Mukherjee in S.Africa to attend Mandela's memorial service
Johannesburg: President Pranab Mukherjee
arrived here today to attend a memorial service in honour of
South Africa's anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela, whose death
triggered an unprecedented outpouring of rich tributes
Mukherjee will join the heads of governments and states
from more than 53 countries, including US President Barack
Obama, in the two-hour long memorial service to be held at a
95,000-seat FNB Stadium, where Mandela made his last major
public appearance during the 2010 football World Cup.
Mandela, 95, who had been suffering from a recurring lung
infection and a prolonged spell of ill-health, died on
President Mukherjee is accompanied by UPA Chairperson
Sonia Gandhi, Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj, Union
Commerce Minister Anand Sharma, CPI-M leader Sitaram Yechury
and BSP leader Satish Mishra, reflecting the high-esteem
Mandela held across the entire political spectrum in India.
He is one of only six heads of state who will address the
crowd at the memorial service. He will join Obama, Brazilian
leader Dilma Rousseff, Hifikepunye Pohamba of Namibia and Raul
Castro of Cuba as well as Chinese Vice-President Li Yuanchao
on the podium to address the crowd.
Mukherjee summed up the mood when he said shortly before
leaving for Johannesburg that his visit to South Africa
"reflects the high degree of love and respect which Dr
Mandela commanded in India."
"My delegation and I hope to convey to the government and
people of South Africa the intense grief and personal loss
that we in India feel over the sad demise of the great soul -
our beloved 'Madiba'," he said.
"His life was a living example of human strength and
courage in the face of brute force and gross injustice.
"He was the last of the giants who led the world's
struggles against the colonialism and his struggle held
special significance for us as we saw in him a reflection of
our own prolonged anti-colonial struggle led by Mahatma
Gandhi," he said.
After today's memorial service, Mandela's remains will
lie in state for three days at the government buildings in
Pretoria, the same where he was sworn in as president in 1994.
He will be buried on Sunday in Qunu, 450 miles south of
Johannesburg, at an event only a few world leaders are
expected to attend.
Scores of other foreign dignitaries have already arrived
in the country for the memorial service.
There has been an "unprecedented interest" to attend the
revered statesman's funeral, South African Foreign Minister
Maite Nkoana-Mashabane told a news conference here.
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