Mandela showed how to be happy in sadness and oppression

A well-wisher writes a message on a poster of Nelson Mandela on which she and others have written their messages of condolence and support, in the street outside his old house in Soweto, Johannesburg, South Africa Friday, Dec. 6, 2013. Flags were lowered to half-staff and people in black townships, in upscale mostly white suburbs and in South Africa's vast rural grasslands commemorated Nelson Mandela with song, tears and prayers on Friday while pledging to adhere to the values of unity and democracy that he embodied.(AP)

Friends, colleagues and admirers of Nelson Mandela came together for a memorial church service in London today.

The service was held at St Martin-in-the-Fields and fused together spontaneous South African style call-and-response worship and prayer, with more reserved hymns and choral anthems.

The service was organised by the South African High Commission and opened by vicar of St-Martin-in-the-Fields, the Reverend Dr Sam Wells, who described Mandela as "an angry happy man, and a happy angry man".

"He showed us how to be angry in a way that brought about lasting change for good … he showed us how to be happy in a way that overcomes our suffering, overcomes our sadness, and overcomes oppression," he said.

Dr Wells went on to praise his legacy and example, saying: "No one believed that a peaceful transition to a democratic South Africa was possible. That was the justification on which Apartheid rested.

"It was done by [Mandela] encouraging and persuading and convincing all antagonists on all sides of the argument to be better people."

Tributes came first from Lord Joel Joffe CBE, who was one of Mandela's defence lawyers during the Rivonia trial.

He described Mandela as "the most revered statesman of his time" but added that what was unique about him was "the outpouring of affection and love for him throughout South Africa and beyond".

Lord Joffe recalled how Mandela "dominated" the trial, and that his conduct throughout marked the best reflection of his character to the world.

He shared how Mandela turned what was supposed to be a show trial ridiculing the ANC and its members into a show trial ridiculing the government.

"The government should be in the dock, not me," Lord Joffe recalled Mandela saying.

Describing the atmosphere in the moment Mandela gave his famed trial speech, Lord Joffe said: "The silence became more and more profound, until it seemed no one else in the court dared move or breathe."

But he also recalled Mandela's "mischievous" sense of humour and the time he sighted Lord Joffe in one of his UK audiences.

According to Lord Joffe, Mandela had joked: "There is Joel Joffe, the man who put me in prison for 27 years!"

While US President Barack Obama has taken considerable flak from the world media for shaking Raul Castro's hand at Tuesday's memorial service in Johannesburg, veteran ANC campaigner Mama Thembi Nobadula was positive.

"The President of the United States shaking hands with the President of Cuba. That is Mandela," she said.

Sir Sydney Kentridge, who was part of Mandela's legal team in the treason trial of 1956, said that in consultations with the legal team, Mandela would often turn discussions about preparing his defence into discussions about the political nature of South Africa and the injustice of Apartheid.

He described Mandela as possessing extreme amounts of "thoughtfulness" and "total integrity".

Reflecting on the death penalty Mandela could have received, Sir Sydney said: "What a different history, a sadder history, if he had been sentenced to death or died in prison."