The presidents of the United States and Cuba are sharing a rare joint stage today as world leaders shed historic rivalries to pay tribute at the funeral of South African freedom icon Nelson Mandela.
Barack Obama and Raul Castro will both offer eulogies for Mandela at a sweeping memorial service to be held at the Soweto stadium that hosted the 2010 World Cup final.
They are among more than 90 heads of state and government scheduled to attend an extended state funeral that will culminate in Mandela’s burial on Sunday in the rural village of Qunu where he spent his early childhood.
“The world literally is coming to South Africa,” said the government’s head of public diplomacy, Clayson Monyela.
A massive security operation will swing into place as 80,000 people descend on the Soweto venue for what is seen as a final chance for grieving South Africans to unite in a mass celebration of Mandela’s life ahead of the more formal lying in state.
The Indian and Brazilian presidents will also speak, reflecting the extraordinary global reach, popularity and influence of one of the 20th century’s towering political figures.
Four of Mandela’s adored grandchildren will speak for his family, while neither his widow, Graca Machel, nor his ex-wife Winne Madikizela-Mandela are listed on the programm.
Some 120,000 people will be able to watch the event on giant screens set up in three overflow stadiums in Johannesburg.
Africa will be represented at the funeral by Nigeria’s Goodluck Jonathan and more than a dozen other heads of state and government.
Notable absentees include Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, who cited high travel and security costs, and Mandela’s fellow Nobel peace laureate, the Dalai Lama, who since 2009 has twice been denied a visa for South Africa.
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