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Obama, Castro shake hands; Zuma humiliated at Mandela memorial

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama shook hands with Cuba's Raul Castro at a memorial for Nelson Mandela on Tuesday, a rare gesture between the leaders of the ideologically opposed nations that reflected the anti-apartheid hero's spirit of reconciliation.
/ Source: Reuters

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama shook hands with Cuba's Raul Castro at a memorial for Nelson Mandela on Tuesday, a rare gesture between the leaders of the ideologically opposed nations that reflected the anti-apartheid hero's spirit of reconciliation.

But the peace and harmony did not stretch to South African President Jacob Zuma as the crowd at the rain-soaked Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg booed and jeered him as he prepared to give his closing address.

The death of Mandela on Thursday at the age of 95 has distracted attention from a slew of corruption scandals in Zuma's administration and has underscored the gulf between South Africa's first black president, a towering figure of the 20th century, and its fourth.

"Mandela had a vision. Mandela lived that vision," said Funeka Gingcara-Sithole, 31, who was in the crowd. "But what Zuma speaks he doesn't live. He should do the honorable thing and resign."

Zuma's reception was in marked contrast to the rock-star welcome for Obama, one of about 90 world leaders in Johannesburg to bid farewell to Mandela.

As he bounded onto the podium, Obama extended his hand to communist leader Castro, who shook it and smiled back.

The only previous known handshake between U.S. and Cuban presidents since the island's 1959 revolution was at the United Nations in 2000, when Raul's brother Fidel shook the hand of then-U.S. President Bill Clinton in a chance encounter.

TOUGH WORDS

But Obama's gesture of friendship did not prevent him delivering tough words to leaders who, he said, embraced Mandela's struggle against oppression while squashing opposition and dissent at home.

"There are too many of us who happily embrace Madiba's legacy of racial reconciliation, but passionately resist even modest reforms that would challenge chronic poverty and growing inequality," he said, speaking yards away from communist leader Castro and Chinese Vice-President Li Yuanchao.

"There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba's struggle for freedom but do not tolerate dissent from their own people," he said, referring to Mandela's clan name.

The crowd's reaction to Zuma - many also gave the thumbs down sign or rolled their wrists in a soccer substitution gesture - is a worrying sign for the ruling African National Congress (ANC) as it heads towards an election in six months.

Although Africa's biggest economy has undergone huge change since the end of white-minority rule in 1994, it remains one of the world's most unequal societies and is plagued by poverty, crime and unemployment.

Support for the 101-year-old ANC is on the wane, although it is almost certain to maintain power in next year's vote.

SINGING IN THE RAIN

Coinciding with U.N. Human Rights Day, the memorial at the stadium - scene of the 2010 World Cup final - was the centerpiece of a week of mourning for Mandela, who was revered across the world as a symbol of reconciliation and forgiveness. He shared the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize with South Africa's last white president F.W. de Klerk.

"He was more than one of the greatest leaders of our time. He was one of our greatest teachers," U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told the crowd. "His boabab tree has left deep roots that reach across the planet."

Since Mandela's death, Johannesburg has been blanketed in cloud and torrential rain - a sign, according to African culture, of an esteemed elder passing on and being welcomed into the afterlife by his ancestors.

The atmosphere before the ceremony was one of joy and celebration, more akin to the opening game of the World Cup three years ago that pitted jubilant hosts South Africa against Mexico.

Flag-waving whites and blacks danced, blew "vuvuzela" plastic trumpets and sang anthems from the long struggle against apartheid. The packed carriages of commuter trains heading to the ground swayed side-to-side with the rhythm.

"I was here in 1990 when Mandela was freed and I am here again to say goodbye," said Beauty Pule, 51. "I am sure Mandela was proud of the South Africa he helped create. It's not perfect but no-one is perfect, and we have made great strides."

Celebrity mourners included singers Bono and Peter Gabriel, film star Charlize Theron, supermodel Naomi Campbell and Virgin entrepreneur Richard Branson. Francois Pienaar, captain of South Africa's victorious 1995 rugby World Cup-winning side, was also in the stands.

After Tuesday's event, Mandela's remains will lie in state for three days at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, where he was sworn in as president in 1994.

He will be buried on Sunday, December 15 in Qunu, his ancestral home in the rolling hills of the Eastern Cape province, 700 km (450 miles) south of Johannesburg. Only a few world leaders are due to attend the Qunu ceremony, a more intimate family affair.

(Additional reporting by David Dolan and Peroshni Govender; Writing by Pascal Fletcher and Ed Cropley; Editing by Janet Lawrence)