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South Africa Honors Mandela, An 'Incomparable Force Of Leadership'

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

(This post was last updated at 9:27 a.m. ET.)

The skies were gray over Johannesburg this morning. And the rain was relentless.

Still, tens of thousands of South Africans and more than 90 world leaders gathered at the largest soccer stadium in South Africa to pay tribute to the country's emancipator and its former president, the late Nelson Mandela, who died on Thursday at age 95.

The speakers on the program spanned the globe and political ideology. As NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton told Morning Edition, while it was billed as a memorial service, the proceedings were "clearly a celebration of life."

"It was a memorial, but it was almost a thanksgiving as well," Ofeibea said. "I think people are so grateful to what Nelson Mandela and his generation of freedom fighters did to liberate South Africa."

Andrew Mlangeni, one of only three surviving defendants at the Rivonia treason trial that sent Mandela and his anti-apartheid colleagues to prison for 27 years, opened the service by recalling Mandela as an "incomparable force of leadership" who "illuminated the way in our nation's darkest hour."

"It would be in our collective wisdom ... to uphold the values of Nelson Mandela," Mlangeni said.

President Obama delivered a well-received 20-minute eulogy that compared Mandela to Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln and America's founding fathers.

Mandela, Obama said, was the "last great liberator of the 20th century." He was not only a man of politics, but a pragmatist and a flawed human being who managed to discipline his anger to turn centuries of oppression into what Mandela liked to call a "Rainbow Nation."

"It took a man like Madiba to free not just the prisoner, but the jailer as well; to show that you must trust others so that they may trust you; to teach that reconciliation is not a matter of ignoring a cruel past, but a means of confronting it with inclusion, generosity and truth," Obama said. "He changed laws, but he changed also hearts."

Obama attended the memorial along with President George W. Bush, President Bill Clinton, President Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

In the stands at FNB Stadium and at venues across the country that set up big TV screens showing the service, there was much music and South Africans swayed and danced with their umbrellas.

NPR's Gregory Warner said while the mood was celebratory, the weather likely kept many people home.

Gregory spoke to one man, however, who said that seeing how Mandela spent 27 years in prison, he could afford to survive one day in the rain to celebrate Mandela's life.

As the four-hour memorial wrapped up, talk turned to the future.

Bishop Ivan Abrahams recalled the story of Elijah, who is recognized by the Christian, Muslim and Jewish faiths as a great prophet.

Facing the end of his time on Earth, Elijah approaches the river Jordan, according to scripture. He rolls up his mantle and strikes the water, which opens up and suddenly a chariot fire and horse appears and Elijah is lifted.

Then Elijah's mantle falls to the ground and is taken by a younger disciple called Elisha, who asked Elijah before his departure to inherit him a "double portion of your spirit."

"The mantle is passed on and it is in your hands," Abrahams told the gathering. We have to remember, he added, that "people like Madiba do not die, rather they continue to live in people's heart."

Mandela's body will lie in state at the seat of government in Pretoria from Wednesday through Friday. Mandela will be buried Sunday in Quno in the Eastern Cape.

We've embedded live coverage by SABC, South Africa's public broadcaster, at the side of this post.

We also live blogged the service so if you want a play-by-play keep reading. Our earlier updates follow.

Update at 9:06 a.m. ET. A Roaring Blessing:

Delivering a short, but roaring blessing, Cape Town's Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, exhorted South Africans to show the same kind of discipline that Mandela showed during his life.

"We promise God we're going to follow the example of Nelson Mandela," Tutu said to wrap up the service.

Update at 8:48 a.m. ET. The Mantle Is Passed On:

The program has started to wrap up with a sermon from Bishop Ivan Abrahams, who called Mandela "a beacon of light, a lone star."

Abrahams then turned to the future. He recalled the story of Elijah — which is recognized by the Christian, Muslim and Jewish faiths — who made a great effort to preach the worship of Yahweh over the Phoenician god Baal.

