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“This is the man we have come to say farewell to – his long walk is over. He can finally rest…he can enjoy the view of our beautiful South Africa. His long walk is over, ours is only beginning,” said Cyril Ramaphosa, ANC Deputy President and a close confidant of Mandela, while delivering the opening speech on Tuesday.
The ceremony opened with an inter-faith prayer.
Over 90 leaders and heads of government will visit South Africa this week to hail the legacy of a leader whom the South African President Jacob Zuma has called “South Africa’s greatest son”.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, Indian President Pranab Mukherjee, US President Barack Obama, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, Cuba’s Raul Castro, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani are among those attending Tuesday’s ceremony.
“The whole world is coming to South Africa,” said South Africa’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Clayson Monyela.
Israel, once an ally of the apartheid rulers who kept Mandela behind bars for 27 years, is sending neither its prime minister nor president, Israeli officials said.
Mandela died last week at the age of 95 of a lung infection that he had first contracted in the prison in Robben island during South Africa’s anti-apartheid struggle.
President Zuma announced Mandela’s death in a televised address to South Africa’s 52 million people on Thursday.
Mandela led South Africa out of apartheid after being freed from prison.
A state funeral will be held in Mandela’s hometown Qunu on December 15.
Indian President Pranab Mukherjee, who is attending the service in Johannesburg, said Indians saw Mandela “as one of our own”.
“He was the last of the giants who led the world’s struggles against colonialism and his struggle held special significance for us as we saw in him a reflection of our own prolonged anti-colonial struggle led by Mahatma Gandhi,” Mukherjee said.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is set to deliver a speech at the service on Tuesday.
With inputs from Agencies