Mandela memorial: 10 key moments from Barack Obama’s speech

2013-12-10 15:16

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When US President Barack Obama took to the stage at a soaked FNB Stadium this afternoon, his speech brought both world leaders and ordinary South Africans to their feet. Here are the 10 key moments from that speech:

1. Obama started by honouring ordinary South Africans, a tip of the hat that was well received in the stands.

“His struggle was your struggle. His triumph was your triumph. Your dignity and hope found expression in his life, and your freedom, your democracy is his cherished legacy,” he told the crowd.

2. He noted that Mandela, despite his status as a global icon, always considered himself as just a man – a gentle reminder well received by South Africans who recognise and often embrace Mandela’s flaws as much as they celebrate his strengths.

Obama shared one of Mandela’s most famous quotes: “I’m not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.”

3. He offered a shoutout to other struggle icons, and the ANC, acknowledging Mandela’s status as a hero alongside other heroes and a stalwart of the organisation: “But like other early giants of the ANC – the Sisulus and Tambos – Madiba disciplined his anger; and channelled his desire to fight into organisation, and platforms, and strategies for action, so men and women could stand up for their dignity.”

4. He gently reminded us that Mandela’s fight was for a multiracial society, invoking one of the statesman’s most famous statements at the Rivonia Trial: “I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination. I’ve cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if need be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

5. He used just the right language – towards the end of his speech, the US president spoke of “Ubuntu”, to a rousing cheer from the cold, damp crowd.

6. He picked key moments in Mandela’s presidency carefully, mentioning Mandela’s role as sporting icon and unifier (“taking to the pitch in a Springbok uniform”) and a man not afraid to speak against the tide (“turning his family’s heartbreak into a call to confront HIV/AIDS”).

7. He turned the focus back to ordinary people, asking how Mandela’s lessons could be applied every day.

8. After President Jacob Zuma’s chilly reception from sections of the crowd, Obama took a dig at “leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba’s struggle for freedom, but do not tolerate dissent from their own people”.

9. He sneaked in a little well-timed humility: “Over 30 years ago, while still a student, I learnt of Mandela and the struggles in this land. It stirred something in me. It woke me up to my responsibilities – to others, and to myself – and set me on an improbable journey that finds me here today. And while I will always fall short of Madiba’s example, he makes me want to be better.” Cue rousing cheers from the crowd.

10. Obama wrapped up with a little populism, throwing in this quote from what’s widely acknowledged as Mandela’s favourite poem, Invictus: “It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate:

I am the captain of my soul.”

Full speech – US President Barack Obama pays tribute to Nelson Mandela

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