World leaders to give global farewell to MandelaAgence France-Presse . Johannesburg
Presidents past and present, global figures and A-list celebrities made their way to South Africa on Monday to pay the world’s respects at a memorial service and state funeral for freedom icon Nelson Mandela.
More than 80,000 people will attend an impassioned, emotional tribute Tuesday to the country’s inspirational first black president at the FNB stadium in Soweto, where he made his last major public appearance for the 2010 World Cup final.
The service is seen as a final chance for grieving South Africans to unite in a mass celebration of Mandela’s life ahead of the more formal state funeral.
Mandela last appeared in the House in February 2010, the 20th anniversary of his release.
His former wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and grandson Mandla are both ruling African National Congress members of parliament, but it was unclear if they would participate in the session.
Former president FW de Klerk, who shared the 1993 Nobel peace Prize with Mandela, was also invited.
For the past three days, 24-hour vigils have been held outside the Johannesburg residence where Mandela died — the mood alternating between one of profound loss and relief that his physical suffering was over.
‘Madiba was our version, the South African version, of the great Mahatma Gandhi,’ said Laloo Isu Chiba, a fellow prison inmate of Mandela’s on Robben Island.
Winnie and Mandla both attended a Methodist service in Johannesburg on Sunday as part of a national day of prayer for Mandela observed in churches, mosques, synagogues and temples across the country.
The president, Jacob Zuma, used the occasion to make a passionate public appeal for South Africans to unite behind Mandela’s ideals of equality, freedom and justice and to ‘keep his dream alive’.
The US president, Barack Obama, together with his wife Michelle and three previous occupants of the White House were among the roughly 70 heads of state and government flying in from every corner of the globe.
The British prime minister, David Cameron, the French president, Francois Hollande, and the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, are all expected.
Cuban state media said president Raul Castro would attend, but not his ailing older brother Fidel — a long time friend of Mandela’s.
Notable absentees include the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who cited high travel and security costs, and Mandela’s fellow Nobel peace laureate, the Dalai Lama, who since 2009 has twice been denied a visa for South Africa.
Talk show queen Oprah Winfrey and singer-activist Bono, as well as British billionaire Richard Branson and musician Peter Gabriel are expected to be among the celebrity mourners.
Around 11,000 troops have been mobilised to ensure security and help with crowd control efforts during the week-long series of funeral events.
Prior to his burial, Mandela’s body will lie in state for three days from Wednesday in the amphitheatre of the Union Buildings in Pretoria where was sworn in as president in 1994.
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