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South African parliament honours Mandela

Anti-apartheid hero remembered at event in Cape Town, a day before scores of world leaders arrive to pay their respects.

Last updated: 09 Dec 2013 21:02
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Vice president Kgalema Motlanthe said "Mandela belongs to all humanity" [AFP]

South Africa's parliament held a special session honouring Nelson Mandela, the anti-apartheid icon who died last Thursday aged 95, triggering an outpouring of grief around the world. 

The session began on Monday afternoon in Cape Town, with an announcement that members of Mandela's family were sitting in the gallery. 

Kgalema Motlanthe, South Africa's deputy president, began the proceedings with a speech, describing how Mandela's influence in South Africa and around the globe caused a "sweeping feeling of sorrow" worldwide following his death. 

Motlanthe said: "He belongs to all humanity ... Mandela's ideals saturate the face of the Earth." 

Monday marked the second day of Mandela remembrance week in South Africa, where more than 70 leaders from across the world - some of them locked in enmity - will converge to honour the Nobel Peace laureate, officials said on Monday. 

Follow our coverage of Mandela's death and legacy

US President Barack Obama, Raul Castro from Cuba, Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe and Britain's David Cameron will be among those attending Tuesday's main send-off in Johannesburg's Soccer City stadium. 

An estimated 80,000 mourners are expected in the stadium, site for the final of 2010 football World Cup, a tournament Africa hosted for the first time and the event where Mandela, who lobbied hard for South Africa to play host, made his last public appearance. 

"The whole world is coming to South Africa," foreign ministry spokesman Clayson Monyela said, playing down concerns about the logistics and security of such a large event organised at only five days notice. 

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani would also be there, Monyela said, raising the prospect of a first face-to-face meeting with Obama. However, Rouhani's name was not on an initial official list of attendees. 

Efficient system 

Much of the logistical plan is based on South Africa's hosting of the 2010 soccer World Cup. And though Pretoria refused to talk about Mandela's funeral arrangements before his death, it has been laying the preparations for years. 

"We're obviously not starting from scratch in terms of organisation," Monyela said. "We've got a system that kicks into play whenever you've got events of this magnitude." 

The football stadium, steeped in Mandela symbolism, carries much historical significance. It was there that Mandela addressed tens of thousands of supporters two days after his release from prison, eliciting a deafening roar from the crowd with a clenched fist raised to the sky and a single word: 'Amandla', the Zulu and Xhosa word for 'power'. 

Mandela was jailed for 27 years on Robben Island by the white-minority racist regime which he opposed, emerging from prison in 1990 and becoming South Africa's first black president after multi-racial elections in 1994. 

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A year before he was elected president, he won the Nobel Peace Prize along with FW de Clerk, South Africa's last apartheid-era president who helped negotiate the end of racial segregation with Mandela. 

Since his death, South Africa has been gripped by mass emotions unrivalled since his release from incaceration.    

On Sunday, worshippers filled churches, mosques, synagogues and community halls, offering praise and prayers for a man celebrated as "Father of the Nation" and a global beacon of integrity, rectitude and reconciliation. 

Tributes have flowed in from around the world and across political and religious divides. 

Besides Obama, three former U.S. presidents - Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush - will also be in Johannesburg, and top hotels are struggling to deal with the avalanche of high-profile celebrity Mandela mourners.

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