Harper, former prime ministers attend historic Mandela memorial service
Published Tuesday, December 10, 2013 3:59AM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, December 10, 2013 11:11PM EST
Among the thousands of people who attended the memorial service for Nelson Mandela were a number of Canadian politicians and dignitaries who bonded under a common cause: honouring the life of the anti-apartheid hero.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, along with former prime ministers Jean Chretien, Kim Campbell, Brian Mulroney and Joe Clark, attended the memorial service Tuesday at FNB Stadium in Soweto, South Africa.
As the ceremony came to a close, Harper noted that the service ultimately took a celebratory tone, as attendees commemorated Mandela's legacy.
"Today was more a celebration than a funeral," Harper said. "A celebration of a very long life, but a very important life."
Also in attendance were Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair, head of the Assembly of First Nations Shawn Atleo, the premiers of Alberta, Nova Scotia and Yukon, and former governors general Adrienne Clarkson and Michaelle Jean. Canada's high commissioner to South Africa, Gaston Barban, and several MPs were also at the service.
Speaking to CTV’s Power Play from Ivory Coast after the ceremony, Joe Clark said Mandela’s legacy as a “great hero” was evident at the memorial.
The sheer number of world leaders who attended the service highlighted the impact Mandela has had around the world, he said.
Beneath rainy skies, the Canadian delegation could be seen taking in the tributes to Mandela by world leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama, South African President Jacob Zuma and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
During the nearly five-hour service, the crowds in the stands cheered, sang and danced, as bands broke into impromptu playing and thousands blew into colourful vuvuzelas.
The exuberant atmosphere made an impact on the Canadians, with Chretien noting that it was unlike any memorial he had seen.
"It is a great occasion of respect because he's admired by everybody," he said. It was under the Chretien government that Mandela was made an honourary Canadian citizen in 2001.
Campbell praised Obama's stirring speech on Twitter, writing: "Screen came on mid-speech-crowd went wild! Obama in great form! We are cold, wet but still exhilarated!"
A Vine video of Campbell dancing in the stands to the music later made the rounds on social media.
There was concern earlier in the day that not all of the Canadians who made the trek to South Africa would be able to attend the ceremony, after South African officials decided only 11 members of the delegation would be allowed in.
However, eventually all of the Canadians entered the stadium due to some confusion at security checkpoints.
Mulcair, who was at first denied entry, said South Africans are ready to continue working towards Mandela's vision of a peaceful and united nation.
"People realize that Nelson Mandela accomplished a great deal, but there's also a sense that they understand it's not over, that they've got to keep going.
"That's why it's important for Canada to be there," he said. "To be a friend . . . to help with our own experience."
While some said that the Canadian delegation should have had a speaking role at the memorial, Clark said that was not of utmost importance.
“It would have been a nice gesture…but it was a long ceremony,” he said.
As for Obama’s headline-making handshake with Cuban President Raul Castro, Clark said Mandela’s memorial was “an appropriate time for that gesture to be made.”
Alberta Premier Alison Redford, who had worked with Mandela in the 1990s as a young lawyer, said she remembers Mandela as being a "tough taskmaster," but also having a sense of humour.
"He always had a sense of humour and I think that's what kept him on track," she said.
Atleo said Canada can learn much from Mandela.
"(Mandela) changed the conversation, from conflict to reconciliation, from poverty to sharing, from inequality to equality," he said. "We as well have a truth and reconciliation commission happening right now, just like occurred in South Africa."
"So, too, do we need to follow suit, and have structural changes occur in Canada."
Tuesday's memorial service was part of the 10 days of mourning for the former South African president, who died on Dec. 5. Mandela's body will lie in state in Pretoria before his burial at his rural home in Qunu on Sunday.
With files from The Canadian Press