Sky weeps for Madiba

21:18, Dec 10 2013
Nelson Mandela's death
STREET SYMPATHY: Mourners react with song and dance on the street in Soweto where Mandela once lived.
Nelson Mandela's death
CANDLE LIGHT: South Africans have been laying tributes to Mandela since his death this month.
Desmond Tutu
MEMORIAL SERVICE: Former Archbishop of Cape Town and veteran anti-apartheid campaigner Desmond Tutu held a mass at Cape Town's Anglican St George's Cathedral for Mandela.
Nelson Mandela's death
BIG BANNER: In France, a huge banner featuring Mandela's face was hung from the foreign affairs ministry.
Nelson Mandela's death
PARLIAMENT SQUARE: In London, in the shadow of Big Ben, floral tributes were laid at the base of Mandela's statue.
Nelson Mandela's death
YOUNG TRIBUTES: A prayer ceremony was held at a school in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad.
Nelson Mandela memorial
CELEBRATION OF A LIFE: People start singing as they arrive for a mass memorial for Nelson Mandela at First National Bank Stadium in Johannesburg.
Nelson Mandela memorial
CELEBRATION OF A LIFE: The 95,000-seat stadium will host the main ceremony.
Nelson Mandela memorial
CELEBRATION OF A LIFE: People start singing as they arrive for a mass memorial for Nelson Mandela at First National Bank Stadium in Johannesburg.
Nelson Mandela memorial
CELEBRATION OF A LIFE: US President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama are escorted off the tarmac as they arrive in South Africa to attend a memorial service for Nelson Mandela.
Nelson Mandela memorial service
LIFE CELEBRATION: A woman in the crowd takes a moment for contemplation.
Nelson Mandela memorial service
LIFE CELEBRATION: Crowds have filled a stadium in Johannesburg to farewell former South African leader Nelson Mandela, who died last week at the age of 95.
Nelson Mandela memorial service
LIFE CELEBRATION: British Prime Minister David Cameron was among world leaders to attend.
Nelson Mandela memorial service
LIFE CELEBRATION: Young and old came to pay their respects.
Nelson Mandela memorial service
LIFE CELEBRATION: Unusual adornments were worn by some.
Nelson Mandela's death
FORMER LEADER: Ex-South African president FW de Klerk takes his seat in the stadium.
Nelson Mandela's death
EX-WIFE: Winnie Mandela, ex-wife of Mandela, is seen in this still image from the South Africa Broadcasting Corporation.
Nelson Mandela's death
MEMORIAL PRESENCE: Graca Machel, Mandela's widow, was present at the stadium.
Nelson Mandela's death
CURRENT LEADER: South African President Jacob Zuma waves as he arrives at the stadium. He was later booed by the crowd.
Nelson Mandela
A mourner pumps his fist during the Nelson Mandela memorial in Soweto.
Nelson Mandela
Mourners cover up with umbrellas as US President Barack Obama delivers his eulogy.
Jacob Zuma
Under-fire South African President Jacob Zuma was booed and jeered before his speech.
Barack Obama
An image of Nelson Mandela shows on the big screen as US President Barack Obama speaks.
Mourners at Mandela memorial
Attendees sing and dance at Nelson Mandela's memorial.
Barack Obama
US President Barack Obama delivers his eulogy.
Barack Obama
US President Barack Obama greets Nelson Mandela's widow Graca Machel.
Nelson Mandela memorial
The crowds gather at Soccer City stadium for Nelson Mandela's memorial.
Nelson Mandela memorial
J. Nico Scholten, from Amsterdam, holds up a photo of his meeting with Nelson Mandela.
Nelson Mandela memorial
A child draped in a South African flag at Soccer City stadium for Nelson Mandela's memorial.
Mourners at Mandela memorial
Elizabeth Alexander was on holiday from Sydney when Mandela died. She walked in the rain to get to the stadium.
Mourners at Mandela memorial
Aucklander Ray Vantrhaar was back home in South Africa for the funeral of his father.
Nelson Mandela's coffin in state
GLASS COFFIN: Nelson Mandela is lying in state for mourners to pay respects.
Nelson Mandela's death
SOMBRE ARRIVAL: Personnel carry the coffin on Nelson Mandela into Union Buildings, Pretoria.
Nelson Mandela memorial
South Africans wait in line to pay respects to Nelson Mandela's body in Pretoria.
Nelson Mandela memorial
South Africans wait in line to pay respects to Nelson Mandela's body in Pretoria.
Nelson Mandela memorial
South Africans wait in line to pay respects to Nelson Mandela's body in Pretoria.
Nelson Mandela memorial
Thousands of South Africans wait in line to pay respects to Nelson Mandela's body in Pretoria.
Nelson Mandela memorial
Thousands of South Africans wait in line to pay respects to Nelson Mandela's body in Pretoria.
FW de Klerk
Former South African president FW de Klerk walks away with wife Elita after paying respects to Nelson Mandela.
Nelson Mandela
A flame burns near a portrait of Nelson Mandela at the Nelson Mandela Museum in Qunu.

