Johannesburg: Leaders from over 90 countries Tuesday paid rich tributes to former South African president and anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela at a memorial service here, five days after his demise, with Indian President Pranab Mukherjee describing the global statesman`s death as the departure of a venerated elder.
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US President Barack Obama and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon were among those who paid tributes to South African history`s towering personality in a jampacked FNB Stadium at Soweto here.
Apart from President Mukherjee, the Indian delegation also included Sonia Gandhi, chairperson of the country`s ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) alliance, Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj, union Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma, and members of parliament (MPs) Sitaram Yechury of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) and Satish Chandra Mishra of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).
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Speaking on the occasion, the Indian president said that the passing away of Mandela represented the departure of a venerated elder and a great soul.
Mandela, fondly called Madiba, his Xhosa clan name, was admired in India, said Mukherjee.
"Madiba lived a life of sacrifice and privation as he pursued a seemingly impossible goal for his people - and the world is richer for his legacy. We, in India, have long admired him - and all that he stood for - and we will always cherish his friendship and love for our people," he said.
Noting that Mandela was a visionary, the president said he inspired all.
"To us, Nelson Mandela was a visionary. He epitomised an uncommon humaneness that inspired all of mankind. He was an icon of irreversible social and economic change - the kind of transformation and emancipation that his people had only dreamt of," he said.
In his tribute, Obama thanked South Africa for sharing Mandela with the world.
"It is an honour to be with you today, to celebrate a life like no other,” he said.
"To the people of South Africa, people of all walks of life and every race - the world thanks you for sharing Nelson Mandela with us!
"His struggle was your struggle. His triumph was your triumph," Obama told the thousands of mourners.
On behalf of the UN, Secretary General Ban offered his condolences to Mandela`s widow Graca Machel, the Mandela family, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, as well as Madiba’s larger family, the people of South Africa, the continent and the world.
“A rainbow emerges from the rain and sun. I hope you will be able to see the rainbow still through the rain of sadness and sorrow of celebration. A rainbow cleans our heart,” Ban said.
Mandela’s long-time comrade and anti-apartheid activist Andrew Mlangeni reminded people of Mandela’s contribution in achieving a free South Africa.
“He was an unavoidable force against injustice. Madiba’s exemplary leadership was based on a collective thinking. Millions of South Africans are now trying to emulate the greatest of this man in what they are doing,” said Mlangeni.
In his keynote speech, South African President Jacob Zuma said that Mandela reminded people of their common humanity and managed fears of the minority expectations of the majority.
According to Zuma, Mandela believed in collective leadership and had said he was not a saint.
Earlier in the day, top world leaders walked into the FNB Stadium joining thousands of people who had braved heavy rain to attend the memorial service of South Africa’s most famous son, who passed away Dec 5 at the age of 95.
The South African government had advised world leaders to attend the memorial service of Mandela in Johannesburg Tuesday instead of his burial ceremony at Qunu in the Eastern Cape province Dec 15 citing logistical challenges.