JOHANNESBURG, South Africa - Thousands of South Africans filed into the 94,000-seat soccer stadium in Soweto early Tuesday for the state memorial service of the nation’s apartheid-struggle hero,
Low gray clouds and misty rain cast a somber mood, but the atmosphere in the stadium was joyful and exuberant, as the crowds sang liberation struggle songs, danced, ululated, whistled and blasted vuvuzelas – the plastic trumpets that South Africans blow at soccer matches and joyful occasions, waiting for the service to begin.
Outside the stadium, shaped to like a great calabash, or African bowl fashioned from a gourd, flags flew at half-staff.
The crowd pressed forward, wearing African National
The service was due to begin at 11 a.m. with the stirring notes of the South African national anthem, followed by interfaith prayers.
One of Mandela’s closest friends, Andrew Mlangeni, who occupied the cell next to him at Robben Island, was to speak first, followed by a representative of the Mandela family, General Thanduxolo Mandela. Four of Mandela’s grandchildren, Mbuso Mandela, Andile Mandela, Zozuko Dlamini and Phumla Mandela were to speak next followed by
With only a fraction of the stadium seats filled by about 8 a.m. the sound of the crowd was deafening.
The stadium is the last place Nelson Mandela appeared in public, at the close of the 2010 soccer