Singing crowds greet world leaders at Nelson Mandela memorial – NBCNews.com (blog)

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Singing crowds greet world leaders at Nelson Mandela memorial – NBCNews.com (blog)by wpjljron.Singing crowds greet world leaders at Nelson Mandela memorial – NBCNews.com (blog)LIVE VIDEO — NBC News Special Report: South Africa holds official memorial for anti-apartheid icon and former President Nelson Mandela at the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg. SOWETO, South Africa — Thousands of South Africans showed their appreciation for Nelson Mandela by singing and chanting as they arrived at a memorial service Tuesday that attracted 100 […]

LIVE VIDEO — NBC News Special Report: South Africa holds official memorial for anti-apartheid icon and former President Nelson Mandela at the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg.

SOWETO, South Africa — Thousands of South Africans showed their appreciation for Nelson Mandela by singing and chanting as they arrived at a memorial service Tuesday that attracted 100 heads of state.

Bernat Armangue / AP

Mourners sing and dance as they arrive for the memorial service for Nelson Mandela at the FNB Stadium in Soweto, South Africa, on Tuesday.

Celebrities such as U2 frontman Bono, actress Charlize Theron and model Naomi Campbell joined mourners at the 95,000-capacity FNB Stadium to pay tribute to the freedom fighter, prisoner, president and Nobel laureate who led his nation out of apartheid. Mandela died last week aged 95.

The memorial will feature eulogies from President Barack Obama, Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff, Cuba’s Raul Castro and China’s vice president Li Yuanchao. Leaders spanning the globe, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, will also be in attendance, as will former U.S. Presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter.

Mandela’s extended family were also in attendance. His second wife Winnie Mandela, who stood by him during his 27 years in prison, greeted his third wife Graca Machel with a hug and a kiss. 

Despite the chilly rain, the atmosphere inside Africa’s largest stadium was celebratory, with people dancing, blowing “vuvuzela” plastic horns and singing songs from the anti-apartheid struggle as they honored the man who steered their country from white-minority rule to multi-racial democracy.  

“It is a moment of sadness celebrated by song and dance, which is what we South Africans do,” Xolisa Madywabe, CEO of a South African investment firm, told The Associated Press. 

“I was here in 1990 when Mandela was freed and I am here again to say goodbye,” said Beauty Pule, 51. “I am sure Mandela was proud of the South Africa he helped create. It’s not perfect but no-one is perfect, and we have made great strides.” 

Soweto, where the stadium which hosted the 2010 soccer World Cup final is located, is a township that became a symbol of the anti-apartheid struggle that Mandela embodied during his decades in prison. A huge security operation was in force around the stadium, with private cars banned from the area around the facility.

“I would not have the life I have today if it was not for him,” Matlhogonolo Mothoagae, a postgraduate marketing student who arrived hours before the stadium gates opened, told the AP. “He was jailed so we could have our freedom.”

Tuesday is also the 20th anniversary of the day when Mandela and South Africa’s last apartheid-era president, F.W. de Klerk, received the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts to bring peace to their country. 

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is also due to speak, and will hold Mandela’s example up as a beacon of justice, equality and human rights to be followed to create a better world.

“The people of South Africa and the entire world have lost a hero. His legacy is profound, immortal and will continue to guide the work of the United Nations,” Ban said in a tribute at the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory in Johannesburg on Monday.

The government has warned that police would turn away people from the memorial when the stadium fills up, and advised South Africans who don’t live in Gauteng province to honor Mandela closer to home.  Some 90 big screens were being set up throughout the country.

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View images of civil rights leader Nelson Mandela, who went from anti-apartheid activist to prisoner to South Africa’s first black president.

NBC News’ Erin McClam and Tracy Connor, Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report. F. Brinley Bruton reported from London

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