According to scripture, facing the end of his time on Earth, Elijah approaches the river Jordan. He rolls up his mantle and strikes the water, which opens up and suddenly a chariot fire appears and Elijah is lifted.

Just then Elijah's mantle falls to the ground and is taken by a younger disciple called Elisha, who before his departure asked Elijah to inherit him a "double portion of your spirit."

"The mantle is passed on and it is in your hands," Abrahams said.

We have to remember, said Abrahams, that "people like Madiba do not die, rather they continue to live in people's heart."

Update at 8:18 a.m. ET. A Foundation For Transformation:

"Beyond reconcilliation, Madiba laid a firm foundation for transformation," President Jacob Zuma said.

What he means is that Mandela accomplished something very concrete: The racist laws that were part of the Apartheid system were repealed. But Mandela did more than that — he set the stage for healing, Zuma said.

He used Mandela's 1995 Rugby World Cup appearance, which was dramatized in the 2009 film Invictus, as an example of how the late leader made reconciliation real.

Update at 7:57 a.m. ET. Zuma Booed Again:

As he was preparing to give his speech, President Jacob Zuma was booed very loudly.

Lydia Polgreen, The New York Times' Johannesburg bureau chief, tweets that the boos were so loud, organizers switched to music and put Mandela's image back on the screens.

Polgreen called it a "wrenching moment."

"I guess the strategy is to shame the crowd into silence with Mandela's image," Polgreen tweeted.

Zuma has now moved on to his speech, and the crowd seems to be listening.

Update at 7:51 a.m. ET. Unrelenting Rain:

NPR's Gregory Warner just checked in with Morning Edition from outside the stadium. He said the rain has been unrelenting.

While the mood has been celebratory, Gregory said, the weather has likely kept many people home.

Gregory did speak to one man who told him that Mandela has spent 27 years in prison, so he could do one day in the rain to celebrate his life.

Update at 7:41 a.m. ET. Obama's Full Speech:

We've added a separate post with full text and audio of Obama's eulogy.

Update at 6:51 a.m. ET. The Last Great Liberator:

President Obama remembered Nelson Mandela as the "last great liberator of the 20th century."

He talked about Mandela's legend and compared him to Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln and America's founding fathers.

But Obama also lingered on Mandela as a human and a pragmatist. Here's a particularly moving excerpt from his speech:

"Madiba disciplined his anger; and channeled his desire to fight into organization, and platforms, and strategies for action, so men and women could stand-up for their God-given dignity. Moreover, he accepted the consequences of his actions, knowing that standing up to powerful interests and injustice carries a price. ...

"Mandela taught us the power of action, but also ideas; the importance of reason and arguments; the need to study not only those you agree with, but those who you don't. He understood that ideas cannot be contained by prison walls, or extinguished by a sniper's bullet. He turned his trial into an indictment of apartheid because of his eloquence and passion, but also his training as an advocate. He used decades in prison to sharpen his arguments, but also to spread his thirst for knowledge to others in the movement. And he learned the language and customs of his oppressor so that one day he might better convey to them how their own freedom depend upon his.

"Mandela demonstrated that action and ideas are not enough; no matter how right, they must be chiseled into laws and institutions. He was practical, testing his beliefs against the hard surface of circumstance and history. On core principles he was unyielding, which is why he could rebuff offers of conditional release, reminding the Apartheid regime that, "prisoners cannot enter into contracts." But as he showed in painstaking negotiations to transfer power and draft new laws, he was not afraid to compromise for the sake of a larger goal. And because he was not only a leader of a movement, but a skillful politician, the Constitution that emerged was worthy of this multiracial democracy; true to his vision of laws that protect minority as well as majority rights, and the precious freedoms of every South African.

