President Obama today, at the FBN Stadium in Soweto, joined over 90 world leaders, including Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan, in paying respects to Nelson Mandela, former South African President. He arrived this morning on board Air Force One in the company of his wife, Michelle, former US President, George W. Bush and his wife, Laura and former US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.
Obama received a rousing welcome at the stadium in sharp contrast to South Africa’s President, Jacob Zuma who was loudly booed by the crowd.
To the people of South Africa – people of every race and walk of life – the world thanks you for sharing Nelson Mandela with us. His struggle was your struggle. His triumph was your triumph.
Born during World War I, far from the corridors of power, a boy raised herding cattle and tutored by elders of his Thembu tribe – Madiba would emerge as the last great liberator of the 20th century.
He was not a bust made of marble; he was a man of flesh and blood – a son and husband, a father and a friend.
Mandela showed us the power of action; of taking risks on behalf of our ideals.
Mandela understood the ties that bind the human spirit. There is a word in South Africa – ‘Ubuntu’ – that describes his greatest gift: his recognition that we are all bound together in ways that can be invisible to the eye; that there is a oneness to humanity; that we achieve ourselves by sharing ourselves with others, and caring for those around us.
It took a man like Madiba to free not just the prisoner, but the jailer as well; to show that you must trust others so that they may trust you; to teach that reconciliation is not a matter of ignoring a cruel past, but a means of confronting it with inclusion, generosity and truth. He changed laws, but also hearts.
There are too many of us who happily embrace Madiba’s legacy of racial reconciliation, but passionately resist even modest reforms that would challenge chronic poverty and growing inequality. There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba’s struggle for freedom, but do not tolerate dissent from their own people. And there are too many of us who stand on the sidelines, comfortable in complacency or cynicism when our voices must be heard.
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. Over thirty years ago, while still a student, I learned 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.