Global leaders gathered in Johannesburg to attend the 16th Nelson Mandela Lecture on Tuesday, 17 July. The key address was delivered by former president of the United States, Barack Obama, in honour of Madiba’s centenary, the lecture’s theme was “Renewing the Mandela legacy and Promoting Active Citizenship in a Changing World.” The event took place at Bidvest Wanderers stadium with a crowd of over 9000 looking on.

Obama opened by joking that he wasn’t invited to this annual event but ordered by Graça Machel, Madiba’s wife to come. “It is a singular honour for me to be here with all of you as we gather to celebrate the birth and life of one of history’s true giants,” he said.

Barack Obama at the 2018 Nelson Mandela Lecture.

The Hawaiian-born leader reflected on the 20th century. From Nelson Mandela’s birth in 1918, to the dissolution of colonialism, followed by the formation of the Apartheid state and finally—the epochal events of 1994.

He expressed his admiration and respect for the late freedom fighter. “He fought the fight to end apartheid. Through his sacrifice and unwavering leadership and most of all his moral example Mandela and the movement he led would come to embody universal aspirations,” he explained.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, Bantu Holomisa and Barack Obama

Global events such as 9/11, conflicts in the Middle East, Russia and China were also on his agenda. He touched on how wealth has compounded the patterns of inequality in developing countries.

The crowd erupted into cheers when he condemned insatiable greed and power of the super wealthy. “In every country, the disproportionate economic strength of this small international elite has meant they have power in world affairs,” he stated.

In possible reference to the current president of the United States, Donald Trump, Obama rebuked “strongman politics,” stating that people should start basing their decisions on facts. He condemned politicians who upon being caught being untruthful continue to choose to lie.

In closing, Obama encouraged people all over the world to follow Nelson Mandela’s example of fighting inequality and ensuring freedom for all. “More than a quarter century after Madiba walked out of prison, I still have to stand here saying people of all races, women and men are the same. Our differences are superficial and we should treat each other with care and respect,” he emphasized.

 

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