JOHANNESBURG - Tens of thousands of South Africans, joyously cheering and singing despite a cold rain, mourned the passing and celebrated the life of Nelson Mandela at an outdoor memorial service Tuesday.
They arrived by train and bus at a soccer stadium at the edge of the black township of Soweto to join President Obama and other leaders from around the world in honoring the father of the modern nation and a global symbol of human rights, racial equality and political liberation.
Extreme levels of security were in place at FNB Stadium for the memorial for the nation's first black president, Nobel Prize winner and leader of his nation's struggle to establish democracy.
"We are saying goodbye today to the person who died for us," said Rebecca Brown, 41. "We have to pay our last respects to Tata (father) and say thanks for everything. We will take it from here."
The ceremony began an hour late in a cold, driving rain, the stadium not full but thousands still streaming in.
Planners anticipated overflow crowds and set up other locations around the city where people could watch the memorial on large video screens. The government opened turnstiles to provide free subway and commuter trains to the memorial and banned traffic and parking near the stadium.
Rail workers in yellow jackets directed crowds onto trains, which were filled with South Africans eager to celebrate the life of Madiba, as they know him, as well as mourn his passing at age 95 last Thursday.
They were celebrating their own liberation too, more than two decades after the fall of the white minority apartheid regime.
In a bit of historical coincidence, Mandela's memorial came on the date when 20 years earlier he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize, along with the last apartheid president, F.W. de Klerk, for their leadership in bringing a peaceful transition to democracy in the majority black nation.
Inside the wet stadium, the crowd erupted in cheers at the arrival of Mandela's widow Graca Machel. Celebreties such as Bono of the band U2 made quieter arrivals. Seated near Machel was Mandela's ex-wife Winnie.
The nation's president, Jacob Zuma, a featured speaker, drew some boos from the crowd.
Arriving train passengers sang liberation songs from the anti-apartheid struggles of the 1980s, 1970s and earlier, which today are taught in South African schools. The crowds cheered and stomped feet so vigorously the rail cars bounced.