JOHANNESBURG, Dec 9: The presidents of the United States and Cuba will share a rare joint stage on Tuesday as world leaders shed historic rivalries to pay tribute at the funeral of South African freedom icon Nelson Mandela.
Barack Obama and Raul Castro will both offer eulogies for Mandela at a sweeping memorial service to be held at the Soweto stadium that hosted the 2010 World Cup final.They are among more than 90 heads of state and government scheduled to attend an extended state funeral that will culminate in Mandela’s burial on Sunday in the rural village of Qunu where he spent his early childhood.
“The world literally is coming to South Africa,” said the government’s head of public diplomacy, Clayson Monyela.
A massive security operation will swing into place as 80,000 people descend on the Soweto venue for what is seen as a final chance for grieving South Africans to unite in a mass celebration of Mandela’s life ahead of the more formal lying in state.
The Indian and Brazilian presidents will also speak, reflecting the extraordinary global reach, popularity and influence of one of the 20th century’s towering political figures.
Four of Mandela’s adored grandchildren will speak for his family, while neither his widow, Graca Machel, nor his ex-wife Winne Madikizela-Mandela are listed on the programme.
Some 120,000 people will be able to watch the event on giant screens set up in three overflow stadiums in Johannesburg.
Although Mandela had been critically ill for months, the announcement of his death on Thursday night still rocked a country that had looked to his unassailable moral authority as a comforting constant in a time of uncertain social and economic change.
“I don’t think you are ever prepared enough,” said Zelda la Grange, who was Mandela’s long-time personal assistant both during and after his presidency.
“We had prepared ourselves emotionally but still we are overcome by this feeling of loss and sadness,” La Grange said.
A single candle was lit Monday in Mandela’s tiny prison cell on Robben Island, where he spent the harshest of his 27 years in apartheid jails, before emerging to lead his country out of the shadow of apartheid into a multi-racial democracy.—AFP