|Anti-apartheid songs salute South Africa’s selfless freedom fighter Nelson Mandela
Joyous, singing South Africans gathered in the rain to honor freedom fighter Nelson Mandela at a massive memorial service that has draws some 100 heads of state and other luminaries, united in tribute to a global symbol of reconciliation.
Crowds converged on 95,000 capacity 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 transition to the all-race elections that made him president, AP reports.
However, steady rain kept many people away.
“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,'' Lair said. “I honestly don't think the world will see another leader like Nelson Mandela.''
Mandela's widow, Graca Machel, was at the stadium.
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.
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 Sunday in his rural childhood village of Qunu in Eastern Cape Province.
Police promised tight security, locking down roads kilometers around the stadium. However, the first crowds entered the stadium without being searched.