Mandela’s struggle was your struggle – Barack Obama

2013-12-10 15:32

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Nelson Mandela’s death should propel everyone in the world to search for their own strength inside, just like Mandela did in the fight against injustice, US President Barack Obama has told mourners at the FNB Stadium in Joburg.

Obama received a resounding welcome from the packed stadium and immediately he admitted that it was hard to eulogise Mandela, his hero of 30 years.

Obama, accompanied by his predecessors George W Bush and Bill Clinton, said when he first heard about the struggle for the emancipation of South Africa as a student “it stirred something inside” him.

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

He thanked South Africans for sharing their icon with the world.

“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 likened Mandela to India’s peace icon Mahatma Gandhi for leading a resistance movement that, at first, had little prospect of success but would ultimately make Mandela “the last great liberator of the 20th century”.

Obama also drew parallels between Mandela and the father of American democracy, Abraham Lincoln.

“Emerging from prison, without force of arms, he would – like Lincoln – hold his country together when it threatened to break apart.”

He also paid tribute to Mandela as a man who admitted that he was no saint.

“It was precisely because he could admit to imperfection – because he could be so full of good humour, even mischief, despite the heavy burdens he carried – that we loved him,” said Obama.

What set Mandela apart from many other leaders was that he, like ANC stalwarts Walter Sisulu and Oliver Tambo, “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.”

The US president, who received a standing ovation as he took to the podium and when he left the stage, said he loved Mandela because he stood his ground no matter the circumstances.

“He was practical, testing his beliefs against the hard surface of circumstance and history. On core principles he was unyielding, which is why he could rebuff offers of conditional release, reminding the apartheid regime that prisoners cannot enter into contracts.”

He said South Africa should use this mourning period to celebrate Mandela’s heroic life.

“But I believe it should also prompt in each of us a time for self-reflection. With honesty, regardless of our station or circumstance, we must ask: how well have I applied his lessons in my own life?” said Obama.

“We will never see the likes of Nelson Mandela again. But let me say to the young people of Africa, and young people around the world – you can make his life’s work your own.”

Audio: Primedia Broadcasting

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

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