The world's most powerful gathered for four hours at Johannesburg's rain-soaked Soccer City to pay their respects to Nelson Mandela.

It was one of the largest gatherings of world leaders in history with almost 100 presidents, prime ministers, kings, sheikhs and movie stars all rubbing shoulders in a VIP suite.

Prime Minister John Key sat next to his British counterpart David Cameron, and exchanged pleasantries with former US Presidents Bill Clinton and George W Bush and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Showbiz glamour came from U2 singer Bono and actress Charlize Theron. Also at the "calabash" - but sheltered from the downpour - were former South African presidents Thabo Mbeki and FW de Klerk, former United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan and Cuba's Raul Castro.

Other world leaders, as well as Mandela's family, his widow Graca Machel and former wife Winnie Mandela, were seated on a stage surrounded by bulletproof glass. In a ceremony overdone with tedious speeches and lengthy sermons, US President Barack Obama stole the show.

To loud cheers, he told the crowd that Mandela - his personal hero - changed hearts and laws.

"Mandela taught us the power of action and the power of ideals, the importance of reasons and arguments," Obama said.

"He understood the ideals could not be contained within prison walls."

Key said the American leader was the "stand-out", and told him so when they had a little catch-up.

"You've just got to give the guy 10 out of 10 for being a brilliant orator," Key said.

"He really, I think, knocked it out of the park ... he had some very strong messages.

" I kind of think in a way he made the day."

It was a "quite remarkable day", Key said.

"It was a combination of extremely vibrant . . . at times very moving, but actually a celebration of the life of someone that was a remarkable person that people from all around the world could come and see what a great man he was."

The long speeches were broken up by "some great music".

"I got the feeling that people knew that he had come to the end of his time - at 95 years of age he had become quite frail, and now was the time to celebrate the great life of Nelson Mandela rather than mourn the fact that he had passed."

Leaders from Japan and China, US and Cuba and Venezuela, and Britain and Zimbabwe were expected to put aside rivalries to honour the man known as the Unifier. There were reports Obama shook hands with Castro, who also gave a rousing speech.

Key and Labour leader David Cunliffe also presented a united front. It was initially feared only two people from the New Zealand delegation would be permitted into the VIP enclosure, and Key chose his political opponent.

"I think we would have made the right call in choosing David Cunliffe ... this is New Zealand actually paying its respects to Nelson Mandela," Key said.

"The most official and formal way of doing that is really by the leader of the Opposition and the prime minister doing that."

In the end, former prime minister Jim Bolger, former Commonwealth secretary-general Sir Don McKinnon and Maori Affairs Minister Dr Pita Sharples were all allowed in.

But the group almost didn't make it, their motorcade stuck for hours in heavy traffic.

"There was just traffic and the weather and the combination of leaders from all around the world didn't make things easy but in the end we got here ... it all sorted of worked," Key said.

He dismissed criticism of the chaotic arrangements and lax security.

"There were always going to be challenges for them with so many different people and so many delegations." Key said.

"It's kind of easy to be critical but they are in a different stage of development ... they did the best that they could. It was good to be part of it."

Cunliffe said he was blown away by the "enthusiasm of regular South Africans".

"They were jubilant at the start, gave a warm welcome to everybody and went crazy during Obama's speech," he said.

Cunliffe noted the jeers for President Jacob Zuma.

"They are clearly no fans of the current president, Mr Zuma," he said.

"And I get the distinct impression that the Madiba legacy is yet unfinished. While there is legal equality there is not economic opportunity. This is still a society of the haves and have-nots."

Advertisement

Nelson Mandela memorial
CELEBRATING A LIFE: A child draped in a South African flag at Soccer City stadium for Nelson Mandela's memorial.

Fairfax Media