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Mandela hails anti-apartheid woman

Nelson Mandela has called Albertina Sisulu "one of the greatest South Africans" as the nation mourned a woman celebrated for her role in the fight against apartheid.

Mrs Sisulu collapsed and died at her Johannesburg home on June 2 at the age of 92.

Mr Mandela's message, read by his wife Graca Machel during the funeral at a Soweto football stadium, set off a brief rally of singing and dancing in his honour that interrupted an occasion that was both mournful and celebratory.

Mr Mandela's poignant message listed several friends and colleagues he has lost in recent years. He said he felt Sisulu's loss especially deeply.

"I would have loved to be here today to pay my personal respects but it would be too painful for me to see you go," said Mr Mandela, who at 92 rarely makes public appearances. The Mandela family was marking the first anniversary of the death of Mandela's 13-year-old great-granddaughter Zenani, killed in a car crash.

The service followed a week of national mourning during which flags were flown at half staff across South Africa and at its foreign missions.

Officials of the governing African National Congress fanned out to every province to lead a series of memorial services. President Jacob Zuma, who delivered the eulogy, declared an official funeral with military honours - as close as possible to a state funeral reserved for presidents.

Crowds of mourners arrived early, filling about a quarter of the 40,000-seat stadium.

Mrs Sisulu's husband, former ANC secretary general Walter Sisulu, was given a similar funeral after his death in 2003. Their love endured 26 years of separation while he was imprisoned for his anti-apartheid activities.

Albertina Sisulu is to be buried next to her husband before a sweeping stone wall with a black marble plaque bearing his name at a cemetery on the edge of Soweto.

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