Presidents and prime ministers, celebrities and royals joined tens of thousands of South Africans to pay tribute to Nelson Mandela on Tuesday, in a memorial service celebrating a man seen as a global symbol of reconciliation - reports CNN. In what has been billed as one of the largest gatherings of global leaders in recent history, world leaders from U.S. President Barack Obama to Cuba's Raul Castro gathered alongside street sweepers, actors and religious figures to pay tribute to the revered statesman who died last Thursday, aged 95. Despite the pouring rain, the atmosphere inside Johannesburg 's FNB stadium was celebratory, with people dancing, blowing vuvuzela plastic horns and singing songs from the anti-apartheid struggle. Many carried banners honoring "Madiba," Mandela's traditional clan name, or his picture. Others were draped in materials covered with his face or the green, yellow, black, red and blue colors of the South African flag. Some had skipped work and lined up for hours to secure seats so that they could pay their respects at the stadium where Mandela delivered his first major speech after his release from 27 years in prison. The four-hour service, coinciding with U.N. Human Rights Day, is the centerpiece of a week of mourning and was expected to bring much of South Africa to a stop. It began with the national anthem before South Africa's presidents - past and present - were introduced. There was a loud cheer from the crowd for F.W. de Klerk, the last leader of white South Africa, who shared a Nobel Peace Prize with Mandela for helping to end apartheid. The joyous cries died down as speeches from Mandela's family and friends, as well as a fellow Robben Island prison inmate, began. Anguished faces listened quietly as a sorrowful chant to "Tata Madiba" filled the air. "Tata" means "father" in Mandela's Xhosa tribe. The stadium, which can seat around 90,000 people, was filled with guests including British Prime Minister David Cameron, the Prince of Wales, French President Francois Hollande and Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Nobel Peace Prize laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu and South African President Jacob Zuma were among the first to arrive at the stadium. Members of The Elders, a group of retired statesmen founded by Mandela and others, were also in attendance, including former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter The crowds cheered loudly and clapped as a huge screen showed famous faces. The world of entertainment also was well represented, with South African actress Charlize Theron and U2's Bono in attendance. Celebrity guests also included Oprah Winfrey and Naomi Campbell. Mandela's widow, Graca Machel, and his former wife Winnie Mandela embraced and kissed as they arrived. Paying tribute to his uncle, Gen. Thanduxolo Mandela gave thanks for the outpouring of respect from around the world. With 91 heads of state attending, security was tight. Working off plans developed for years in secret, the South African government planned to use an elite military task force, sniper teams and canine teams to help secure the stadium, CNN's Arwa Damon reported Monday. In addition, helicopters and military jets frequently fly overhead.
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