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World leaders pay tribute to Mandela

World leaders who gathered to pay their respects to Nelson Mandela were challenged to carry on the anti-apartheid icon's mission of erasing injustice and inequality.

In a moving tribute that brought the crowd to its feet, U.S. President Barack Obama asked the mourners and the nearly 100 heads of state gathered at South Africa's FNB Stadium to live up to the ideals for which Mandela will be remembered.

"Around the world today, we still see children suffering from hunger and disease," Obama said. "Around the world today, men and women are still in prison for their political beliefs and are still persecuted for what they look like and how they worship and who they love.”

Calling Mandela the “last liberator” of the 20th century, Obama said: "There are too many people who happily embrace Madiba's legacy of racial reconciliation, but passionately resist even modest reforms that would challenge chronic poverty and growing inequality. There are too many leaders that claim solidarity with Madiba's struggle for freedom but do not tolerate descent from their own people.

“And there too many of us on the sidelines, comfortable in complacency or cynicism, when our voices must be heard."

Those in the stadium gave roars of approval to Obama's speech.

Obama said it was upon learning of Mandela as a student 30 years ago that he was inspired to become politically engaged.

"It stirred something in me, it woke me up to my responsibilities to others and to myself, and it sent me on an improbable journey that finds me here today," he said. "And while I will always fall short of Madiba's example, he makes me want to be a better man. He speaks to what's best inside of us."

In stark contrast to the warm reception given to Obama, South African President Jacob Zuma was greeted with boos as he stood at the podium at Tuesday's memorial.

Many South Africans are unhappy with Zuma because of state corruption scandals, though his ruling African National Congress, once led by Mandela, remains the front-runner ahead of elections next year.

Zuma said South Africans enjoy peace and democracy today because of the seed Mandela planted.

"Today Madiba is no more, but he leaves behind a nation that loves him dearly. He leaves behind a continent that's truly proud to call him an African.

"Most importantly he leaves behind a deeply entrenched legacy of freedom, human rights and democracy in our country.  In his honour we commit ourselves to continue building a nation based on the democratic values of humanity, dignity, equality and freedom." 

The torrential rains that greeted the spectators didn't appear to dampen the mood in the 95,000-seat stadium, as crowds sang and danced in the stands.

The memorial started at noon, about an hour behind schedule, with the venue being only half full. Those at the event suggested heavy traffic and the rain were behind the delay.

Following Obama's eulogy, a number of spectators, many who had sat in the rain for hours, left the stadium.

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