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Dozens of world leaders will gather with tens of thousands of South Africans today to pay tribute to Nelson Mandela at a memorial service at Johannesburg's FNB stadium.

Barack Obama, and three former US presidents, will be among 50-plus former or current heads of state, along with Australian PM Tony Abbott and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten who flew out on the same plane yesterday, at today's ceremony. 

In all there will be 200,000 people in attendance with organisers insistent that both regular citizens and high-powered types got to pay their respects and celebrate Mandela's life. 

Others attending include UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Kofi Annan, British PM David Cameron, French president Francois Hollande, German president Joachim Gauck, Canadian PM Stephen Harper, Richard Branson and singer Peter Gabriel.

“This will give ordinary people and public leaders an opportunity to celebrate Madiba’s life collectively,” a government statement said. 

The memorial forms part of a week of mourning and events in Johannesburg, Pretoria (South Africa's capital where Mandela’s body will lie in state) and Qunu, where the state funeral takes place on Sunday. 

South African president Jacob Zuma gave a eulogy at a Methodist church service in Johannesburg during an official day of prayer and reflection this week. 

He said: “We felt it important we should have a day where all of us as South Africans can come together and pray for our first democratic president and reflect on his legacy.

“But it is also to pray for our nation – to pray we do not forget some of the values he fought for.

“He believed in forgiveness and he forgave even those who kept him in jail for 27 years.

“He stood for freedom. He fought against those who oppressed others. He wanted everyone to be free.”

Father Sebastian Rossouw of the Catholic Regina Mundi church in Soweto, the heart of 1976 uprising against white rule, also gave a stirring address. 

“Madiba did not doubt the light. He paved the way for a better future, but he cannot do it alone,” he said.

Other faiths also held services honouring Mandela in their own way. 

Over the weekend sport pay tribute also, with moments of silence or in the Premier League's case, a minute's applause before every game. Australia and England observed a minute's silence  

Images via Getty


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