Global Dignitaries Join Thousands Of South Africans To Say Goodbye To Mandela

Tens of thousands of South Africans, joined by global dignitaries, gathered at Johannesburg's FNB Stadium in Soweto Tuesday to honor Nelson Mandela, who died last week.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block. Song and dance were center stage today at the memorial service for Nelson Mandela.

(SOUNDBITE OF SINGING)

BLOCK: Persistent rain did little to dampen the spirits as tens of thousands of people paid homage to South Africa's former leader. Mandela died last Thursday, at age 95. Among those present at today's service were four American presidents: Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. As NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports, the day's speakers didn't simply look back on Mandela's legacy but also forward, to a time when world leaders live up to the standard he set.

(SOUNDBITE OF SINGING)

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: After the singing and dancing in the rain, under leaden skies and a colorful sea of umbrellas, came the memorial and the celebration of the life of Nelson Mandela at FNB stadium in Soweto. The artistically designed, gourd-shaped structure is where Mr. Mandela was last seen in public during the soccer World Cup, hosted by South Africa in 2010.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

QUIST-ARCTON: VIP guests including the Mandela family, the Obamas and the Clintons, and Cuban President Raul Castro received rapturous applause. Then came the speeches and tributes to Nelson Mandela - the hero and the man. And the cheers and horns grew louder and even more enthusiastic for President Obama, as he reflected on the achievements of Mr. Mandela using his clan name, Madiba.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba's struggle for freedom, but do not tolerate dissent from their own people. And there are too many of us, too many of us on the sidelines comfortable in complacency or cynicism, when our voices must be heard.

QUIST-ARCTON: Other speakers echoed the same sentiments as President Obama; that Nelson Mandela taught to the world the power of action and the value in taking risks and now, it's time to build on that vision and the legacy, sacrifice, and spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation of a generation of anti-apartheid campaigners.

With elections next year in what was a deeply divided South Africa, President Jacob Zuma said his country is at a crossroads after the passing of Nelson Mandela.

PRESIDENT JACOB ZUMA: We do not call Madiba the father of our rainbow nation merely for political correctness or relevance. We do so because he laid a firm foundation for the South Africa of our dreams; one that is united, nonracial, nonsexist, democratic and prosperous.

QUIST-ARCTON: The memorial service is over now. The speeches have ended. South Africans have danced. They have sung in Nelson Mandela's praise. I'm just going to talk to a couple of them. Ma'am, what's your name, please?

PORTIA MNISI: My name Portia Mnisi.

QUIST-ARCTON: It's been raining all day, but you're here. Yes. How do you feel?

MNISI: I felt that it's my duty to come here.

QUIST-ARCTON: And the rain?

MNISI: It's a blessing. Twenty-seven years - what is couple of hours of rain just to say thank you, farewell? Really, what is couple of hours in the rain?

QUIST-ARCTON: For you, what is the most important legacy of Nelson Mandela?

MNISI: Humanity. You know, his humbleness, integrity, justice. Yeah.

QUIST-ARCTON: Freedom.

MNISI: Freedom! Of course! If we have freedom but no humanity, what does it matter? And that's what made Mandela such a unique person. We love you so much, Tata. Thank you so much. May his soul rest in peace.

QUIST-ARCTON: And the Nelson Mandela memorial ends here, at the FNB stadium. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Soweto.

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