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Sun Oct 26 03:50:43 SAST 2014

Rain boo nation

GRAEME HOSKEN, PREGA GOVENDER, KINGDOM MABUZA and ANDILE NDLOVU | 11 December, 2013 00:0423 Comments
The spirit of Nelson Mandela inspires US President Barack Obama to shake hands with Cuban President Raul Castro Ruz at FNB Stadium yesterday.
Image by: CHIP SOMODEVILLA/GETTY IMAGES

World leaders paid glowing tribute to Nelson Mandela yesterday, hailing him as a hero, a beloved friend and "wonderful symbol of a rainbow nation".

US President Barack Obama poignantly described Mandela as "the last great liberator of the 20th century".

"He changed laws, but he also changed hearts .

"It was precisely because he could admit to imperfection, because he was so full of good humour, even mischief, despite the heavy burdens that he carried, that we loved him so," Obama said to rapturous applause from tens of thousands of mourners at FNB Stadium, near Soweto.

Obama later stunned the crowd by shaking the hand of Cuban President Raul Castro Ruz, the brother of the US's one-time nemesis.

Addressing Mandela's widow, Graça Machel, his former wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, his children and grandchildren, and the crowd, UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon said: "South Africa has lost a hero, a father and the world has lost a leader and a beloved friend."

Obama and Ban joined more than 91 fellow world leaders at the memorial service for the liberation icon.

Not even the incessant rain could dampen the spirits of those who had come to bid Mandela farewell.

But the almost carnival-like atmosphere quickly turned into embarrassment for South Africa when the crowd made no secret of its opinion of President Jacob Zuma.

A sustained boo echoed across the calabash-shaped stadium as soon as they spotted the president.

People watching the service on a big screen in Dobsonville, Soweto, also jeered when Zuma appeared.

The scenes that played out at the stadium were reminiscent of those when Zuma's predecessor, Thabo Mbeki, was booed off stage during the reburial of the remains of former SA Communist Party secretary-general Moses Mabhida. But Mbeki's moment of shame took place at a relatively low-key event while Zuma's public rejection took place before nearly 100 world leaders - and a global TV audience of millions.

And when Mbeki arrived at the stadium yesterday, the crowd eagerly and loudly chanted his name.

They also welcomed FW de Klerk, South Africa's last white president.

While booing Zuma, a number of people made the rolling hand signal that indicates substitution of a player in soccer.

Every time Zuma was shown on a large screen at the stadium, the crowd booed.

ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa, who directed yesterday's programme, had his hands full trying to settle the boisterous crowd down. He repeatedly urged them to sit down and be silent.

"We have visitors, let's not embarrass ourselves, behave," Ramaphosa said.

A section of the crowd also interrupted the tribute of African Union Commission chairman Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma by singing struggle songs and dancing.

The noise of chatter overwhelmed the speeches of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and the Chinese vice-president Li Yuanchao.

At the end of the service Anglican Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu reprimanded the crowd.

"I want to show the world we can come out here and celebrate the life of an icon," a visibly angry Tutu shouted."You must show the world that we are disciplined. I want to hear a pin drop."

Ordinary people around the country explained the booing of Zuma. People were tired of the president because he did not give the country direction, Samora Khulule, from Kimberley, said.

"They see a man [Mbeki] who gave them direction but that is not found in Zuma's presidency. It is unfortunate that this happened on such an occasion but it is an honest expression of people's frustration with the current president," said Khulule.

Themba Mchunu of Soweto said the implementation of e-tolls and the Nkandla saga had made Zuma unpopular.

"It is not that people want Mbeki back but the latest developments with the president have not been good," he said.

But political analyst Elvis Masoga attributed the booing of Zuma to only the Gauteng ANC and its unhappiness with his leadership.

"The booing was expected when the ANC decided to hold the memorial service in Gauteng, a province that has been hostile towards Zuma," Masoga said.

"It is also because of the Mangaung hangover. Gauteng did not support Zuma's re-election at Mangaung."

Masoga said the booing should not be interpreted as a general rejection of Zuma's leadership by the rank and file of the movement.

"It is an isolated incident [brought about] by one province, but Zuma should heed the unhappiness of the province about his leadership because it could escalate to other provinces," Masoga said.

The crowd's response to Zuma's keynote address was a vast improvement on the embarrassing rejection earlier.

That might, in part, have had to do with some intervention by praise singer Zolani Mkiva.

He worked the crowd with his singing, bringing large sections of those in attendance to their feet.

ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu said those who booed did the country a disservice.

"Whatever the motivation for this behaviour, the behaviour still remains condemned," he said.

"It did the Madiba family, who are mourning, and Mama Graça and Mama Winnie . a terrible disservice."

Mthembu said the memorial had not been the platform from which to air political views.

Mandela will be buried at his home in Qunu in the Eastern Cape on Sunday.

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