, SOWETO, Dec 10 – Huge crowds of grieving South Africans converged on Soweto’s World Cup stadium Tuesday, to sit side-by-side with presidents, priests, queens and sheikhs at a memorial service for unifying global icon Nelson Mandela.
Close to 100 world leaders were among 80,000 people expected to cram into the venue in Soweto – the crucible of Mandela’s anti-apartheid struggle – to bid farewell to a man whose life story earned uncommon universal respect.
Five hours before the memorial began, large crowds had already gathered in a light drizzle, hoping for one of the first-comer tickets.
Wrapped in the South African flags or yellow-green coloured shawls printed with the slogan “Mandela Forever,” they danced and jogged towards the stadium entrance, some singing in Zulu: “Mandela is not sleeping, just kneeling.”
Thousands more were boarding free trains from central Johannesburg, mixing excitedly together on the platform and in the compartments – men and women of all ages and races.
“I am going to the memorial to be closer to the national mood, to come out of my bubble,” said white Afrikaans speaker Marcel Boezaart, 26.
News of Mandela’s death at his home in Johannesburg on Thursday resonated around the world, triggering a wave of loving admiration from political and religious leaders, some of whom agree on little else.