AFP- 1014 GMT: As the ceremony gets under way around an hour late in Soweto, US President Barack Obama is only just leaving his hotel to head to the event.
1012 GMT: Ramaphosa hands over to
South African faith leaders, with the country’s chief rabbi addressing the crowd.
1009 GMT: “He was our teacher and our mentor and he never gave up on us for our failures,” Ramaphosa says.
“His long walk is over but ours is just beginning.”
1006 GMT: Ramaphosa says the heavy rain is a good omen for Mandela.
“When it rains when you are buried, it means your gods are welcoming you and the gates of heaven are most probably open as well.”
1002 GMT: The various VIPs attending the ceremony are now being announced by ANC vice-president Cyril Ramaphosa, who will be helping to lead the ceremony.
1000 GMT: Many around the stadium are standing and singing along, some with fists in the air.
“Long live” rings around the stadium as the crowds hail Mandela’s legacy.
CROWD SINGS NATIONAL ANTHEM, MARKING START OF MEMORIAL
0952 GMT: South African President Jacob Zuma and his entourage enters the stadium to cheers. UN Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon is already in the stadium.
0945 GMT: AFP’s Charlotte Plantive tells us Mandela’s widow Graca Machel and ex-wife Winnie have met at the stadium and shared a long hug, both in black mourning clothes.
0943 GMT: ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe has put his finger on the awkward dynamic between some of the world leaders in the stadium today.
“Obama and Cuba: I think it will be quite exciting,” he said.
This may be the first time US President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro, whose countries are historic Cold War-era foes, have found themselves in the same place.
0938 GMT: Nelson Mandela’s former wife Winnie, from whom he separated in 1992 after his release from prison, has arrived to loud cheers.
Although a controversial figure, Winnie visited her ex-husband regularly when ill and often updated the media on his condition.
“Nobody knows him better than I do and it is extremely painful to see him going through what he’s going through now,” she told Britain’s ITV television before he died. “But it is God’s wish.”
0932 GMT: Some of the VIP guests are now being announced to the crowd in the stadium.
Big cheer for Raul Castro, President of Cuba, as he is presented — also for members of the Mandela family.
0924 GMT: Supermodel Naomi Campbell is among those reportedly present to remember Mandela today.
When he died, she described him as “my mentor, my honorary grandfather, my Tata.”
“Nelson Mandela has stood as a figure of strength, hope, freedom, selflessness and love, and I join everyone across the world in mourning his passing,” she said.
“Since meeting him in 1993, he’s guided me and gave me a reason for being in the tough times of my life. He changed my perception of the world.”
0916 GMT: With the rain pouring down, the start of the memorial service is running late.
Still plenty of empty seats in the stadium and people eager to celebrate Mandela’s life arriving, many sporting Mandela T-shirts or wrapped in South African flags.
0912 GMT: Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the last apartheid-era president FW de Klerk, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize with Mandela, have arrived.
0909 GMT: The memorial event is part of an extended state funeral that will culminate in Mandela’s burial on Sunday in the rural village of Qunu where he spent his early childhood.
Ahead of the burial in Qunu, Mandela’s body will lie in state for three days from Wednesday in the amphitheatre of the Union Buildings in Pretoria where he was sworn in as president in 1994.
Each morning, his coffin will be borne through the streets of the capital in a funeral cortege, to give as many people as possible the chance to pay their final respects.
0902 GMT: Let’s head to Cape Town for a moment now, where Mandela’s former jailers and fellow prisoners have got together over the water from Robben Island, his former prison.
Lorraine Steenkamp, a black South African, said visiting the spot was “the greatest gift”, just days before he was to be laid to rest.
“If it wasn’t for Nelson Mandela fighting for our freedom, I wouldn’t have married my husband or had these two beautiful kids. He’s an Afrikaner.”
0857 GMT: A marching band emerges into the stadium to roars and chants from the crowd, which is chanting and singing in a party atmosphere.
0852 GMT: Francois Pienaar, the South Africa rugby captain of the side which won the 1995 World Cup on home soil, receiving the trophy from Mandela, has been speaking to journalists.
“The legacy of Mr Mandela is in the hands of the young ones,” he said, encouraging young people to vote in the key general election next year.
The story of Pienaar and the rest of the Springboks’ extraordinary relationship with Mandela is told in the Hollywood film “Invictus” featuring Matt Damon as the rugby star.
0846 GMT: U2’s Bono, South African-born actress Charlize Theron and former British prime minister Tony Blair are among those arriving at the stadium, TV pictures show.
0843 GMT: Today is actually the 20th anniversary of the date Mandela received the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo with FW de Klerk, the late leader’s official Twitter account reminds us.
0840 GMT: The atmosphere here is clearly one of joyous celebration of Mandela’s life, despite his death.
British Prime Minister David Cameron tells the BBC: “We were told it was appropriate to wear a black tie.
“But when you come and your hear this great noise and this great atmosphere of celebration, it is clear that people here in South Africa want to, yes, say goodbye to this great man, yes commemorate what he did but also celebrate his life and celebrate his legacy, and I think that is right.”
0836 GMT: Mandela’s wife Graca Machel makes her first public appearance since his death, arriving at the stadium.
She is dressed in a black turban and furred coat over a long black dress.
