Artists celebrate Madiba at Cape Town stadium

Glynnis Underhill

Artists Annie Lennox, Johnny Clegg and many others entertained crowds at Nelson Mandela's commemoration event at the Cape Town stadium.

Crowds gathered at the Cape Town stadium for the Nelson Mandela commemoration event. (David Harrison, M&G)

International artist Annie Lennox won over the crowds at Nelson Mandela's commemoration event at the Cape Town stadium on Wednesday night.

Singer, songwriter and ambassador of Aids charity concerts 46664, which was Mandela's prison number at Robben Island, Lennox arrived on stage to a tense audience. 

Carrying her bongo drum and chanting to the the crowds to get tested for HIV, she had the masses on their feet in moments. 

Lennox's arrival was a welcome relief, following a brief appearance by Western Cape Premier Helen Zille at the stadium.

As the leader of the Democratic Alliance ruling the province, it was inevitable that politics would come out to play if Zille stood up to speak at Madiba's commemoration event.

A small group of agitators draped in ANC colours and T-shirts tried to drown out Zille, but she managed to break the mood for a time by singing praise songs about Madiba. 

When she started to speak, the group upped the noise and would not quieten down even when she told how she had seen Madiba's body as it lay in state.

"I saw him today," Zille told the crowds. "His face was at peace."

Attempts were also made to disrupt the speech of Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille but she appeared undeterred.

De Lille, who represents the Democratic Alliance, explained how "Tata Madiba" had responded when he received the Freedom of the City. He had said "the souls of many nations and cultures" resided in Cape Town.

It was the people of Cape Town who had first welcomed Mandela at the Grand Parade after his release from prison in 1990. So it was now only fitting that the people of Cape Town came together to say goodbye at the end of his journey, said De Lille.

"For some time we have been adrift. It seemed as if South Africa of 1994 had long passed beyond memory," she told the crowd.

"Madiba has helped us remember what the project of the New South Africa means, just as he once did all those years ago. Perhaps his message of reconciliation is easier to understand today than it was in the past. Once a united South Africa seemed impossible. The threat of civil war, the resentment of decades of oppression, and the impulse to protect privilege were obstacles around which there appeared no path. In recent times, many of us have felt those obstacles again in South Africa."

The Mexican wave took root as thousands celebrated Madiba's life. 

'His beautiful smile'
"I will never forget how proud Madiba was and his beautiful smile," said the former World Cup Springbok rugby captain Francois Pienaar to a rapturous audience. 

Western Cape ANC chairperson Marius Fransman and Minister in the Presidency Trevor Manuel both paid tribute to Mandela on stage.

"Today, when we are asked the question what would you like your children to be like," said Fransman, "we will say they should be like Nelson Mandela."

Tributes had poured in from mosques, churches and schools, he said. 

"Nelson Mandela brought us together in this way," said Fransman. "Let us continue in this way."

The concert continued with many other artists, including South African musician Johnny Clegg, Freshlyground and Ladysmith Black Mambazo giving the crowds a brief free show.

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