Updated: Tuesday, Dec. 10, 7:20 a.m. ET: While it’s likely that much will be made of the president’s handshake with Cuban President Raul Castro, Fidel’s brother, during the memorial to late South African President Nelson Mandela, it is best to put the exchange into context. Obama was greeting all of the speakers who were seated in the same area. Raul Castro is slated to speak at the memorial, and it would have awkward had he ignored the younger Castro.
On a rainy day in South Africa, a raucous 90,000 people gathered Tuesday inside Johannesburg’s FNB Stadium to begin to say goodbye to their beloved son, Nelson Mandela.
Because of the rain, the sheer number of celebrities, royalty and some 60 heads of state in attendance creating a massive security slow-up, the four-hour service started an hour late as guests continued to stream into the stadium, where Mandela delivered his first major speech after his release from prison.
The atmosphere was a festive one, with people dancing, singing songs and blowing “vuvuzelas” the noisemaking plastic trumpet of South African soccer.
Many carried banners with Mandela’s picture, wore T-shirts emblazoned with the great leader’s face or held signs with Mandela’s traditional clan name, “Madiba” scrawled on them. Others carried the South African flag or draped their bodies in the green, yellow and black colors.
Singer Kirk Franklin brought the crowd to its feet with a stirring gospel number before President Barack Obama took the stage saying how difficult it is to eulogize such a great man.
“It is hard to eulogize any man—to capture in words not just the facts and the dates that make a life, but the essential truth of a person, their private joys and sorrows, the quiet moments and unique qualities that illuminate someone’s soul. How much harder to do so for a giant of history, who moved a nation toward justice, and in the process moved billions around the world,” the president said.
Before his speech, President Obama was shown shaking hands with Cuban politician, Raul Castro the brother of Fidel Castro, showing that this moment is bigger than politics, and that even in his death, Mandela continues to bring people together.