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UK >

Abbey’s colourful tribute to Mandela

Tim Wyatt

by Tim Wyatt

Posted: 07 Mar 2014 @ 12:24

Tim Wyatt joined royalty, politicians, church leaders, and past campaigners at Nelson Mandela's Westminster Abbey memorial service


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Credit: PA

THE rain sweeping down outside Westminster Abbey reminded the worshippers at Nelson Mandela's memorial service on Monday that they were in England.

But the Soweto Gospel Choir, a clapping, swaying splash of colour and harmony contrasting with the rows of sombre suits, helped to convince the congregation that they were celebrating the life of an African. Besides South African classics, the choir sang versions of "This Little Light of Mine" and "One Love" by Bob Marley.

The mood of the service was less of sadness than of fond recollection.

The address was given by Dr Desmond Tutu, Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town. His pre-eminent theme was of gratitude - to anti-apartheid campaigners in Britain, and to God for giving South Africa and the world Mr Mandela, who died in December.

Dr Tutu made special mention of Trevor Huddleston CR, a parish priest in Sophiatown and later Bishop of Stepney, who led opposition to apartheid in South Africa and back in England.

"Thank you, thank you, thank you," Dr Tutu said. "How we wish you could open our hearts and see the depth of our gratitude. Without the anti-apartheid movement and all of you extraordinary human beings, Madiba [Mr Mandela's clan name] would surely have died in prison."

Mr Mandela, he said, was the reason why South Africa had not descended into bloody racial war after black-majority rule was established in 1994. "It was because he, who had spent 27 years in jail, came out transformed from the angry, militant young man to the magnanimous leader who believed that every single one of us has the capacity to be great," Dr Tutu said.

"Each one of us has the capacity to be magnanimous and to be forgiving and generous."

Other tributes were led by the Deputy President of South Africa, Kgalema Motlanthe, and the Labour MP Peter Hain, a veteran of the anti-apartheid movement. Mr Hain recalled how Mr Mandela's first name had been given him by British missionaries. His original name, Rolihlahla - which means "troublemaker" in colloquial Xhosa - might have been more suited to the genially impudent boy who became an activist, then prisoner, then president, Mr Hain suggested.

"Thousands of British citizens supported his fight for freedom, including courageous bishops who led from the pulpit and on the street. Nelson Mandela was perhaps the international icon of his time. There will never be another like Nelson Mandela."

Prince Harry was present, and David Cameron, Ed Miliband, and Nick Clegg sat side by side.

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York closed the service in prayer, and thanksgiving to God for Mr Mandela's "inspiration, for his humour, and his passionate leadership". The service closed with Huddleston's "Prayer for Africa".

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