Johannesburg, Dec 10, 2013 (PTI): Nearly 100 world leaders including President Pranab Mukherjee and US President Barack Obama came together in an unprecedented act of homage to Nelson Mandela describing him as a “giant of history”.
Sanskrit shlokas were read out from Hindu scriptures in a moving ceremony in the FNB stadium in Soweto, the nerve centre of his campaign, as tens of thousands South Africans gathered to pay homage to the anti-apartheid icon and first black President who died on December 5.
“It is hard to eulogise any man…how much harder to do so for a giant of history, who moved a nation toward justice, and in the process moved billions around the world,” Obama said in a 20-minute speech punctuated by reference to the struggle for racial freedom in Africa and America.
Pranab Mukherjee, who headed a high level Indian delegation including Sonia Gandhi and Sushma Swaraj, in his eulogy, called Mandela an icon of irreversible social and economic change who never diminished his commitment to his kind of ‘satyagraha’ against injustice and inequality.
Obama also referred to Mahatma Gandhi when he said that Mandela, like Gandhi, led a resistance movement that at its start held little prospect of success.
UN Secretary General Ban ki Moon, African leaders including Robert Mugabe, the last white President F W de Klerk, Chinese Vice President Li Yuanchao and Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai were among the other leaders present.
President Mukherjee, who was seated next to South African President Jacob Zuma, said India has no doubt that the world will honour the historic legacy of Mandela.
He said Mandela was one of the most influential personalities of the century who taught the world true meaning of forgiveness and reconciliation and steered South Africans on to the path of building a truly rainbow nation.
UN Secretary General, who was the first foreign dignitary to pay homage, said termed Mandela as a “greatest teacher” and said “He was one of our greatest teacher who taught by example.”
Obama, while paying tributes to his fight against anti-apartheid, said “we know that like South Africa, the United States had to overcome centuries of racial subjugation.
“As was true here, it took the sacrifice of countless people – known and unknown – to see the dawn of a new day. Michelle and I are the beneficiaries of that struggle,” he said.
Obama regretted that around the world today men and women were still imprisoned for their political beliefs; persecuted for what they look like, or how they worship, or who they love.
“There are too many of us who happily embrace Madiba’s legacy of racial reconciliation, but passionately resist even modest reforms that would challenge chronic poverty and growing inequality.
“There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba’s struggle for freedom, but do not tolerate dissent from their own people,” he said in remarks interpreted as a criticism of Cuban President Raul Castro with whom he shook hands.
Obama, who arrived as the memorial service was on, greeted Mukherjee warmly and shook hands with him.