mourners And Leaders From Around The World

JOHANNESBURG (AP) - World leaders and joyous, singing South Africans gathered Tuesday to honor Nelson Mandela at a Soweto soccer stadium that was half full, amid cold, driving rain.

The crowds twice booed South African President Jacob Zuma, who was to give the keynote address at the service, which started an hour late.

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.

Steady rain kept many people away. Shortly before the start of the ceremony, the 95,000-capacity stadium was about 50 percent full. The ceremony began at noon local time with the singing of the national anthem.

The mood, though, was celebratory. A dazzling mix of royalty, statesmen and celebrities was in attendance.

Thabo Mbeki, the former South African president who succeeded Mandela, got a rousing cheer as he entered the stands. French President Francois Hollande and his predecessor and political rival, Nicolas Sarkozy, arrived together. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon waved and bowed to spectators who sang praise for Mandela, seen by many South Africans as the father of the nation.

"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 in the stadium that 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."

Workers were still welding at a VIP area as the first spectators arrived amid an enormous logistical challenge of organizing the memorial for Mandela, who died Dec. 5 in his Johannesburg home at the age of 95.

United States President Barack Obama landed in South Africa early Tuesday. Besides Obama, eulogies were to be delivered by U.N. chief Ban, Chinese Vice President Li Yuanchao and Cuban President Raul Castro.

Other speakers include the presidents of Brazil, Namibia and India, as well as tributes from Mandela's grandchildren.

Mandela's widow, Graca Machel, and former wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela were at the stadium. So were actress Charlize Theron, model Naomi Campbell and singer Bono.

Tuesday was the 20th anniversary of the day when Mandela and South Africa's last apartheid-era president, F.W. de Klerk, received the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts to bring peace to their country.

Mandela said in his acceptance speech at the time: "We live with the hope that as she battles to remake herself, South Africa will be like a microcosm of the new world that is striving to be born."

The sounds of horns and cheering filled the stadium ahead of the ceremony. 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 driver for the justice ministry. "Only great, great people are memorialized with it. Rain is life. This is perfect weather for us on this occasion."

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 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 Sunday in his rural childhood village of Qunu in Eastern Cape Province.

Police promised tight security, locking down roads kilometers (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 8-year-old for the three to five minutes we talked."


Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP.


Follow Alan Clendenning on Twitter at www.twitter.com/alanclendenning.

Join the discussion

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amnivor December 10 2013 at 6:53 AM

The Wicked walk on every side when the vilest of men are exalted....God

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jjthebalseeker December 10 2013 at 7:52 AM

The Three Stooges...hatred, racism, and ignorance always seems to make their presence known at the right time.

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Bill Jochimsen December 10 2013 at 11:05 AM

Here is what the Rev. Al Sharpton had to say about this great man.

"We chose the wrong side. People in this country turned us around toward the right side. That set the stage for Mandela to evolve. But if you're drowning and someone throws you your raft to get out, you don't call them a rafter. You call yourself the one that's trying to stop from drowning. Those are the ones that threw the raft in South Africa for freedom fighters."

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1 reply
marsoracer22 Bill Jochimsen December 10 2013 at 12:25 PM

Sanity reply to Al S. - wtf?

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edthez December 10 2013 at 7:00 AM

Our orator in chief is at this point in time spewing his drivel.

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1 reply
castcutters edthez December 10 2013 at 7:13 AM

I wasn't aware they had teleprompters in South Africa. Otherwise how would he know what to say, I guess.

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kastmaster2105 December 10 2013 at 8:24 AM

Mandela had a Dream....so did that other guy......Now they are in the Great Black Caucus in the sky, hopefully.

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Chucky1 December 10 2013 at 7:21 AM

There is so much going on in the world today, but we need to be reminded the good that others can do and have done. Mandela, Dr Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi along with Mother Theresa have been icons for peace, forgiveness, social justice and reconciliation. And yet as great and humble ad these individuals were they all had the same thing in common. Belief in the human spirit and a greater power that allowed them to serve all of mankind.
And yet, we too in our own small ways, can do the same.