"Finally, Mandela understood the ties that bind the human spirit. There is a word in South Africa- Ubuntu - that describes his greatest gift: his recognition that we are all bound together in ways that can be invisible to the eye; that there is a oneness to humanity; that we achieve ourselves by sharing ourselves with others, and caring for those around us. We can never know how much of this was innate in him, or how much of was shaped and burnished in a dark, solitary cell. But we remember the gestures, large and small - introducing his jailors as honored guests at his inauguration; taking the pitch in a Springbok uniform; turning his family's heartbreak into a call to confront HIV/AIDS - that revealed the depth of his empathy and understanding. He not only embodied Ubuntu; he taught millions to find that truth within themselves. It took a man like Madiba to free not just the prisoner, but the jailor as well; to show that you must trust others so that they may trust you; to teach that reconciliation is not a matter of ignoring a cruel past, but a means of confronting it with inclusion, generosity and truth. He changed laws, but he changed also hearts."

Update at 6:32 a.m. ET. 'A Life Like No Other':

President Obama thanks the people of South Africa for sharing Mandela — who he says lived a "life like no other" with the world.

"His struggle was your struggle," Obama said. "His triumph was your triumph. Your dignity and hope found expression in his life, and your freedom, your democracy, is his cherished legacy."

Update at 6:31 a.m. ET. Obama Now Speaking:

Obama has now taken the podium and will deliver a eulogy.

Update at 6:17 a.m. ET. About The Boos:

NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports that many of the boos you may have heard directed at President Zuma are coming from people in one section of the stadium who are wearing red.

Ofeibea says they are the "Economic Freedom Fighters," a group who broke from the ruling African National Congress, which was also Mandela's party.

On its website, the group bills itself as a "radical and militant economic emancipation movement."

Update at 6:07 a.m. ET. Influence Reached Across The Planet:

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said Mandela's influence extended a "deep root that reached across the planet."

There is no better testament to his influence and fight for equality, than this stadium today.

"We are here," he said. "All are united."

Ban said when South Africa held elections in 1994, the first time black South Africans were able to cast a ballot, it marked a "triumph for the ideals of the United Nations" and a "victory for everyone who has faced the poison of prejudice."

Update at 5:57 a.m. ET. A Warm Welcome For The Obamas:

President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama are now in the stadium. When their images were show on the big screens, the audience erupted into a huge roar.

Update at 5:44 a.m. ET. 'Incomparable Force':

Andrew Mlangeni, one of only three surviving defendants at the Rivonia treason trial that sent Mandela and his anti-apartheid colleagues to prison for 27 years, remembered Mandela as an "incomparable force of leadership" who "illuminated the way in our nation's darkest hour."

"It would be in our collective wisdom ... to uphold the values of Nelson Mandela," Mlangeni said.

Update at 5:22 a.m. ET. A Memorial, A Thanksgiving:

As the memorial service got started with speeches from a collection of religious leaders, including a Muslim cleric, a Rabbi and Christian minister, Ofeibea spoke to Morning Edition from the stadium.

She said it's very loud and there's been a combination of joyful, mournful and soulful music. The service is "clearly a celebration" of life, Ofeibea noted.

"It is a memorial, but it's almost a thanksgiving as well," she said. "I think people are so grateful to what Nelson Mandela and his generation of freedom fighters did to liberate South Africa with equality for all South Africa."

Update at 5:10 a.m. ET. The Importance Of The Site:

Our colleague Greg Myre spoke to All Things Considered's Melissa Block last night to explain the importance of FNB Stadium.

"Mandela had his first big rally there just days after he was released in Cape Town. He flew to the stadium — it's in Soweto, which is the big black community just outside Johannesburg," Greg said. "It's the biggest soccer stadium in the country, holds about 95,000 people. And some of our listeners may recall it was renovated for the World Cup in 2010."

Update at 4:57 a.m. ET. The Official Program:

Officially, the program was supposed to start at 11 a.m. local time. They are running late.

According to the official program (pdf), after the national anthem and some interfaith prayers, the first to speak will be Andrew Mlangeni, one of only three surviving co-accused at the Rivonia treason trial that sent Mandela and his anti-apartheid colleagues to prison for 27 years.

Also on the program: U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, President Obama, Brazilian President Dilma Rouseff and Cuban President Raúl Castro. The keynote address will be delivered by South African President Jacob Zuma.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Source: NPR

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