By Maria Lopez Conde, Senior Contributing Reporter
SAO PAULO, BRAZIL – Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was one of three heads of states who paid homage to the late South African President and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Nelson Mandela, with speeches at a memorial held at Soccer City stadium yesterday, December 10th, in Johannesburg, South Africa.
President Rousseff, U.S. President Barack Obama, Cuban President Raúl Castro and South African President Jacob Zuma all extolled the life and important legacy of the iconic South African leader when they took the stage to address the thousands of South Africans, international celebrities and 91 heads of state that gathered at the ceremony on Tuesday.
“His fight transcended its national boundaries and inspired men and women, young and old, to fight for their independence and social justice,” Rousseff said of the man who spent his whole life struggling against a system of governance that discriminated against black South Africans, known as apartheid, as a strong rain fell on the stadium.
“It left lessons not just for his dear African continent, but for all of those who seek liberty, justice and peace in the world,” she added. “We, the Brazilian nation, who carry African blood in our veins with pride, we cry and celebrate the example of this great leader that is part of the pantheon of humanity,” President Rousseff said.
Her words appeared especially poignant for Brazil, a country with a large population of African descendants in the northeast and in the southeast, and the last nation to abolish slavery in the Western hemisphere. Large inequalities between lighter and darker Brazilians still persist today, over one hundred years after the abolition of slavery.
President Rousseff was part of a delegation of former Brazilian presidents who attended the ceremony in honor of Mandela. Former presidents Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2011), Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1995-2003) Fernando Collor de Mello (1990-1992) and José Sarney (1985-1990) left Rio de Janeiro for Johannesburg on December 9th.
Rousseff spoke through a translator and her speech’s bureaucratic tone, according to several reports on Brazilian media, was not well-received by the South Africans who started vacating the stadium’s bleachers.
Rousseff’s remarks followed the speech made by U.S. President Barack Obama, who, as Mandela, is his country’s first President of African descent. Obama’s speech grabbed less headlines than his publicized handshake with Cuban leader, Raúl Castro, the first gesture of the kind between an American and Cuban dignitary since 2000.
The torrential rain and thick clouds that descended upon the stadium did not dampen the spirit of the memorial, which resembled a joyful celebration, rather than a somber funeral. People of all colors danced and held images of the late Mandela, dancing to the rhythm of anthems against apartheid.
“I was here in 1990 when Mandela was freed and I am here again to say goodbye,” Beauty Pule, a commuter in Johannesburg, told news agency Reuters. “I am sure Mandela was proud of the South Africa he helped create. It’s not perfect but no one is perfect, and we have made great strides.”
Mandela’s body will remain in state for three days for a public viewing at the Union Buildings, the central government’s palace, in Pretoria after a funeral procession early on December 11th. He will be buried on Sunday, December 15th in Qunu, Mandela’s hometown, located one thousand kilometers away from the country’s executive capital.