The celebrations of Nelson Mandela aren’t over yet. This week Mandela became the first foreigner ever honored in a service at Westminster Abbey in London, where Prince Harry, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Archbishop Desmond Tutu joined 2,000 people to celebrate his legendary life.
Luminaries filed into the ornate, soaring church as the Soweto Gospel Choir sang Bob Marley’s “One Love” and “This Little Light of Mine.” Mandela died at his Johannesburg home Dec. 5 last year at the age of 95.
“A service of thanksgiving for South Africa was held here in Westminster Abbey 20 years ago to celebrate the first democratic elections which brought Black majority rule to South Africa,” Dr. John Hall, dean of Westminster, recalled. “At that time, all who were here, thanked God for the triumph of a spirit of reconciliation and for peaceful transition. It is hard to imagine any of this would have been possible without the grace and generosity shown by Nelson Mandela.”
During the speeches, Mandela’s friends and supporters remembered the courage shown by the leader in his relentless battle against apartheid, and his almost unimaginable success in reuniting his homeland as South African president. Among the attendees was British actor Idris Elba, who played Mandela in recent biopic, “Long Walk to Freedom.”
Back in South Africa, President Jacob Zuma was the subject of anger in many corners of the nation as he pulled out of attending the Mandela memorial service so that he could go to the lavish wedding of the daughter of Robert Mugabe, the controversial Zimbabwean leader.
Ironically, Westminster Abbey had already rescheduled the memorial that was supposed to take place on Feb. 11, the anniversary of Mandela’s release from prison in 1990, so that Zuma, who was preparing for his annual State of the Nation address on that date, could attend.
Zuma sent his deputy and two ministers in his place while he spent the weekend at the extravagant wedding of Bona Mugabe, daughter of President Mugabe, 90, who hosted 4,000 guests at his massive estate in Harare in a celebration that stretched over two days.
“Clearly we were expecting President Zuma and we were disappointed that he can’t come but we understand that schedules change,” Abbey spokesman Duncan Jeffrey said.
While many South Africans interpreted the move as a snub to Mandela and his legacy, Zuma—who was soundly and embarrassingly booed at the Mandela memorial in South Africa—said through his spokesman that his absence at Westminster Abbey wasn’t a snub.
During the Abbey celebration, Archbishop Tutu told the congregation the world loved Mandela because he had made everyone believe in peace.
“He made us believe that all, each one of us, we are made of goodness,” Tutu said. “We are made for caring, we are made for loving, we are made for compassion, we are made for laughter, for peace.”
Westminster Abbey will install a ledger stone in honor of Mandela.