Canadian delegation inside stadium for Nelson Mandela ceremony

The Canadian Press
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JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — A soaking rain did little to dampen Tuesday’s celebrations of the life of Nelson Mandela, as a Canadian delegation took part in a memorial service for the former South African president.

Canada’s group sat dry in the VIP section of the Soweto stadium where Mandela made his last public appearance during the World Cup in 2010, and witnessed the stirring service for the former president and anti-apartheid icon.

Alberta Premier Alison Redford worked for Mandela in the early 1990s when South Africa was in transition and developing a new constitution.

“He was a very tough taskmaster,” Redford said as she watched the memorial and reflected on her time spent with Mandela.

“He always had a sense of humour and I think that’s what kept him on track.”

It initially appeared that only 11 members of the Canadian delegation would be allowed inside the stadium after a decision taken earlier by the South African protocol office.

The prime minister’s office had been told that Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair, as well as Redford and three other premiers and several MPs who made the 18-hour journey for the service, would not be allowed inside for the event.

However, all of the Canadians were able to get in during the confusion that reigned at security checkpoints as thousands of people poured in.

The delegation includes Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his wife, former governors general Adrienne Clarkson and Michaelle Jean, former prime ministers Brian Mulroney, Jean Chretien, Kim Campbell and Joe Clark, Assembly of First Nations national Chief Shawn Atleo and Canada’s high commissioner to South Africa and his wife.

“It’s truly an honour to be here with governors general and all the former prime ministers,” said Redford.

The crowd cheered when told that Canada’s prime minister was among the world leaders present, but it was nothing like the thunderous roar that greeted the American delegation, which includes President Barack Obama and former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

Louding cheering broke out when an image of Barack and Michelle Obama was flashed on the two giant screens in the stadium, and it happened again when Bill and Hillary Clinton and Bush arrived.

The Clintons sat in a front row of the VIP section, not far from Harper and the Canadian contingent.

Obama spoke at the event, telling the crowd that he might not be president had it not been for Mandela.

“He made me a better man,” Obama said to wild cheering.

A steady rain kept many people away from the memorial, leaving hundreds of seats empty inside the 95-thousand seat stadium.

Those who did get in erupted in songs of celebration and loud cheers whenever the name Mandela was spoken.

The prime minister’s wife, Laureen, appeared particularly moved by the celebration, occasionally leaning forward in her seat to get a better view.

Before heading to the stadium, Harper had an informal breakfast with Prime Ministers Tony Abbott and John Key from Australia and New Zealand.

Harper’s spokesman Carl Vallee did not say what the leaders discussed.

Organizations: Kim Campbell and Joe Clark, Assembly of First Nations

Geographic location: South Africa, Canada, JOHANNESBURG Soweto stadium Alberta

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