Cape Town - It was meant to be the ultimate send-off, fit for a global icon, but the official memorial of Nelson Mandela was reduced to a damp squib with unruly crowds, bad planning and a political embarrassment.
World leaders and celebrities - including US President Barack Obama, supermodel Naomi Campbell and U2 frontman Bono - watched as crowds booed President Jacob Zuma and later left the stadium empty midway through the programme.
Both Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa publicly rebuked the unruly crowd and ANC national executive member Bheki Cele walked through the stadium reprimanding perpetrators.
Cele would not comment on Tuesday night.
Programme director Ramaphosa repeatedly begged for discipline, eventually saying in Zulu from the podium that crowds should not embarrass the country in front of international visitors.
“Okunye sizokubona mahambile (we’ll deal with our problems after the visitors have left),” Ramaphosa was quoted as saying.
Tutu, who closed the ceremony, refused to bless the crowd until they behaved.
“You must show the world that we are disciplined. I want to hear a pin drop,” said Tutu to a nearly empty stadium.
“We must promise God that we are going to follow the example of Nelson Mandela.”
Government spokeswoman Phumla Williams said government officials would be meeting on Tuesday night to assess the event at the stadium and at other venues.
“Unfortunately, I don’t want to comment on one incident. Remember this event was not only happening at the FNB Stadium,” she said.
Zuma’s spokesman, Mac Maharaj, condemned the incident but would not comment on the overall organisation of the event.
“We need to look at one accident that occurred in a context. This was a national and international memorial service for our icon. It was open to everybody, whatever their political persuasion. Ours is a noisy and vibrant democracy,” he said.
“Yes, there was a minor accident of the president being booed. But it lasted just a few minutes and the entire programme went very well. When President Zuma spoke, he was received very warmly and the entire speech was welcomed by everybody in the stadium.”
Maharaj said it was unfortunate that people had used the memorial service for political reasons.
ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu was less diplomatic, saying the ANC took exception to it.
“How did the Mandela family interpret what happened? It was painful for them.”
Mthembu said Zuma’s booing had been planned.
“We have not seen this kind of disrespect for Zuma. It was not only for Zuma but also Madiba,” he said.
“You can’t hijack such a sombre activity... You can’t use this platform to politicise it… What we are worried about is a deliberate plan to embarrass the president of the ANC.”
Dignitaries from more than 100 countries attended the memorial, which started an hour late.
Stadium gates opened at 7am and crowds entertained themselves singing Struggle songs and cheering at the arrival of VIP guests until the noon start.
About three-quarters of the stadium had filled by 1pm, but only Obama and UN secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon held the crowd’s attention and, by the time Zuma took the stage at 3pm, many had left.
Obama said it was “tempting to remember Nelson Mandela as an icon, smiling and serene, detached from the tawdry affairs of lesser men”.
“Madiba insisted on sharing with us his doubts and his fears; his miscalculations along with his victories. ‘I am not a saint,’ he said, ‘unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying’,” Obama quoted.
Mandela had showed the world “the power of action”, of “taking risks on behalf of our ideals”.
“There is a word in South Africa - ubuntu - a word that captures Mandela’s greatest gift: his recognition that we are all bound together in ways that are invisible to the eye,” said Obama, to enthusiastic cheers.
“That there is a oneness to humanity; that we achieve ourselves by sharing ourselves with others, and caring for those around us.”
He said Mandela made him want to be a better man.
The disrespect at the memorial overshadowed the rest of the memorial on social networks.
By Tuesday night ANC provincial secretary David Makhura had tweeted: “The booing by a section of the crowd at the memorial service today [Tuesday] is (a) despicable act that reflects negatively on SA.
“ANC condemns the booing in strongest terms. We are certain the perpetrators of this heinous act of disrespect are not members of the ANC.”
The arrival of former US president Bill Clinton and his wife, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton and their daughter, Chelsea, caught the attention of the media gallery and photographers.
They had a warm reunion with fellow former US president, George W Bush.
Sitting in the section adjacent to the Clintons was former British prime minister Gordon Brown, while former British Conservative prime minister John Major sat near to Bush.
British Prime Minister David Cameron sat on the left of the American delegation, near British Labour Party leader, Ed Miliband.
South African songbird Yvonne Chaka Chaka led Sibongile Khumalo, Ringo Madlingozi, Abigail Kubeka, Zahara Mango Groove lead singer Candice Johnston, Danny K and Sipho Hotstix Mabuse in a rendition of Struggle song Nelson Mandela Haonaya Tshwanang le Wena.