World leaders extol Mandela at memorial

Scores of leaders from around the globe joined tens of thousands of South Africans to pay tribute to Madiba.

Written by New York Times | Soweto | Published: December 11, 2013 12:19 am

In an outpouring of praise,remembrance and celebration,scores of leaders from around the world,including President Obama,joined tens of thousands of South Africans in a vast rain-swept soccer stadium here on Tuesday to pay common tribute to Nelson Mandela,whose struggle against apartheid inspired his own country and many far beyond its borders.

Huge cheers greeted Obama as he rose to offer a eulogy that blended a deep personal message with a broader appeal for Mandela’s values to survive him.

“To the people of South Africa — people of every race and every walk of life — the world thanks you for sharing Nelson Mandela with us,” the president said. “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.”

“It is hard to eulogize any man — to capture in words not just the facts and the dates that make a life,but the essential truth of a person — their private joys and sorrows; the quiet moments and unique qualities that illuminate someone’s soul,” Obama said. “How much harder to do so for a giant of history,who moved a nation toward justice,and in the process moved billions around the world.”

With his address punctuated by applause,Obama used Mandela’s clan name to say: “It took a man like Madiba to free not just the prisoner,but the jailer 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.”

People arriving for the ceremony reached for umbrellas and raincoats as a downpour drenched the stadium and the streets outside.

“Even heaven is crying,” one woman declared. “We have lost an angel.”

The UN secretary general,Ban Ki-moon,emphasized Mandela’s focus on forgiveness,a centerpiece of his presidency that helped South Africa transition from apartheid to a multiracial democracy with considerably less upheaval than many had feared.

Tuesday’s ceremony drew an unprecedented crowd of global VIP’s,including at least 91 heads of state and government,celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and the singer Bono as well as royalty. The period of official mourning is scheduled to continue this week,with Mandela’s body lying in state for three days in Pretoria,and a state funeral on Sunday in his remote boyhood village of Qunu in the Eastern Cape region.

In a gesture sure to be dissected for its symbolic and political significance,Obama shook hands with President Raúl Castro of Cuba,the brother of the longtime American adversary Fidel Castro.

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