Tuesday, March 25, 2014

(HERALD ZW) Rousing welcome for President in SA
December 11, 2013 Musah Gwaunza Headlines, Top Stories
From Mabasa Sasa in JOHANNESBURG, South Africa

PRESIDENT Mugabe received a rapturous welcome from upwards of 50 000 people who packed the giant Soccer City Stadium here for the memorial service of former South African president Nelson Rohihlahla Mandela who passed on last week. Incessant rains threatened to wash out the emotional event which drew leaders from over 90 countries, among them pop and film stars as well as 10 former heads of state and government.

President Mugabe — who was accompanied by First Lady Amai Grace Mugabe and children Ms Bona and Chatunga — was among the scores of leaders present at the giant stadium where the upbeat crowd gave the masters of ceremony a hard time.

When the Master of Ceremonies, ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa, announced that President Mugabe was among the dignitaries, his image was promptly beamed on the giant screens in the stadium drawing wild applause, cheers and blasts of vuvuzelas from the crowd that had earlier on jeered host President Jacob Zuma prompting the MC to skip Zuma’s name when he announced the dignitaries present to curb more jeers.

President Mugabe responded by smiling and waving to the crowd.

The other leaders who received similar acclaim were former South African president Thabo Mbeki, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and US president Barack Obama.

The stream of people — who included politicians, friends and family members – all said the same thing: Mr Mandela’s life was both long and well-lived.

After spending some 17 years as a firebrand anti-apartheid activist, Mr Mandela was jailed for 27 years only to swap his prison cell for the Office of the Presidency as South Africa’s first democratically-elected leader.

It was this triumph of patience and principle over oppression that the 50 000-odd people at Soccer City chose to focus on, even as the
grieving visage of Mr Mandela’s widow – Graca Machel – and the incessant rain served to remind that it was death that had brought
them all together.

The choice of Soccer City was inspired: This was the scene of the 2010 FIFA Soccer World Cup Final, the first time the event was hosted on the continent, representing a sporting triumph that Africa still cherishes.

Royalty joined statesmen and women, and ordinary people from all over the world, in appreciating moving tribute after moving tribute that was given about Mr Mandela, a man who President Mugabe described as “a great champion of the emancipation of the oppressed” who was also “a humble and compassionate leader who showed selfless dedication to the service of his people”.

Family members, like General Thandaxolo and Mbuso Mandela, mixed it up with African Union Commission Chair Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, United Nations Secretary-General Mr ban Ki-moon, China’s Vice President Li Yuanchao and Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff in honouring Mr Mandela.

Cuba’s President Raul Castro Ruz recalled the strong bond between the Caribbean Island and Africa, drawing particular attention to the
landmark battle of Cuito Carnavale.

It was at this battle in 1987 that Cuban, Angolan, South African and Namibian fighters dealt a hefty blow to apartheid’s military. This
paved the way for Namibia’s independence three years later, and South Africa’s within the decade.

Before US President Barack Obama told the crowd that Mr Mandela “speaks to what is best inside us”, gospel stars Kirk Franklin and
Joyous Celebration whipped up already charged spirits with fine singing.

This was not time for dirges, those will come soon enough. Instead, happy song, dance and bright colours sat quite easily with the shrouds
and the black suits worn by some present.

Through the rain, applause and cheering were commonplace.

The biggest ovations were reserved for (naturally) President Zuma, Uhuru Kenyatta (Kenya), Joyce Banda (Malawi), Obama and – as has
become usual all over Africa – President Mugabe.

Namibia’s President Hifikepunye Pohamba, many of whose fellow Swapo members shared apartheid prison cells with Mr Mandela at Robben Island, delivered a sombre address in which he characterised the late freedom fighter as a “symbol of fundamental human values”.

These values, President Pohamba said, were freedom, peace and justice.

On concluding, the crowds broke into song once more – still undaunted by the pouring rain – much to the irritation of one of the MCs, ANC
Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, who repeatedly tried to quiet them so that the programme could move along.

When Mr Ramaphosa was able to regain a measure of control, India’s President Pranab Mukherjee gave an outline of the extraordinary ties
between the two countries and the similarities between their respective great leaders.

And then it was President Zuma’s turn to recount that Mr Mandela was a courageous leader who was “able to abandon narrow concerns for bigger, all-embracing dreams, even if such dreams came at a huge cost”.

Quoting from a popular folk song, President Zuma said “there was no one like Mandela – he was one of a kind”.

“Today on International Human Rights Day, we celebrate Mandela, a man of peace; today on the 20th anniversary since he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on December 10, 1993, this freedom fighter”.

President Zuma noted that Mr Mandela was not afraid to fight, as he was instrumental in radicalising the ANC and was the first Commander-in-Chief of the armed wing of Africa’s oldest liberation movement.

As the crowds took their celebrations from the giant Soccer City and onto the streets of Johannesburg, there were many promises to
reconvene today (Wednesday) at Union Buildings for what promises to be a more sombre affair: the body viewing.

President Mugabe will be there, as will Amai Grace Mugabe and thousands of other people.

The week-long national mourning will come to an end with the burial of Mr Mandela in his ancestral village of Qunu in Eastern Cape Province.

Mr Mandela was born on July 18, 1918 in Umtata in Transkei.

In the 1940s he was to increasingly move away from his law career and gravitate to the centre of national politics, being subsequently
influential in the expulsion of an ANC President and formation of the Youth League.

As is well-known, he was to be jailed for close to three decades but in 1993 the ex-prisoner was to become a Nobel Peace Prize winner, an
honour he shared with the last president of apartheid, FW de Klerk.

What followed was a convincing victory for the ANC in the 1994 elections and Mr Mandela’s elevation to the Presidency of the country.

After retiring in 1999, Mr Mandela was to make his last public appearance at the 2010 Soccer World Cup.

In recent months, his health deteriorated and South Africa and the world finally faced up to the reality of Mr Mandela’s mortality.

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