Tens of thousands of South Africans and scores of world leaders are celebrating the life of Nelson Mandela at a memorial service in Johannesburg’s FNB Stadium.
The event is bringing together an unprecedented number of dignitaries, who will commemorate the anti-apartheid icon alongside at least 80,000 South Africans who have queued since before dawn to secure a seat.
The memorial was delayed as thousands of people who had travelled to the event on free buses in bad weather streamed into the arena after the planned 9am start time.
But rain falling on Soweto failed to dampen the spirits of those singing and dancing inside and outside the stadium, with one woman telling Sky News the downpour is a “shower of blessing” for Mr Mandela.
The event got underway with a rousing rendition of South Africa’s national anthem before programme director Cyril Ramaphosa, the ANC’s deputy president, declared: “Long live the spirit of Nelson Mandela.”
He added: “We are here to tell Madiba that his long walk is over, he can finally rest and enjoy the view of our beautiful country.”
After interfaith prayers, ANC veteran Andrew Mlangeni, who was imprisoned with Mr Mandela, told the crowd: “I have the honour to say something about Madiba and how he touched my heart, my soul, my life, those of South Africans and how he will continue to touch lives.
“Madiba is looking down on us now and there is no doubt he is smiling.”
General Thanduxolo Mandela, speaking for the Mandela family, said their grief was being “lessened” by the outpouring of sympathy in South Africa around the world.
President Barack Obama, the First Lady, Michelle Obama, and three former US Presidents – George W Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter – are attending the event.
The British delegation includes Prime Minister David Cameron and his predecessors Gordon Brown, Tony Blair and Sir John Major.
Mr Cameron, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Sir John arrived at the stadium together at around 7.10am.
Uganda President Yoweri Museveni is also in attendance.
Speaking shortly after his arrival, Mr Cameron told Sky News: “I think it’s very important to show our respects and say goodbye to a remarkable man who did extraordinary things in South Africa but has also been such an inspiration to people across the world.
“It was an enormous honour to meet him and to talk to him and to be here today and to feel this atmosphere, I think will be a remarkable occasion.”
Western leaders are brushing shoulders with the Iranian President, African heads of state and other leaders and royalty from around the world.
U2 singer Bono and Oscar-winning actress Charlize Theron were among the first celebrities to arrive at the stadium.
Francois Pienaar, captain of South Africa’s 1995 Rugby World Cup winning team, wore his Springbok blazer to the memorial.
He told Sky’s Jeremy Thompson: “The ANC wanted the Springbok taken away for very good reasons but Mr Mandela had a vision.
“He said ‘no, these are our boys, they’re playing for us, let’s embrace them,’ and if it wasn’t for that there is no doubt in my mind we would not have been able to wear our Springbok blazers to come and say goodbye and to say thank you to such a wonderful man.”
President Jacob Zuma, who has never enjoyed his predecessor’s universal popularity, was greeted by a chorus of boos as he entered the stadium sheltering under an umbrella.
Several of Mr Mandela’s grandchildren are scheduled to speak in what is likely to be the most poignant moment of the service.
Graca Machel, the wife who nursed Mr Mandela through his later years and his second wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela embraced as they took their seats at the memorial.
The event – perhaps the biggest in South Africa’s history – will be broadcast live on television around the globe.
It is a huge security operation for South Africa’s military, which has been drafted in to protect the world’s most powerful men and women and control the crowds.
The memorial service will open with the singing of the South African National Anthem – the version written for the birth of democracy in 1994, which includes verses in Zulu and Afrikaans.
South Africans who are not able to gain entry to the stadium will be able to watch at several public venues around the country where big screens have been erected.