Leaders, Crowds Mass for Mandela Farewell

More than 90 heads of government at Soweto ceremony
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 10, 2013 4:43 AM CST
Leaders, Crowds Mass for Mandela Farewell
VIPs and dignitaries watch from the tribune as rain lashes down during the memorial service for former South African president Nelson Mandela at the FNB Stadium in Soweto.   (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

The weather is wet but spirits are high as tens of thousands of South Africans and dozens of world leaders gather in a Soweto stadium to celebrate the life of Nelson Mandela, the BBC reports. President Obama—who flew in with George W. Bush and Hillary Clinton—is just one of more than 90 heads of government at the ceremony, one of the biggest such gatherings in history, reports the AP. The South African government says the number of leaders present exceeds the number who were at Pope John Paul II's funeral in 2005.

"There was no way I was not going to be here," one mourner shouting over the crowd tells the New York Times. "If it wasn’t for Nelson Mandela, I would not be here, living the life of freedom I live." The first speaker of the day is Andrew Mlangeni, Mandela's friend and fellow apartheid-era prisoner on Robben Island. Others will include President Obama, the leaders of Brazil, India, and Cuba, and four of Mandela's grandchildren. (Read more Nelson Mandela stories.)

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