Nelson Mandela Memorial Draws World Leaders, Thousands of South Africans

"He speaks to what is best inside us," President Obama said of the revered South African leader

Nelson Mandela, Obama, memorial, eulogy, South Africa, Toto
President Barack Obama pauses while speaking at Mandela's memorial service Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images
Marc Hogan WRITTEN BY
Marc Hogan

Leaders from around the world came together with tens of thousands of South Africans earlier today at a rain-soaked Johannesburg soccer stadium to honor Nelson Mandela, the iconic figure who died December 5 at age 95. Dignitaries from U.S. President Barack Obama to Cuba's Raul Castro gathered in the 90,000-seat World Cup venue, as CNN reports. U2 frontman Bono, who extolled Mandela recently in an essay, was also in attendance.

Obama gave a eulogy that praised Mandela as a "giant of history" while at times also framing the anti-apartheid fighter's significance in strikingly personal terms. "Over 30 years ago, while still a student, I learned of Mandela and the struggles in this land," said Obama, as quoted by The New York Times. "It stirred something in me. It woke me up to my responsibilities — to others, and to myself — and set me on an improbable journey that finds me here today. And while I will always fall short of Madiba's example, he makes me want to be better. He speaks to what is best inside us." Madiba is Mandela's clan name, which Obama also used in his comments immediately after the former South African president's death.

In all, more than 60 heads of states went to South Africa for Mandela remembrances this week, according to USA Today. Some South Africans missed work to wait in line for the four-hour memorial, which also featured a speech from F. W. de Klerk, the last president of apartheid-era South Africa and the co-recipient with Mandela of a Nobel Peace Prize. Other speakers included the presidents of Brazil, Namibia, India, Cuba, and South Africa. U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, French President Francois Hollande, and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu were all there. So were former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, members of the Elders, a group of retired statesmen that Mandela helped organize. Mandela's body will lie in state starting December 11 until the burial, set for December 15.

In unhappier news, CBS aired Toto's "Africa" to honor Mandela — that's right, not South African music, not the Special AKA's landmark protest song "Free Nelson Mandela," not any other music that played such a powerful role in Mandela's life. As Gawker notes, Toto member Jeff Porcaro has said the song is about "a white boy trying to write a song on Africa, but since he's never been there, he can only tell what he's seen on TV or remembers in the past." It would cheapen the spirit of the day to dwell too much on what a mistake CBS made here. But there you have it.

More on Nelson Mandela:

Nelson Mandela R.I.P. (1918-2013)
'Free Nelson Mandela': The Story of a Song that Helped Change the World
Nelson Mandela's Subversive Musical Legacy
Barack Obama: 'Nelson Mandela Bent the Arc of the Moral Universe'
Ladysmith Black Mambazo Reflect on Nelson Mandela's Death
Nelson Mandela's Death: Twitter Reacts

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