10 December 2013

South Africa: Spirits Not Dampened at FNB Mandela Memorial

Drizzle and the threat of more rain did little to dampen the spirits of several thousand people who gathered at FNB stadium on Tuesday morning for the memorial service of former president Nelson Mandela.

Stages have been erected on the side of the pitch. On one, musicians were tuning their instruments and playing some free-style jazz.

Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa was spotted in the stadium's media box, talking on his cellphone while a group of journalists tried to speak to him.

Many in the crowd took refuge from the rain in the covered seating on the top tier, and were singing songs in tribute to the former president.

"UMandela lo, abamaziyo, abakaze bambone (This is Mandela, the one who is known, they've never seen anyone like him)," the several thousand strong section chanted.

"Shosholoza" followed, as the crowd clapped and danced in unison.

Groups of soldiers and security officials in reflector vests continued to line the aisles of the vast arena.

Military helicopters flying overhead were greeted by a roar from the crowd.

Earlier a group marched in between the seats of the stadium, singing struggle songs.

Some were dressed in ANC T-shirts, while others draped themselves with ANC flags and blankets.

Others wore wigs in the colours of the South African flag. One group carried a poster with Mandela's face on it and the words "No easy walk to freedom".

The crowd danced in unison on the stands, screaming, clapping, whistling, and ululating.

The Atlantis swim team also carried a large banner which read: "We will always love you Tata Madiba".

A sea of umbrellas was already forming across the stadium as the sporadic drizzle continued.

Speaking on the sidelines at the event, the African National Congress said Tuesday was an important day for South Africa, Africa and the world.

"Scores of people have braved the rain to bid a final farewell to our beloved statesman and global icon Tata Madiba," ANC spokeswoman Khusela Sangoni said.

"Today [Tuesday] will be a day of celebration of a life well lived, and a reflection on the opportunities presented to collectively live up to the values Madiba espoused."

A large contingent of heads of state, dignitaries, and celebrities are expected to attend Tuesday's proceedings, scheduled to get under way at 11am.

Mandela died surrounded by family at his Houghton home, in Johannesburg, on Thursday night. He was 95 years old.

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