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People sing and dance during the mass memorial for late former South African president Nelson Mandela at First National Bank Stadium in Johannesburg on Dec. 10, 2013.RONEN ZVULUN/Reuters

NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair and Liberal MP Irwin Cotler reflect on their experiences as part of the Canadian delegation that attended Nelson Mandela's funeral in South Africa.


Clearly one of the highlights was President [Barack] Obama's speech. You know, the crowd reacted incredibly to it and it was very moving. For me, the thing that literally brought tears to my eyes was the singing. [It was] almost an incantation. So somebody would go to the microphone and start singing Nelson Mandela's name, with the crowd responding.

And it's when you hear tens of thousands of people in unison like that, it literally gives you goosebumps, and in my case, brought tears to my eyes. It was an incredible moment, it was an honour to be able to be there and we sensed such pride and determination for people there to keep the marvellous accomplishment of South African democracy.

It's fragile, it's only been there for a generation and there's still a lot of work to be done, and I hope Canada can play a constructive role in the future, the way it has done in the past.

And you know, I thank the Prime Minister for putting together such a representative delegation of people. That's Mandela-esque, you know, having people from all parties come together and representing Canada so well.


To say it was moving is almost banal. But I just felt that we were part of history, we were a witness to history. On the way there, I noticed signs about Mandela, and they said: 'Nelson Mandela, global icon.' 'Nelson Mandela, father of the nation.' You saw Mandela sort of resonating globally and particularly for South Africans. And you saw it even in the newspapers, where they said the world is here, and Mandela belonged to us, Mandela belongs to the world.

The memorial gathering was one of the largest gatherings of its kind in history. You know, you had 53 presidents, 13 prime ministers, and look at Canada. We had probably one of the most distinguished of all delegations. You had Prime Minister Harper, but you had four former prime ministers there … two former governors-general.

Mandela really had a transformative and revolutionary impact. He established not only a free and democratic and non-racial society, but one with an independent judiciary, a free press, universal franchise.

But now, as Obama said, that was one great challenge. But another challenge is, at this point, for South Africans themselves to begin to act on Mandela's legacy. It's not enough to just refer to him as he is, as an icon, a global icon, an icon for South Africa. One has to not only internalize his lessons, but act upon them.

These interviews have been edited and condensed.