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1 reply
Sundancer Chucky1 December 10 2013 at 8:28 AM

Excellent points Ronald Morrow. All those you mentioned, and more, were examples of what we all "could be". It is up to us individually to make the decision to live our life following their examples.......or not. Sadly, so far, the majority of humans have chosen to sit back and wait for others to "fix" the world. That choice never has, and never will, create change. If we don't want to fight the big fight, we can still live our individuals lives by choosing to be kind and caring in the midst of chaos. I think that is one of the ways change can take place. A few people cannot change the ways of the world. BUT they can set examples and try to help people see that by choosing positive attitudes and actions, they can make small changes that begin to snowball into the bigger picture.
Even in the chaos, the world is a better place (than it might be otherwise) for having people like Nelson Mandela in it. I truly hope that more and more begin to open their eyes and their hearts and focus on goodness/positive, and begin to let the negative fall by the wayside.
May we all be blessed in this holiday season, whatever your beliefs may be. May we all find the goodness in ourselves and each other. Peace.

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revmillieb December 10 2013 at 11:39 AM

Nelson Mandela was a man of compassion , courage, and faith he thought about others before himself. He chose forgiveness instead of hate, his time in prision was used to strength his faith in GOD, and to make him the man that his family and the people of South Africa have come to love, and respect,and may all his sacrifice of prision away from his family and his love for his people be remembered for all times.

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3 replies
pscott1944 December 10 2013 at 10:13 AM

Of course, socialist, communist have to attend a funeral of a socialist, communist. Did this POS attend Margaret Thatcher's funeral and order flags at half mast. No, she was not black, nor was the a socialist like the POS occupying OUR BLACK HOUSE!!!

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2 replies
emeraldknightsky pscott1944 December 10 2013 at 10:28 AM

Right, you should compare a man who fought to save his people and then was able to forgive his oppressors and work toward reconciliation with a woman who cared nothing for the oppressed, regardless of their color. The fact that you feel the need to call it the 'black' house shows where your problem really lies. Luckily, just as apartheid era SA is extinct, people like you are heading in that direction as well. It cute, however, how you aren't capable of seeing the difference between socialism and communism, which are two unrelated political systems.

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jfitzbest pscott1944 December 10 2013 at 10:39 AM

And your point is???????????

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hotspringspark December 10 2013 at 7:12 AM

My only comment is I'm happy to see AOL disconnect more from the HuffPost propaganda ciber rag.
Other than that, RIP Mr Mandella.

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1 reply
paulson545 hotspringspark December 10 2013 at 7:22 AM

The huffpost is the lap dog of the liberals in Washington.

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bbsunshine55 December 10 2013 at 9:22 AM

It should be interesting to note Obama's reactions to the fact that Bush is loved in Africa while Obama, is seen as lacking. No doubt the Narcissist will turn his speach about Mandela into something about Obama! That is just how he rolls.

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2 replies
Star bbsunshine55 December 10 2013 at 9:37 AM

A simple R.I.P. to the Mandela family and the people of the world who are grieving this man's passing would have been sufficient, bbsunshine, instead of turning it into an anti-Obama comment, but what else is new for "You People" as Mitt and Ann liked to say. And I'm sure Mr. Mandela loved (or at least admired) the U.S.'s first
bi-racial President. And you need to change your name as you're anything but "sunshine."

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jdvernell bbsunshine55 December 10 2013 at 10:06 AM

That IS crazy.. Bill,Clinton, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet have done more for Africa than Bush would ever do...

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1 reply
Joan jdvernell December 10 2013 at 10:11 AM

Yet, President Bush continues to travel there to work on schools, housing, etc.. to try and make a better place for its citizens to live. When are you going to travel over there to help its people? Yeah, that sofa is too comfortable, eh?

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