UK leaders attend Mandela service

Witney Gazette: A man holds up an image of former South African president Nelson Mandela ahead of his memorial service A man holds up an image of former South African president Nelson Mandela ahead of his memorial service

The extraordinary life of Nelson Mandela will be remembered by dignitaries from around the world today, with Prime Minister David Cameron set to be joined by his three surviving predecessors at a special commemoration service.

Also attending the national memorial service in Johannesburg's FNB Stadium will be Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Leader of the Opposition Ed Miliband.

More than 80,000 are expected to attend the gathering for the anti-apartheid hero at the stadium in the Soweto township where he made his last public appearance at the closing ceremony of the 2010 football World Cup.

They will hear speeches from statesmen including US president Barack Obama, UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon and South African president Jacob Zuma, who will give the keynote address.

The presence of Sir John Major, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown with Mr Cameron reflects the deep respect in which Mr Mandela is held within British politics.

It is thought to be the first time for many years that all of the UK's surviving prime ministers have travelled to an event abroad.

The Prime Minister and Mr Brown were among MPs who paid tribute to Mr Mandela in a special Commons session yesterday following the Nobel peace prize winner's death last week aged 95.

Mr Cameron said Mr Mandela was a "towering figure in our lifetime" and added: "When looking back over history it can be easy to see victories over prejudice and hatred as somehow inevitable.

"As the years lengthen and events recede, it can seem as though the natural tide of progress continually bears humanity ever upwards, away from brutality and darkness and towards something better. But it is not so.

"Progress is not just handed down as a gift, it is won through struggle - the struggle of men and women who believe things can be better, who refuse to accept the world as it is but dream of what it can be. Nelson Mandela was the embodiment of that struggle.

"He did not see himself as the helpless victim of history - he wrote it."

Mr Brown added his tribute to "the man that taught us no injustice can last forever".

"Nelson Mandela, the greatest man of his generation, yes, but across generations, one of the most courageous people you could ever hope to meet," he said.

The Pretoria administration has said 53 serving heads of state and government have already confirmed that they will be among the gathering.

Other famous names including Sir Richard Branson and singer Peter Gabriel - who devised "The Elders" forum of statesmen and activists set up by Mr Mandela - are also due to attend.

After the memorial service Mr Mandela's body will lie in state at South Africa's seat of government, the Union Buildings in Pretoria, until he is laid to rest in a state funeral at his hometown of Qunu in the Eastern Cape.

The Prince of Wales will be among a smaller number of dignitaries travelling to the remote rural location for that service.

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