As tens of thousands of South Africans gathered in the rain, U.S. President Barack Obama thanked them for sharing Nelson Mandela with the world.
He called Mandela a “giant of history” who “moved the nation toward justice” at the memorial service in Johannesburg on Tuesday morning.
Obama challenged the crowd to learn from Mandela’s life and embrace the spirit of “unbuntu” – the oneness of humanity.
“It was precisely because he could admit to imperfection – because he could be so full of good humor, even mischief, despite the heavy burdens he carried – that we loved him so,” he said.
“He was not a bust made of marble; he was a man of flesh and blood – a son and husband, a father and a friend. That is why we learned so much from him; that is why we can learn from him still.”
Mandela died Thursday at the age of 95. His state funeral is scheduled for Sunday.
Born in 1912 to the Thembu royal family, Mandela studied law and moved to Johannesburg where he became a part of the anti-colonial movement.
In 1961 he co-founded the militant Umkhonto we Sizwe and led a bombing campaign against government targets. The next year Mandela was arrested and convicted of sabotage and conspiracy to overthrow the government.
He served 27 years in prison before an international campaign lobbying for his release was successful in February 1990.
His release was broadcast live around the world and would become a quintessential moment in the end of apartheid.
Mandela was married three times, had six children and 17 grandchildren.