Cape Town - Madiba looked at peace, Western Cape premier Helen told Capetonians on Wednesday shortly after arriving from Pretoria where she viewed the late struggle icon's body.
“I saw him today, his face at peace, a face that must symbolise both in its physical features, and its spiritual features everything that we must become as nation,” she shared with tens of thousands of people gathered at the Cape Town stadium for the Mother City memorial event.
Zille contrasted this with the photographs of Mandela's smiling face plastered across the country.
“That (smile) must have masked such a deep pain over a vast number of years when he sacrificed to bring us freedom and to bring us a constitution that defends us today.”
A small group of people, dressed in ANC t-shirts booed Zille but their voices were drowned out by the crowd, who cheered as Zille shared her sentiments.
“When we look at this great natural wonder of the world, we think of the great wonder of humankind symbolised in Madiba's capacity to forgive and to build one nation with one future,” she said.
Zille urged the crowd to now take up the same struggle and sacrifice.
“His face symbolised what we must become - one nation at peace with ourselves and the world. Seeing his wonderful face was one of the most momentous and moving moments of my life. I will never forget it.”
Zille began and ended her tribute with songs sung in isiXhosa.
Earlier, former Springbok captain Francois Pienaar described Mandela as a “spiritual coach and captain” to sportsmen and women Ä drawing a loud response of approval from people, many of whom travelled long distances from the deep rural areas of the Western Cape to be at the memorial.
“In 1967 I was born into apartheid... 27 years later, as the fortunate leader of the Springboks, I had the opportunity to meet the father of the nation. My life changed forever,” he said.
Pienaar spoke about the ability sport had to bring change to people's lives, and recalled how Mandela had recognised this.
“Armed with these lessons, Madiba urged his comrades to keep the Springbok emblem,” he said of the symbol which to many represented a divided sporting community.
“We became one team, playing to one country,” Pienaar said, prompting more loud cheers from the over 50,000 crowd.
Speaking of the Springboks' 1995 rugby world cup victory, he said: “For the first time we were world champions together.
“Pienaar conveyed condolences to the Mandela family on behalf of the sporting fraternity.
Earlier, tears and cheers filled the stadium when a swelling crowd sang the national anthem and thousands of people waved the national flag.
The city's official memorial, titled “Nelson Mandela: a life celebrated”, was expected to draw 53 000 people.
A variety of musical acts was planned for the evening, including Scottish singer and philanthropist Annie Lennox and local bands Freshlyground and Ladysmith Black Mambazo.
Popular local hits such as “Jabulani” and “Asimbonanga” bounced off the stadium's walls as the crowd responded to artists' calls to raise their voices.
A notice was flashed on a screen informing deaf concert-goers of a special room where speeches would be interpreted.
Mandela's face smiled down from several large television screens above the masses.
Athlone resident Bernadette Simpson said Mandela's loss had been as painful for her as the loss of her father four years ago.
She had drawn political inspiration from him when she was a student leader in Bridgetown, Athlone, in the 80s.
As an 18-year-old matric pupil at the time, the police had falsely arrested her for burning a bus, and she had spent two days in jail before the case was withdrawn.
“I know what it's like a little bit to be sitting in a van, looking out of that window and seeing everybody free,” she said.
“I noticed people go to work and you have to sit in this prison, not that you did anything, but just for what you believe in.”
Simpson said she had been treated as a criminal and did not eat or drink during her time in custody because she was suspicious of the police.
“Psychologically and emotionally I was prepared to die, because that is just how it was going to be.”