The US’s first black president Barack Obama has urged everyone to follow Nelson Mandela’s example of persistence and hope.
Obama, who was the US president from 2008 to 2016, was among the speakers who reflected on the struggle icon’s legacy at the 16th Nelson Mandela Lecture held at the Wanderers stadium on Tuesday.
The lecture’s theme was “Renewing the Mandela Legacy and Promoting Active Citizenship in a Changing World” and focused on creating conditions for bridging divides, working across ideological lines, and resisting oppression and inequality.
In his speech, Obama spoke about the enormous strides the world has made in the 100 years since Mandela’s birth in 1918 to 2018.
He went on to outline how the world has changed from one emerging from a devastating war and, in which most of what is now the developing world, was under colonial rule.
“And now an entire generation has now grown up in a world that by most measures has gotten steadily freer, healthier, wealthier, less violent and more tolerant during the course of their lifetimes. It should make us hopeful.”
Speaking about the status of the world, Obama reminded the audience about the exploitation that the poor was still being subjected to.
“Madiba said globalisation means the rich and powerful now have new means to further enrich themselves at the expense of the poor and weak. We must protest that.
He also bemoaned the lack of empathy from those with means, saying they needed to take a more proactive role in helping those that are disadvantaged, making sure they don’t go to bed hungry or paying school fees of a child from a poor family instead of constantly wondering how to accumulate more riches.
“When you have (the means) you should say ‘who can I help and give more and more.”
Touching on the sustainable development goals, he said countries, specially African ones, needed to get past charity mindset and rather have the entrepreneur mindset.
Ramaphosa, who spoke before Obama’s lecture, exalted Mandela as a symbol of humanity in a moving tribute to the country’s revered former statesman.
He also enthused about the privilege he said he felt at being involved in a lecture which honours a man he called a selfless leader.
“His (Mandela’s) most enduring accomplishment was to teach us what it means to be human,” Ramaphosa said.
“He taught us to strive, he taught us to struggle, strive and to serve, and to do so selflessly.”
Mandela’s widow meanwhile, praised Mandela as a grounded, humble and simple man who simply considered himself a “foot soldier”.
Graca Machel went on to add that Mandela did not consider himself a saint and recognised the limitations of the achievements of his generation.
She drew parallels between Mandela and Obama, saying they were “symbols of victory over adversity”.