Two women on either side of her link their arms with hers.
0833 GMT: Just under half an hour to go now until the official memorial service for Mandela is due to begin.
0831 GMT: The female singers are wearing white and the male singers white.
They are all from the gospel choir “Joyous Celebration” from Kwazulu-Natal.
0825 GMT: AFP’s Claudine Renaud tells us that the big screens in the stadium have started to show the arrival of the VIPs.
The choir is singing: “Siyabonga Mandela, oooh siyabonga Mandela” which means “thank you Mandela” in Zulu.
0819 GMT: Among the high-profile guests today include Obama and three of his predecessors — Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Jimmy Carter — plus French President Francois Hollande, British PM David Cameron, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan and Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Celebrities include singers Bono and Peter Gabriel plus US talk show host Oprah Winfrey.
0803 GMT: Cyrill, from Cameroon, a business owner who lives in Johannesburg, and his wife Evelyn from Ivory Coast say being here is “unique, a once in a lifetime experience. We don’t understand the words of the songs but we connect. It is very joyful and hopeful.
“We are African and in our culture when someone dies very old, it’s a blessing and you have to give thanks and praise his life and accomplishments.”
0759 GMT: Interviewed in the stadium by South African TV, David Cameron recalls meeting Mandela in South Africa in 2006.
“I was particularly impressed by his grace and sense of forgiveness to all those who had done him wrong,” Cameron says.
0756 GMT: Mandela’s face is everywhere, on the large screens in the stadium, newspaper headline boards, t-shirts, hats, and blankets sported by the crowd, many of whom have taken shelter from the rain and are chanting and marching in the stadium’s inner corridor.
0750 GMT: The Israeli Ambassador to South Africa Dov Segev-Steinberg was asked Tuesday morning why the heads of state and governement are not coming to the ceremony and if they were snubbing it because Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas is attending.
“No,” he told journalists. “The speaker of Parliament (Yuli Edelstein) and a Parliament delegation land in 20 minutes. The speaker of Parliament was also a prisoner of conscience in the USSR (former Soviet Union) and knew Mr. Mandela.”
0745 GMT: “Am here to celebrate the life of Mandela. Yes he a liberator, but economically the people here are not liberated. You go to a restaurant you see the whitemen dining and the blacks serving,” says Tapiwa Munyawiri, 24, a hospitality management student at Vaal University of Technology.
0742 GMT: The crowd in the stadium has now swollen to about 20,000.
Reports say British Prime Minister David Cameron arrived earlier at the stadium and was seen getting into a lift.
0738 GMT: My colleague Stephen Collinson reports that US President Barack Obama is now freshening up at his hotel before heading out to the stadium.
One woman driver who tried to skip into his motorcade to avoid traffic jams was flagged down by a furious cop. “Do that again and you will be killed!” he shouted.
0732 GMT: Enterprising hawkers are selling ANC-print wrap-arounds and caps, which people are snatching up for protection against the rain, as the stadium fills with a steady, though slow, stream of newcomers.
0729 GMT: Among the blanket of South African flags in the crowd are a few from Zimbabwe, Ghana and other African nations, a testament to Mandela’s importance across the continent.
0728 GMT: A choir of around 50 people have come onstage, some bundled up in warm clothes, with others in dinner jackets but all managing to still look elegant and upbeat in the rain.
0720 GMT: The ceremony, which is due to formally start soon, will echo the wave of loving admiration which resonated worldwide at news of Mandela’s death at his home in Johannesburg on Thursday.
On the eve of the memorial Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu described Mandela as a “magician” who conjured a united nation out of a country teetering on the brink of civil war.
“Everybody was saying we would go up in flames,” he said.
“He really was like a magician with a magic wand, turning us into this glorious, multi-coloured rainbow people.”
0715 GMT: The presidents of the United States and Cuba are among those who will share the memorial stage, while four of Mandela’s grandchildren will speak, although neither his widow, Graca Machel, nor his ex-wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela are listed on the programme.
0710 GMT: In Johannesburg earlier today, thousands of people were boarding free trains, mixing excitedly together on the platform and in the compartments — men and women of all ages and races.
“I am going to the memorial to be closer to the national mood, to come out of my bubble,” explained white Afrikaans speaker Marcel Boezaart, 26.
0705 GMT: My colleague Christophe Beaudufe reports that the crowds are being entertained by a Gospel group singing the well-known Zulu hymn ‘O’ Msinidisi’, meaning ‘Saviour.’
Many of the crowd are singing along.
WELCOME TO AFP’S LIVE REPORT on the memorial service for unifying global icon Nelson Mandela.
Despite a light drizzle huge crowds of grieving South Africans have converged on Soweto’s World Cup stadium.
Up to five hours before it was due to start people wrapped in South African flags or yellow-green coloured shawls printed with the slogan “Mandela Forever,” danced and jogged towards the entrance, hoping for one of the first-comer tickets, some singing in Zulu: “Mandela is not sleeping, just kneeling.”
Close to 100 world leaders and 80,000 South Africans will gather at the stadium to bid farewell to a man whose life story earned uncommon universal respect.
The event is part of an extended state funeral that will culminate in Mandela’s burial on Sunday in the rural village of Qunu where he spent his early childhood.