Obama honours ‘Madiba’

US President Barack Obama has paid tribute to Nelson Mandela as ‘the last great liberator of the 20th century’ at a memorial service in Johannesburg, following the former South African leader’s death on December 5, at the age of 95.

He told a jubilant and emotional crowd in Soweto’s FNB Stadium: ‘To the people of South Africa — people of every race and walk of life — the world thanks you for sharing Nelson Mandela with us.

‘His struggle was your struggle. His triumph was your triumph. Your dignity and hope found expression in his life, and your freedom, your democracy is his cherished legacy.’

Comparing Mr Mandela to Gandhi and Martin Luther King, the President said: ‘Born during World War I, far from the corridors of power, a boy raised herding cattle and tutored by elders of his Thembu tribe — Madiba would emerge as the last great liberator of the 20th century.’

Mr Obama told how he had been inspired by Mr Mandela’s story and the struggle against apartheid as a student. He said: ‘It stirred something in me. It woke me up to my responsibilities — to others, and to myself — and set me on an improbable journey that finds me here today.

‘And while I will always fall short of Madiba’s example, he makes me want to be better. He speaks to what is best inside us.’

The service brought together an unprecedented number of dignitaries, including three former US presidents, who were commemorating the anti-apartheid icon alongside tens of thousands of South Africans who had queued since before dawn to secure a seat.