President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama are among 91 heads of state attending today's memorial services for the life of fallen activist-turned-president Nelson Mandela. The Obama's left Washington for Johannesburg on Monday.
The memorial service took place in a soccer stadium that seats 90,000. And with only only two-thirds of the stadium full, due to the weather and transportation issues, thousands still came to pay their respects in pouring rain. Outfitted in Madiba shirts and South African flags, love and tribute to South Africa's first black president began hours before the memorial began with singing and dancing in the streets. Spanning from homes to corners and politics, President Obama − who waved to a roaring crowd of applause with the first lady − set aside differences to shake hands and join the stage in a Mandela tribute with Cuban President Raul Castro. "He makes me want to be a better man," Obama said during his memorial address. "It is a question I ask myself – as a man and as a president. We know that like South Africa, the United States had to overcome centuries of racial subjugation. As was true here, it took sacrifice – the sacrifices of countless people, known and unknown – to see the dawn of a new day."
Presidents from across the world have traveled to South Africa as designated speakers, including heads from Brazil, India, and Namibia. At one point, the singing of the crowd was so loud, that people were asked to lower the volume of their voices so tributes could be heard. Former presidents Jimmy Carter, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton are all in attendance, along with the Prince of Wales, British Prime Minister David Cameron, Oprah Winfrey, Bono and Naomi Campbell.
To keep the peace and safety, South Africa's government used security plans developed over years for the event that rivals the magnitude of other state funerals. "We can assure that all necessary steps have been taken," Minister in the Presidency Collins Chabane told CNN. Snipers, canine teams, military jets, and helicopters were used by an elite military task force. "And that is why the leadership of the world and former leaders of the world have confidence to come to our country at this time to share with us this moment."
The Obamas, Carters, and Bushes will leave South Africa after today's service. Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea Clinton are expected to stay for Mandela's state funeral Sunday in the small Eastern Cape provincial village of Qunu, where Madiba was born, grew up and retired in May 2012.