- By Katelyn FossettKatelyn Fossett is an editorial researcher at Foreign Policy. A native of Kentucky, she has previously written for the Inter Press Service and Washington Monthly. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Columbia University.
On Tuesday, tens of thousands of people gathered for the national memorial service for Nelson Mandela, a man President Obama called "a giant of history, who moved a nation toward justice." The service for Mandela, which is part of a week of commemorations of the South African leader’s life, took place in Soweto’s FNB Stadium and attracted 91 heads of state.
All that hobnobbing between the world’s most distinguished leaders produced some great spectacle. From Obama’s handshake with Cuban President Raúl Castro to the jeering South African President Jacob Zuma received from the crowd, here five great moments from Tuesday’s memorial.
Obama’s handshake with Castro
While the world waited with bated breath to witness a handshake between Obama and Iranian President Rouhani, interest has all but waned in an older rivalry: the tense relationship between the United States and Cuba. On Tuesday, that animosity was forgotten, if only for a moment, as Obama shook Raul Castro’s hand on his way down a line of dignitaries. More touching than the handshake, though, was the joke or small talk that was evidently exchanged between the two men. You can watch the moment at about twelve seconds into this clip:
Zuma gets booed
Crowds of onlookers erupted in jeers when South African President Jacob Zuma’s image flashed across the stadium’s big screen — made even worse by the cheers that Obama’s image drew just moments before. The South African attendees were likely expressing frustration with current South African politics, plagued by rampant corruption and stark inequalities. Many black South Africans still live without basic services and adequate housing, despite reassurances from the ruling African National Congress party that their situation has improved in recent years.
When it was Zuma’s turn to speak, the heckling became so bad that his image on the big screen was replaced with one of Mandela.
Here’s the video of Zuma drawing boos shortly after the crowd erupts for Obama.
Obama’s speech may have called for a time of mourning and self-reflection, but he was spotted at the service looking a bit less than somber at times — like when he was taking a selfie with Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt and British Prime Minister David Cameron. Perhaps it was only a belated nod to the Oxford English Dictionaries Word of the Year award.
— AFP Photo Department (@AFPphoto) December 10, 2013
Obama eulogized Mandela as a man of eloquence and self-control. One of the speech’s highlights came in the conclusion, when Obama referenced the poem "Invictus," a favorite of Mandela’s:
"And when the night grows dark, when injustice weighs heavy on our hearts, when our best-laid plans seem beyond our reach, let us think of Madiba and the words that brought him comfort within the four walls of his cell: ‘It matters not how strait the gate, how charged with punishments the scroll, I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.’
What a magnificent soul it was."
See the full speech below:
‘The awesome power of forgiveness’
It’s not every world leader that gets eulogized by the United Nations secretary-general, who spoke of Mandela’s forgiveness and his effort to bring South Africa after the turbulent apartheid years. "He showed the awesome power of forgiveness — and of connecting people with each other and with the true meaning of peace," he said. "That was his unique gift, and that was the lesson he shared with all humankind. He has done it again. Look around this stadium and this stage. We see those representing many points of view and people from all walks of life. All are here. All are united today." Watch the video here: