12/10/2013 12:21 EST | Updated 12/10/2013 12:51 EST

Nelson Mandela Memorial: South Africans Remember 'Great Son' (PHOTOS)

The world's dignitaries were joined by thousands of South Africans Tuesday to pay tribute to their country's greatest leader, Nelson Mandela.

Attendees fought heavy rains to mourn Mandela's passing at age 95 and honour and celebrate his mighty life and achievements: his tireless fight to free the people of South Africa from apartheid, his work to end poverty and battle HIV/AIDS in Africa just a few among a multitude.

Craig Kielburger, Free The Children co-founder, travelled to South Africa to attend the memorial for Mandela and went to celebrations of the former South African president at Mandela's home; at the square named after him; and Tuesday at the FNB Stadium in Soweto. The stadium, which holds 95,000 people, was only half full because of heavy rain.

Kielburger spoke to South Africans about why they came to remember Mandela.


Mafera Cuswell, 22, is a fourth-year university student who visited Mandela Square with his girlfriend. He signed the special commemorative book, read the hand-made cards and placed a bouquet of flowers. Cuswell was inspired by Mandela to do service work next year with a South African volunteer organization.

Flowers and gifts to the late Nelson Mandela covered the entire centre of Nelson Mandela Square Monday as visitors took photos and left notes of condolence.

A woman lights a candle of remembrance outside the home of Mandela.

Trixy Hlatshwayo, 25, sells ice cream from her cart as she stood outside of Mandela's home, where he died surrounded by loved ones. On more than one occasion, she left the cart to join in on the dancing and impromptu marches up and down the road. "I am so thankful to Mandela, but I am also worried that now that he is gone," she said. "Things might get worse for us. All we can do is pray."

Nokwazi Hlubi, 31, arrived at 4 p.m. Monday at the gates of FNB Stadium for the state memorial service and she was interviewed live by a local TV station. When friends saw her on TV, they said they were inspired to come down to the memorial. "This is a moment like no other; it will be a very, very long time until we see a moment like this again," she said. "But as South Africans, it is time for us to take the baton and run with it and truly try to live to the ideals that Mandela aspired." When asked what Mandela taught her, Hlubi said, "For me, humility and forgiveness, without which we wouldn't be here. We would have had a blood bath otherwise."

Welgedacht Masilela, 34, and his friends were first in line at the gates for the Mandela memorial service. They arrived at FNB Stadium at 3 a.m. so they could be assured of the best seat. He said that he, his family and friends are indebted to Mandela's work to end apartheid. "All that we are today is because of him. I wanted to be here to really celebrate what he did."

Craig Kielburger joins the celebrations outside FNB Stadium before the gates opened at 6 a.m.

Two sisters, 15 and 9, got up before dawn to be near the front of the line at the Mandela memorial. The older sister explained why she came: "We wouldn't be here if he didn't do what he's done for us." Her little sister added: "Thank you for helping us to love each other."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and British Prime Minister David Cameron were among the many heads of state and dignitaries to attend the memorial service at FNB Stadium

TC Tyikwe, 21, and his girlfriend Amo Maphai, 20, were two hours late for the Mandela Memorial but had no problem getting seats because the stadium was only half full. People stayed away because of the rain. "Mandela meant to us the true essence of love, unity and being there for ordinary people," said Tyikwe. "As mighty as he was, he always related and accommodated to us ordinary South Africans, Africans and humans as a whole. We will truly miss him but we are truly grateful for what he has brought and done for us."

A wide look at rain-soaked crowds inside FNB Stadium during the memorial service.

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Photo gallery Nelson Mandela memorial at the FNB Stadium in Soweto See Gallery