World bids farewell to 'Madiba'

12/10/2013, 3:59 p.m.
Even as effusive praise has continued to pour in for Mandela and his legacy, there has been criticism as well, ...
A mourner holds the official memorial program.

From staff and wire reports

It was a rare moment as more than 90 current and former heads of state, some from countries that have held on to decades of antagonism, gathered in Johannesburg to celebrate the life of South African freedom fighter and former President Nelson Mandela. South Africans affectionately referred to Mandela by his traditional Xhosa clan name, “Madiba” saying it’s a term of endearment and respect.

The leaders included current U.S. President Barack Obama, former U.S. President George Bush and Cuba’s Raul Castro, whose nations have been locked in antagonism for more than 50 decades. Additionally, Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe was present, as was former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Blair once called Mugabe a dictator and Mugabe called Blair an imperialist.

Notably absent from the official list of attendees were leaders from Israel, which many South Africans criticize for arming the racist apartheid rulers who kept Mandela behind bars for 27 years.

“What he did in life, that’s what he’s doing in death. He’s bringing people together from all walks of life, from the different sides of opinion, political belief, religion,” said Zelda la Grange, Mandela’s former personal assistant.

The Mandela memorial, held Tuesday, in the 95,000-seat FNB Johannesburg soccer stadium, coincided with U.N.-designated Human Rights Day. It was the centerpiece of a week of mourning for the globally admired statesman, who died of a lung infection in his home on Dec. 5, at age 95.

The memorial paid tribute to Mandela’s life of imprisonment and political struggle that ended in triumph and consecrated him as a global symbol of integrity and forgiveness.

Apart from heads of state, numerous other leaders attended the event, including Virginia congressman, Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott, who previously met Mandela.

“With the passing of Nelson Mandela, the world has lost one of its most unwavering advocates for freedom, democracy, and equality,” said Scott, who represents Newport News, parts of Richmond and nearby areas. “His life and legacy will always be a source of inspiration for all who seek freedom’s embrace.”

Even as effusive praise has continued to pour in for Mandela and his legacy, there has been criticism as well, especially from Republicans and conservatives across the country. To many of them, Mandela was a “terrorist” because his African National Congress (ANC) waged armed resistance against apartheid, a system of racial segregation in South Africa. The white-majority National Party (NP) enforced apartheid through legislation from 1948 to 1994, under which the rights of the majority South Africans were curtailed.

“People will quibble over whether the African National Congress was the best means of bringing justice to South Africa,” said E.W. Jackson, the former Republican nominee for Virginia lieutenant governor. “They may debate whether sanctions were the right way of pressuring for the end of apartheid. One could point out that Nelson Mandela once embraced violence, but I cannot say that I would not have done the same under those conditions. He later came to realize that violence would not bring down apartheid without destroying South Africa.