SOWETO: US President Barack Obama led world tributes Tuesday to Nelson Mandela, hailing him as ‘a giant of history’ at a rain-soaked memorial attended by tens of thousands of South Africans united in proud, noisy celebration.
Obama was one of close to 100 world leaders at the event in Soweto’s World Cup stadium, where songs of praise and revolution, many harking back to the apartheid era that Mandela helped condemn to history, echoed down from the dancing crowds in the stands.
“It is hard to eulogize any man … how much harder to do so for a giant of history, who moved a nation towards justice,” Obama said, after being introduced to wild cheers.
“He was not a bust made of marble, he was a man of flesh and blood,” Obama said of the prisoner-turned-president whose life story earned uncommon universal respect.
The event began at midday (1000 GMT) with a stirring rendition of the national anthem, Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika (God Bless Africa), led by a mass choir and picked up with enthusiasm by the rest of the stadium.
Some 80,000 had been expected, but the venue was two-thirds full as the ceremony got underway under a curtain of rain that had been falling since the early morning.
Despite the profound sense of national sorrow triggered by Mandela’s death last Thursday, the mood was upbeat, with people determined to celebrate.