A memorial service to honour the legacy of global icon Nelson Mandela will be held at the ECC Building in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday at 6.30pm.
The first black South African president died at his home on Thursday at aged 95, after battling pneumonia and other lung ailments for the past six months.
“For members of the public, not only South Africans, who would like to pay their last respects , we are arranging a one-hour memorial service at the ECC Building in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday,” Mpetjane Kgaogelo Lekgoro, South African Ambassador to the UAE, told Gulf News.
Lekgoro said a priest and an imam will be invited to give a word of prayer for the revered leader. He said condolence books will be made available at both missions in Abu Dhabi and Dubai to allow residents to express their grief and gratitude to their peace hero from 9am till noon throughout the week.
In Dubai, the consulate-general is organising for the community to come together on December 15 to watch the live TV coverage of the leader’s funeral proceedings from one location , details of which will be announced on Sunday afternoon.
Around 100,000 South Africans live and work in the UAE . Many of them feel strongly about the legacy left behind of their anti-apartheid hero. Often called the “Father of the Rainbow Nation” and “Madiba ” (Mandela’s clan name), Mandela fought to end the apartheid or racial and political segregation in South Africa for most of his years.
Several South African expatriates said Mandela is the greatest freedom symbol for their country.
Ruth McHelm, 50, from the Deira International School, Dubai, watched Mandela walk out of an apartheid prison as a free man in 1990. She clearly remembers how Mandela addressed the crowd in Cape Town, when he was delivering his speech.
“His humility to embrace everyone, even his oppressors, was overwhelming,” said McHelm.
McHelm was just a student during the uprising, but the lessons she learned through Mandela remain vivid in her mind.
“I was 12 years old, and I remember the times when we received word against injustice — through youth and church groups — from Mandela in prison. My brother, who was a church leader, was imprisoned for three years without trail. If Mandela could continue to fight for justice while in jail, we could too,” she said.
Jacqueline Visser, 37, said Mandela is a global icon associated with non-discrimination and freedom. She said, “In the 1990s, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth visited South Africa. They were at a church service. When the Queen emerged, there was a round of applause. But when Mandela did, the crowd wanted to reach out to him, touch him. Such was his influence.”
Businessman Steve Stubbs, 28, said Mandela’s uniting influence extended beyond politics. After South Africa won the Rugby World Cup in 1995, the entire nation came out on the streets to celebrate.
“In the past it [Rugby] was a predominately white sport, but with Mandela’s motivating presence, it involved everyone. I was thrilled. None of this would have been possible without him,” Stubbs said.
For Derek Maloney, who works as a food and beverage professional, Mandela remains as his inspiration.
“As an ambassador of peace, sport and culture he has proven to the world that anything is possible if you believe in it. He represents unity in the way he brought together different cultures. He is, and always will be a big inspiration to me and millions.”