“We are gathered here today to celebrate the life of the founding father of South Africa’s young democracy,” said Andrew Mlangeni, friend of the Mandela family, during the memorial.
“I’m overjoyed by the love and adoration. He inspired us all.”
Mlangeni had also spent time in prison as well, occupying the prison cell next to Mandela’s while on Robben Island.
Mlangeni added that even in imprisonment, Mandela had exuded leadership and that his struggles would continue to be acknowledged despite his passing.
Thousands of mourners and supporters of the Mandela family arrived at the FNB Stadium to pay their respects, as well as acknowledge those from international delegates.
Among the international speakers at the memorial included United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, United States president Barack Obama and Brazil president Dilma Rousseff.
Mandela’s funeral will be held in his birth village of Qunu, in the Eastern Cape on 15 December.
Among those who will be in attendance include Prince Charles of Wales, who will represent the Queen of England, and former American president Bill Clinton.
“We’ve always been mindful that we share Madiba with South Africa, Africa and the rest of the world. At the core of his being was a man of the people,” said General Thanduxolo Mandela during a family tribute. Three of Mandela’s grandchildren also paid tribute to their grandfather.
“South Africa has lost a hero, a brother. The world has lost a beloved friend and mentor,” said UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.
“Nelson Mandela was more than one of the greatest leaders of our time. He was one of our greatest teachers. He taught by example.”
Moon, along with Mandela’s former wife Winnie Mandela and former president Thabo Mbeki were among the few that drew the crowd to loud cheers as they had entered the stadium.
Other heads of state included Nigeria’s president Goodluck Johnathan, China’s vice president Li Yuanchao and King Phillip of Belgium.
“Africa is in mourning, together with the rest of the world, for the loss of its greatest,” said African Union Commission chair Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. “Throughout his life, he lived his values, always willing to serve.”
US president Obama remembered Mandela for his ability to fight against racial oppression without compromise.
“Mandela understood the ties that bind the human spirit: Ubuntu,” said Obama. “I will always fall short of Madiba’s example. He makes me want to be a better man.”