Obama pays homage to late Mandela ahead of day to mark 100th birthday
US former President Obama
A former U.S. president Barack Obama on Tuesday paid homage on Tuesday to the late Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first black leader, to mark the centenary of his birth.
Obama’s keynote address is one of the many events being held in South Africa and around the world to mark the milestone birthday on Wednesday of the global icon, who spent 27 years in prison for the struggle against South Africa’s racist apartheid government.
“It is a singular honor for me to be here … gathered to celebrate the birth and life of one of history’s true giants,” Obama said on taking the podium.
Mandela “came to embody the universal aspirations of dispossessed people all around the world with hopes for a better life, and the possibility of a moral transformation in the conduct of human affairs,” Obama said.
Obama spoke about how at the end of the century the world seemed to be becoming steadily more progressive, but that the liberal world order had fallen short of some of its promises.
In what appeared to be a thinly veiled reference to his successor US President Donald Trump, Barack Obama on Tuesday said the world was going through “strange and uncertain times.”
“Each day’s news cycles bringing more headspinning and disturbing headlines,” the former US leader said.
“Strongman politics are ascendant, whereby elections and some pretence of democracy are maintained while those in power seek to undermine every institution or norm that give democracy meaning,” he added.
Thousands of people attended the event at a cricket stadium in Johannesburg, titled: “Renewing the Mandela Legacy and Promoting Active Citizenship in a Changing World.”
“Let us find the Madiba in each of us. Let us be the legacy,” Njabulo Ndebele, chairman of the Nelson Mandela Foundation, said in opening remarks, to great applause.
South Africans of all ages and races pouring into the stadium on the cold winter morning ahead of the speech told dpa why they were celebrating Mandela’s centenary.
“He’s one of the greatest South Africans because he took us through a very turbulent time, and when he came out of jail he was totally forgiving,” said Clive Acton, 78. “I want to be here to feel his presence.”
Acton, a retired management consultant, said he thought Obama was the perfect keynote speaker because “in many ways, he reminds me of Mandela.”
Orentse Miya, a 22-year-old university student and a member of the so-called “born-free” generation born after the end of apartheid, said that it was up to the youth to continue carrying out Mandela’s work.
“I wanted to be here to celebrate Nelson Mandela since he has pioneered us into democracy,” Miya told dpa.
Well-known figures in attendance were be Mandela’s widow, Graca Machel, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Former UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, and former US president Jimmy Carter were also scheduled to attend.
In true Madiba spirit, one of Mandela’s former prison guards from Robben Island – who later become friends with liberation hero – was in attendence at the event, local media reported.
A woman attending Tuesday’s speech said that while she was there celebrate Mandela, his legacy is not always lived up to in present-day South Africa.
“We have to be grateful, but we have to be honest – a lot of his legacy hasn’t been lived by many young South Africans,” university lecturer Ayanda, 36, told dpa.
But Graca Machel, Mandela’s widow, said in her remarks at the speech “He said on many occasions that he was not a saint … Madiba was humble enough to recognise the limits of the achivements of his generation.
“Madiba and his contemporaries laid a solid base for today’s generation…. The youth of this country must follow in his footsteps as the promises of social and economic justice are theirs to fulfill.” (dpa/NAN)