Barack and Michelle Obama flew in, sharing Air Force One with George W Bush and his wife Laura, as well as Hillary Clinton.
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At the service in the 95,000-strong Soweto stadium, where there is a party like atmosphere punctuated by the sound of vuvezulas, Britain is represented by David Cameron, John Major, Gordon Brown and Tony Blair. From France have come François Hollande, the current leader, and his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy.
In a sign of the great man's star appeal several celebrities were also listed as guests, led by Naomi Campbell, Charlize Theron and U2 frontman Bono.
Cheers went up as many of the dignitaries arrived to remember the father of the Rainbow Nation.
One of the biggest was for his widow Graça Machel, leading the huge Mandela family, which includes his three daughters, Makaziwe, Zenani and Zindzi, 18 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.
Also in the congregation was his ex-wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, who spent years campaigning for his release.
The stadium has great resonance for the story of the anti-apartheid icon. It was here he spoke for the first time on being released from prison after 27 years in February 1990 and here that the late leader made his last public appearance at the 2010 World Cup.
Twenty-three years after their leader walked free, his followers came again singing, dancing and stomping their feet to honour him at one of the biggest send offs in history.
Welcoming the crowd Deputy President of the ANC Cyril Ramaphosa said: ""In our tradition, when it rains when you are buried, your gods are welcoming you to heaven."
He went on: "We are here to tell Madiba that his long walk is over, that he can finally rest and enjoy the view of our beautiful country - but our long walk is only beginning."
The hero passed away peacefully on December 5 after battling courageously right up until the end.
Life and Times of Nelson Mandela
- 1918: Born into the Xhosa-speaking Thembu people
- 1927: His father died; the politician later said he inherited his "proud rebelliousness"
- 1941: Fled arranged marriage organised by his guardian
- 1943: Joined African National Congress
- 1943: Studied law at Witswaterand University
- 1944: Married Evelyn Ntoko Mase; they had four children
- 2013: Founded country's first all black law practice
- 1956: Charged with high treason, but charges dropped
- 1957: Marriage with Evelyn ended over his political commitment
- 1958: Married Winnie Madikizela; couple had two daughters
- 1962: Arrested, convicted of sabotage sentenced to five years
- 1964: Charged again sentenced to life
- 1990: Freed from prison
- 1993: Wins Nobel Peace Prize
- 1994: Becomes South Africa's first black president
- 1996: Divorces Winnie
- 1999: Steps down from presidency
- 2004: Retires from public life
- 2005: Announces his son has died from HIV/Aids-related illnesses
- 2013: Dies aged 95