Some 90 world leaders descended on South Africa and Soweto’s Soccer City Stadium to bid farewell to Nelson Mandela, but only a select few got the opportunity to deliver eulogies to the country’s first black president.
UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon emphasised the UN’s role in the fight against apartheid saying, “the United Nations fought side by side with Nelson Mandela and the people of South Africa in the fight against apartheid. We used every tool we had: sanctions, arms embargoes, sports boycotts, diplomatic isolation. We spoke out loud and clear, across the world. Apartheid was vanquished. But, as he would be the first to say, our struggle still continues.”
US President Barack Obama evoked a panoply of twentieth century leaders including Gandhi and Martin Luther King to give historical context to Mandela’s greatness.
“It took a man like Madiba,” he said, “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 and generosity and truth. “
Obama went on to chide some of the less liberal leaders at the service, saying, “there are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba’s struggle for freedom but do not tolerate dissent from their own people.”
His criticism of authoritarianism notwithstanding, Obama did extend a handshake to Cuban President Raul Castro.
A historic moment after fifty years of US/Cuban enmity.
“We wIll never forget,” said Castro, “the moving homage Mandela paid to Cuba when he visited in 1991. He said that the Cuban people have a special place in the hearts of the people of Africa.”
Mandela’s body will lie in state before the funeral at the weekend.