World leaders and celebrities remember Nelson Mandela at joyous memorial service
10 DECEMBER 2013
As he did in life, in death Nelson Mandela has united people from all walks of life, race and political opinion. At his rainswept memorial service in South Africa royalty, world leaders, a supermodel and an Oscar-winning actress, have come together with tens of thousands of ordinary people to celebrate his epic achievements.
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."