South Africans and people around the world are humbled and privileged to be participating in this celebration of the centenary of Nelson Mandela, declared President Cyril Ramaphosa during his introduction of former US President Barack Obama during the sixteenth annual Nelson Mandela Lecture, which took place in Johannesburg on Tuesday.
Attending this annual lecture in the year of Mandela’s centenary was a huge and rare privilege, Ramaphosa said.
He jokingly suggested that it was because Obama agreed to attend the lecture that many were present at the Bidvest Wanderers Stadium on Tuesday.
“From the very first lecture, the annual lecture has been global in its ambition and has also been broad and inclusive in its outreach and that is why there are so many here today, but many more of our people are watching live on TV and listening on radio, so President Obama, there are millions of South Africans who are listening to your message today,” Ramaphosa pointed out.
He said the annual lecture was a fitting tribute to Nelson Mandela, to the people of South Africa, the people of Africa and the people of the world at large and added that the occasion allowed the world the opportunity to reflect on Mandela’s life.
Mandela lived his life in the full service of the people and that was why he was revered, said Ramaphosa.
“He led us from the wilderness and oppression in to the land of promise, freedom, democracy and equality. As we reflect on an extraordinary life, we are bound to acknowledge that the greatest trait of his was his humanity. He is hailed as a global icon and memorialised in towering statues, his likeness adorns our national currency, yet his most endearing accomplishment was to teach us what it means to be human,” said Ramaphosa, adding that Madiba belonged to the world.
As a leader of the African National Congress (ANC) he ensured that the ANC became the leader of society and a servant of the people.
“He shared with us the same frailties and doubts, the same weaknesses and fears - like us he was not perfect, that is why he constantly sought his better self. This makes his life and contribution all the more remarkable. Madiba challenged us to reach beyond our grasp and achieve what we thought impossible. He taught us to strive, to struggle, to serve and to do so selflessly,” said Rampahosa.
Madiba’s enduring legacy, said the South African President, was that he expected everyone to fight for the interests of the poor, vulnerable and marginalised.
Ramaphosa said Madiba called upon everyone to join hands with like-minded people around the world, to resist the domination of global affairs by the rich and powerful. He added that Mandela called on everyone to heal the nation and change the world.
“In the year of renewal, I keep hearing Madiba’s voice saying I am sending you to the nation. So fellow South Africans, the Thuma Mina message was inspired by Madiba. His spirit is here today,” Ramaphosa averred.
He went on to say that it was fitting that in the year of Madiba’s centenary the Nelson Mandela Foundation invited Obama to deliver the sixteenth annual lecture.
“Obama somehow found a way to beat many of us in being like Madiba. Like Madiba he is a Nobel Peace Laureate. He was the first African-American president to lead his nation. He is an inspiration to all those working and seeking to create a better world. And like Madiba he has an abiding love and commitment to empower young people,” Ramaphosa enthused.
Taking on a lighter tone, Ramaphosa said that as much as there were many similarities between Obama and Madiba there was one area where Obama could not match Madiba.
“Unfortunately, he cannot dance as well as Madiba. And in case you think, like a politician, I am lying, I checked this out with him and he confessed that he can do a little shake but that Michelle Obama is a better dancer than him,” teased Ramaphosa as Obama smiled.
Ramaphosa added that the world recognised in Obama the qualities seen in great leaders like Nelson Mandela: humility, wisdom, compassion and the ability to inspire hope.
“In Obama we found an ally, friend, a kindred spirit and we found a brother,” ended Ramaphosa.