World leaders gather at memorial for 'giant of history'

By Sun Xiaobo and Yang He Source:Global Times Published: 2013-12-11 1:13:01

A woman holds a picture of late South African president Nelson Mandela prior to his memorial on Tuesday at Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg. Photo: AFP

Nearly 100 high-profile guests, including current and former heads of state or government, attended the memorial service for South Africa's late leader and anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela on Tuesday in Johannesburg, together with tens of thousands of people.

Songs of praise and revolution, many harking back to the apartheid era that Mandela helped condemn to history, echoed around the Soccer City stadium in Soweto, where Mandela made his last major public appearance in 2010.

Some 80,000 had been expected, but the venue was two-thirds full as the ceremony got underway in rain that had been falling since the early morning.

In a keynote speech, South African President Jacob Zuma said Mandela was "one of a kind."

"There is no one like Madiba," Zuma said, using the clan name by which Mandela was fondly known.

In his speech, US President Barack Obama eulogized Mandela as a "giant of history" and compared the Nobel peace laureate to Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Lincoln.

Obama said Mandela made him want to be "a better man" and called on young African people to make the giant's life their own, according to The Telegraph's live coverage.

China's Vice President Li Yuanchao, special representative of Chinese President Xi Jinping, delivered a speech at the memorial, describing Mandela as the pride of the African people who had dedicated his entire life to the development and progress of the continent.

Li referred to Mandela as one of the founding fathers of China-South Africa relations.  The Chinese people will always cherish the memory of his significant contribution to this friendship, he said.

It was during Mandela's presidency that South Africa cut ties with Taiwan and established diplomatic ties with the Chinese mainland in 1998.

Yin Gang, a research fellow with the Institute of West Asian and African Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times that in keeping a good relationship with China, South Africa has shown respect to China's position on questions like Tibet and Taiwan.

The Dalai Lama would not attend the memorial service, a spokesman said on Monday. The Dalai Lama was blocked by South Africa from attending a Nobel laureates' conference there in 2009 and denied a visa in 2011, the AP reported.

Taiwan officials said on Monday that Taiwan has conveyed its wishes to South Africa to attend the memorial or funeral, but they were uncertain if they would receive an invitation, the Central News Agency reported.

The memorial event was part of an extended state funeral that will culminate in Mandela's burial on Sunday in the village of Qunu where he spent his early childhood.

After Mandela, often referred to as the father of South Africa, passed away on Thursday night at the age of 95, some South Africans feared that his death could leave the country vulnerable once again to racial and social tensions.

Zha Daojiong, a professor with the School of International Studies at Peking University, told the Global Times that Mandela's death would not lead to racial tension in South Africa.

"Since anti-apartheid policies have been long accepted by people in South Africa, it's unlikely for these rules to break down following Mandela's death," Zha said.

However, the country has been experiencing a series of social problems such as labor unrest, growing dissatisfaction against poor services, poverty, crime as well as unemployment.

"It is likely that these problems will get worse and there will be a decrease in social cohesion, which the government has to deal with in an appropriate and proactive manner," Yin said.

The Chinese public paid much attention to Tuesday's ceremony. Several leading news portals in China broadcast the whole memorial service live or by posting pictures.

Agencies contributed to this story

Read more in daily special: Nelson Mandela dead at 95

Posted in: Africa

blog comments powered by Disqus