With the 15 000-strong crowd packed into Wanderers Stadium hanging on to his every word, former US President Barack Obama called on the world — with emphasis on the youth — to keep the torch of Nelson Mandela’s legacy burning.
Obama delivered the 16th Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture in Johannesburg on Tuesday.
Obama, whose foundation hosted 200 emerging young leaders on the African continent on Monday, said despite the challenges faced by the global community, these young people epitomise what Mandela stood for.
He rallied current leaders to lend a hand and support young people who will lead the world into the future.
Active citizenry, democratic governance and selflessness were just some of Mandela’s values that Obama called on the world to embody.
In true Obama style, he delivered his speech orator style without a printed sheet in sight.
He took the audience on a walk down memory lane to reflect on the 100 years of Mandela’s life and legacy, which brought with it changes in society and more importantly for South Africans, freedom.
Obama reflected on how he was influenced by Madiba’s life as a young law student who watched as history unravelled in front of his eyes with Mandela’s release from prison after 27 years of incarceration.
“Madiba’s light shone so brightly that in the late 70s, he could inspire a young college student on the other side of the world to re-examine [his] own priorities – to reconsider the small role that I might play in bending the arc towards justice.
“And now an entire generation has 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.
“Let me tell you what I believe. I believe in Nelson Mandela’s vision. I believe in a vision shared by Gandhi and King. I believe in justice and in the premise that all of us are created equal,” said Obama.
To honour the centenary of Madiba’s birth, the lecture’s theme was ‘Renewing the Mandela Legacy and Promoting Active Citizenship in a Changing World’.
It focused on creating conditions for bridging divides, working across ideological lines, and resisting oppression and inequality.
In his speech, Obama tracked the social and democratic progress the world has made in the 100 years between Mandela’s 1918 birth and 2018.
Changes through time
Obama went on to outline how the world has changed from one just emerging from a devastating war and in which most of what is now the developing world was under colonial rule.
“Women, across the world, were seen as subordinate to men. Some races were seen – almost universally – as naturally subordinate and inferior to others, and business saw nothing wrong in seeking to exploit workers, of any race or creed.
“Since then, colonialism had come to an end and the world had, in general, embraced a new vision for humanity, based on the principles of democracy, the rule of law, civil rights and the inherent dignity of every single individual,” said Obama.
This was the kind of progress to which Mandela had dedicated his life, Obama said.
Obama lamented that world leaders are backtracking on the values they once upheld and as a result, the world stands on the brink of letting go of all this progress.
Despite these challenges, Obama said he still believed in the vision of Nelson Mandela.
“I believe we have no choice but to move forward. I believe those of us who believe in democracy and human rights have a better story to tell,” he said.