Obama commemorates Mandela as 'giant of justice'

Tens of thousands of people, world leaders amass at Johannesburg soccer stadium to pay homage to anti-apartheid hero.

December 10, 2013 13:57
2 minute read.
Former South African president Nelson Mandela's national memorial service in Johannesburg.

Mandela funeral in South Africa crowds 370. (photo credit: REUTERS/Yves Herman)


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US President Barack Obama hailed Nelson Mandela as a "giant of justice" on Tuesday but said too many leaders in the world claimed solidarity with his struggle for freedom "but do not tolerate dissent from their own people".

Obama, addressed an cheering crowd, likening the former South African president to such historical figures as Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi and Abraham Lincoln.

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Like King, Obama said Mandela also stood as a central figure in the fight for racial equality and justice. He also compared Mandela to Gandhi as a leader of an initially dubious resistance movement. The US president also said Mandela had been like America's founding fathers, uniting his country when it was on the brink of breaking apart.

"He changed laws, but he also changed hearts," Obama said.

Tens of thousands of people arrived at a soccer stadium in Johannesburg on Tuesday morning for a mass memorial service honoring anti-apartheid hero and former South African president Nelson Mandela.

Various world leaders paid homage to Mandela at the memorial recalling his many celebrated accomplishments.

UN Secretary-General Bank Ki-moon addressed the memorial service, acknowledging the loss of "one of the greatest leaders of our time."

"South Africa has lost a hero, a father," Ban said commemorating Mandela.

The US sent its president and three former presidents to the memorial service. The UK and France sent its prime ministers, as did another nearly 90 countries. Oprah Winfrey and the Dalai Lama were set to attend. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas also attended the ceremony. Israel, however, came close to sending no one, in a near diplomatic fiasco that started Sunday and developed throughout Monday.

In the end, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein flew Monday night to the memorial service, along with the first female Ethiopian MK Pnina Tamnu-Shata (Yesh Atid), as well as MKs Dov Lipman (Yesh Atid), Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz), Gila Gamliel (Likud Beytenu) and Hilik Bar (Labor).

Edelstein, a former prisoner of Zion in the USSR, said he’s “happy that in the end Israel has representation at this important event. As a former prisoner of conscience, I had the privilege of meeting Mandela as a minister in 1996, and we shared experiences from prison and the fight for our rights. This is a sort of closure for me.”

Before leaving for South Africa, Edelstein said that Mandela was a freedom fighter but that "more than that he was a man that knew that you do not correct an injustice with another injustice and violence with more violence.

He added that the State of Israel will remember Mandela as a man who "abandoned the path of violence in his just struggle for equality between black and white people." 

"I hope that the leaders in our region will abandon terror like Mandela and will choose dialogue as a way to live in peace with Israel," the Speaker of the Knesset added.

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