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Farewell Madiba

Tens of thousands of South African mark the passing of Nelson Mandela

Tens of thousands of South Africans braved driving rain to mark the passing of their country's greatest son Nelson Mandela.

They heard speeches eulogising Mr Mandela from leaders of the US, India, China, Cuba and Brazil from among the 90-plus international leaders who attended the memorial at Johannesburg's Soccer City.

Presidents as diverse as the US's Barack Obama and Cuba's Raol Castro paid their respects to Africa's best-known and most revered revolutionary leader.

And in keeping with the message of reconciliation and mutual respect delivered by Mr Mandela, the US president drew the attention of the world's press when he approached and shook hands with a smiling President Castro, the first time such a gesture had been made in over a dozen years.

President Obama tailored his message to the occasion, saying in his speech that "there are too many of us who happily embrace Madiba's legacy of racial reconciliation, but passionately resist even modest reforms that would challenge chronic poverty and growing inequality."

On the 20th anniversary of the award of the Nobel peace prize jointly to Mr Mandela and his white South African counterpart FW de Klerk and on UN Human Rights Day, the atmosphere in the rain-drenched stadium was one of celebration of the man and his message.

"He was more than one of the greatest leaders of our time. He was one of our greatest teachers," said UN secretary-general Ban Ki Moon.

And President Castro made his socialist island's feelings clear when he told the multitude of South Africans: "Mandela is an unsurpassed example for Latin America and the Caribbean, moving towards unity and integration to the benefit of their people, respectful of diversity, with the conviction that dialogue and co-operation are the way for the settlement of disputes and civilised co-existence.

"Cuba, which has African blood in its veins, emerged in the struggle for independence and the abolition of slavery and later had the privilege to fight and build with African nations.

"We never forget the emotional tribute made by Mr Mandela to our common struggle, when he visited us in July 1991 and said the Cuban people had a special place in the hearts of the peoples of Africa.

"Honour and eternal glory to Nelson Mandela and the heroic people of South Africa."

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff added: "Like the South Africans who mourn with their chants, we the Brazilian nation proudly carry African blood in our veins and we too mourn.

"The Brazilian government and people bow down to the memory of Nelson Mandela."

And South African President Jacob Zuma summed up his people's feelings when he said that "Mandela was a fearless freedom fighter who refused to allow the brutality of the apartheid state to stand in the way of the struggle for the liberation of his people."

Mr Mandela's remains will lie in state for three days at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, where he was sworn in as president in 1994.

He will be buried on Sunday in Qunu, his ancestral home in the rolling, windswept hills of the Eastern Cape province.

Only a few world leaders are due to attend the Qunu ceremony, a more intimate family affair.

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