Crowds celebrate Mandela's life

19:52, 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.

In Africa, when someone special dies, they say it pours.

And the rain has kept falling in Johannesburg since Nelson Mandela died, aged 95, last week.

Tens of thousands of people ignored the downpours to honour their Tata in a colourful memorial service.

Many arrived at the FNB stadium in the drizzly dawn draped in green and yellow flags. As the weather worsened they wrapped themselves in plastic bin liners and carried on singing and dancing. Empty seats in the 95,000 reflected the damp weather, transport problems and the fact the Government had not declared a public holiday, meaning many had to work.

There were few tears - the crowds had come to celebrate Madiba's life, freedom and the changes he brought to South Africa.

In a rousing address, US President Barack Obama spoke for many when he said: "We will never see the likes of Nelson Mandela. While I will always fall short of Madiba, he makes me want to be a better man." Mandela was a "giant of history."

The rain-soaked ceremony got under way more than an hour late, but the party had already started. From 6am the stands filled up with people and noise. Gospel singers competed with political anthems, all met with a cacophony of whistles, stamping feet, and South Africa's signature plastic horn, the vuvuzela. The lengthy opening prayers and speeches could barely be heard over the racket: tributes were read by Mandela's grandchildren, Mbuso, Andile, Zozuko and Phulma

Only Obama's voice defied the struggling sound system.

He was followed by leaders from Brazil, China, Namibia, India and Cuba. A keynote address from President Jacob Zuma was accompanied by jeers, a mark of his deep unpopularity. The stadium began to empty after Obama finished talking.

This was an occasion for Mandela's people, rather than the dignitaries on the stage.

Wrapped in black plastic, Eunice Bunlike, from Soweto, said she didn't care about getting wet.  "I give thanks for the rain."  She said the anniversary of Mandela's birth, or his death, should become a national holiday.

Trophy Keante came from Botswana for the memorial. "It's history for us," she said. "There are no different colours [today], black or white, we are a family."

She met Mandela after his release from prison. "He changed everything and after his death people have learned a lot, about peace and forgiveness," she said. South Africa will go to the polls next year. "I think the next President will be more like Madiba ...do the same things that Mandela did."

J. Nico Scholten made the long trip from Holland to attend. "I couldn't miss it. I put aside my whole agenda."

As Founding President of the European Parliamentarians with Africa he met Mandela 10 times. Yesterday he carried with him a laminated black and white photo taken the first time they met, 20 years ago, in Brussels.

"He was a saint. He was able to transfer his ideals to you. For me he was someone very unique, he fought for fundamental rights and dignity and he was the symbol of all that."

Elizabeth Alexander, who lives in Sydney, was in Johannesburg to celebrate her sister's 60th birthday. "It's amazing to be here. We couldn't wait to come, we walked in the rain...it was the one opportunity for me. It was meant for me to be here. I don't know what I would have done if I was in Australia and this happened."

Ray Vantrhaar travelled from his home in Auckland for the funeral of his father Desmond. "We had to be here for all the South Africans back in Auckland. Viva Mandela. He meant freedom for us, we wouldn't have been here without Madiba."

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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