Mandela memorial: crowds enter stadium

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People start singing as they arrive for a mass memorial for former president Nelson Mandela at FNB Stadium in Soweto. Picture: Kai Pfaffenbach


Johannesburg - People danced, sang struggle songs, and ululated as they filed into the FNB Stadium, south of Johannesburg, for former president Nelson Mandela's official memorial service on Tuesday.

A group of Hare Krishnas clanged cymbals as others around them whistled and clapped.

The gloomy weather did not deter South Africans from going to the stadium in Soweto to bid farewell to the anti-apartheid icon. The memorial is scheduled to begin at 11am.

"No amount of bad weather could stop me from paying my respects to president Mandela. He suffered for my freedom," said Pule Ngoako from Modimolle in Limpopo.

"It is sad to accept that this day and other days to come in my life will be without Mandela. It is a great loss to South Africa and the world."

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People arrive at the FNB Stadium ahead of the national memorial service for former president Nelson Mandela. Photo: Yves Herman


The crowd at the FNB Stadium, south of Johannesburg, mostly occupying the upper levels of the stadium, sang praises to the late president ahead of the official memorial service scheduled to start at 11am.

Groups of mourners marched in between the seats of the FNB Stadium.

Some were dressed in ANC T-shirts, while others draped themselves with ANC flags and blankets.

Others wore wigs in the SA flag colours. One group carried a placard which had Mandela's face on it.

Below Madiba's face was written "No easy walk to freedom". The crowd danced in unison on the stands, screaming, clapping, whistling, and ululating amid the songs.

The Atlantis swim team also carried a large banner which read: "We will always love you Tata Madiba".

Some were wrapped in the SA national flag or the ANC flag and sang: "Nelson Mandela my president", while stamping their feet on the ground.

"Nelson Mandela ga go ya tshwanang le ena (Nelson Mandela there is no one like him)," they sang.

"Oliver Tambo theta no Botha a kulule Mandela... (Oliver Tambo speak to Botha to release Mandela, Mandela will rule) the crowd sang while waiting for the formal programme to start.

They were drawing on songs from the apartheid era pleading to then head of state PW Botha for Mandela's release from prison.

A large stage was erected on one side of the pitch. Workers on scaffolding at the front of it were trying to finish last minute construction.

The foot of the stage was lined with bouquets of flowers. There were three rows of chairs on the stage.

A second, smaller stage was erected alongside. It too was lined with flowers.

A military helicopter flew above the stadium.

Security officials in reflector vests stood with umbrellas around the pitch.

A sea of umbrellas was already forming across the stadium as the sporadic drizzle continued.

A festive mood lingered. - Sapa

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