JOHANNESBURG, South Africa – All members of Canada’s delegation in South Africa to celebrate Nelson Mandela’s life are witnessing Tuesday’s memorial service for the former president and anti-apartheid icon.
It initially appeared that only 11 members of the delegation would be allowed inside the Soweto stadium after a decision taken earlier by the South African protocol office.
The Prime Minister’s Office had said Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair, as well as four provincial premiers and several MPs who made the 18-hour journey for the service, would not be allowed inside for the event.
However, all of the Canadians were able to get in during the confusion that reigned at security checkpoints as thousands of people poured in.
The delegation includes Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his wife, former governors general Adrienne Clarkson and Michaelle Jean, former prime ministers Brian Mulroney, Jean Chretien, Kim Campbell and Joe Clark, Assembly of First Nations national Chief Shawn Atleo and Canada’s high commissioner to South Africa and his wife.
Harper and company received loud applause when their presence was announced, but it was nothing like the thunderous roar that greeted the American delegation, which includes President Barack Obama and former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
A steady rain kept many people away from the memorial, leaving hundreds of seats empty inside the 95-thousand seat stadium.
Those who did get in erupted in songs of celebration and loud cheers whenever the name Mandela was spoken.
Harper and the Canadian delegation were able to stay dry under the roof of the VIP area.
The prime minister’s wife, Laureen, appeared particularly moved by the celebration, occasionally leaning forward in her seat to get a better view.
Before heading to the stadium, Harper had an informal breakfast with Prime Ministers Tony Abbott and John Key from Australia and New Zealand.
Harper’s spokesman Carl Vallee did not say what the leaders discussed.