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Mukherjee takes Calcutta welcome to global stage

New Delhi, Dec. 10: Calcutta’s welcome to Nelson Mandela in 1990 stood shoulder to shoulder with similar tributes to the anti-apartheid icon from across the world today, as President Pranab Mukherjee and 90 other heads of state paid homage to democratic South Africa’s first President.

Mukherjee was given a seat next to South African President Jacob Zuma, and was one of only six international leaders who spoke to a boisterous, flag-waving crowd in the 95,000-capacity FNB Stadium in Johannesburg’s Soweto suburb.

“Madiba lived a life of sacrifice and privation as he pursued a seemingly impossible goal for his people — and the world is richer for his legacy,” Mukherjee said, referring to Mandela multiple times by the name he is more popularly known by in South Africa — Madiba, his Xhosa clan name.

“Madiba received an unprecedented public welcome and was felicitated in Delhi and Calcutta (when he visited India in 1990).”

India had also awarded its highest civilian award, the Bharat Ratna, to Mandela during that visit. “For India, the passing of Nelson Mandela represents the departure of a venerated elder, a great soul,” Mukherjee said.

The President was leading a team of Indian leaders from multiple parties — Congress President Sonia Gandhi who is known to have shared a personal rapport with Mandela, the BJP’s leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj, BSP leader Satish Mishra and CPM leader Sitaram Yechury. Sonia sat next to Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

President Barack Obama, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, Cuban President Raul Castro, Namibian President Hifikepunye Pohamba and Chinese Vice-President Li Yuanchao were the only other world leaders who spoke at the ceremony, apart from UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon.

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