ABU DHABI // Tributes were paid to the former South African president, Nelson Mandela, in the capital on Wednesday night.
The Evangelical Community Church in Abu Dhabi hosted the event, where members of the public, officials and community representatives turned out to remember the life of Mandela, who died on December 5.
“It was a fantastic service and a lovely turnout, all of the speeches reflected the greatness of the man we were sending off,” said South Africa’s ambassador to the UAE, Mpetjane Kgaogelo Lekgoro.
“We are happy that on this occasion we were able to join the rest of the world in his send-off.
“As a young man I was in the leadership of his youth organisation so I had the privilege of working in the same office that he worked from and finding myself in meetings that he presided over.
“I remember him as a towering individual. He made it easy for you to be in his presence. He was firm on decisions and a very great leader,” Mr Lekgoro said.
In his speech to the congregation Mr Lekgoro looked back on the life of Mandela.
“When we finally achieved our freedom in 1994, Nelson Mandela thanked the nations of the world for their contributions.
“To this end, in 1995 president Mandela came to the UAE to thank Sheikh Zayed and the people of the nation for their support.
“As we mourn his passing we do so at the same time celebrate a life of selflessness. We do so with a feeling of loss, but also of pride, for having being endowed with a leader of such bravery and humility.”
South African expatriates, many in traditional dress, sang hymns and said prayers for the man they knew as Madiba.
Pumla Mbana was born and brought up in South Africa and now works as a nurse in Dubai.
She drove to the capital specifically to attend the memorial.
“It was very touching. I have mixed feelings, sometimes happy, sometimes sad.”
She had the good fortune to meet Mandela in Johannesburg some years ago at a meeting to raise funds for charity.
“When I shook his hand I felt like I had a minor seizure, I had to hide it. My whole body was shaking and I didn’t know what to say to him, I just held his hand. It was amazing. He has been in my heart spiritually and my whole family holds him in their hearts.”
“God sent us angels in the form of people on this Earth, like Madiba and the late Sheikh Zayed,” said Ebrahim Al Haddar, chairman of Nahtam Social Responsibility, a local private voluntary organisation dedicated to addressing the social needs of communities around the world.
“They were both born in the same year. I remember seeing them sitting together. They shared the same principles. Our community is our responsibility and it is up to us as individuals to make the difference. We need to continue to respect our brothers and sisters and to treat everyone as we wish for ourselves and follow Madiba’s example.”
Mandela was a “man for his time”, said Cameron Arensen, pastor of the Evangelical Community Church.
“He was a man who understood his time and he was a man who understood what was appropriate to the times of his history,” said Mr Arensen, who was born in Tanzania and spent more than 20 years of his life in South Africa.
“I believe it is appropriate to celebrate his spiritual strength and his firm belief and engagement in promoting human dignity in the search of social harmony for all South African people,” said Ruben Eduardo Caro, dean of the diplomatic corps and ambassador of Argentina.
“I think an important part of his great legacy is how he influenced and inspired a generation. He made us want to be better people.”
Mr Caro led a standing ovation, accompanied by shrieks and cheers from the crowd, applauding the life of Mandela.