JOHANNESBURG — Former President Nelson Mandela used his years in prison to fight for the people of South Africa, US president Barack Obama said yesterday.
“Mandela taught us the power of action and the power of ideals, the importance of reasons and arguments. He understood the ideals could not be contained within prison walls,” Obama said, to loud cheers from the crowd.
“He used decades of prison to sharpen his argument . . . he learnt the language and customs of his oppressors.”
Mandela changed laws and hearts, he said.
“We too must act on behalf of justice . . . the growing inequality,” he said.
He urged world leaders to become involved in their countries and help their people.
“Too many leaders who claim solidarity with Mandela’s vision do not tolerate dissent from their own people.
“Too many of us are on the sidelines, comfortably and complacently . . . the questions we face today are how to promote equality and justice, how to end conflict,” Obama said.
“These things have no easy answers. But there were no easy answers for that child (Mandela) born in World War 1.”
“He told the world to learn from South Africa.
“South Africa shows us we can change . . . We will not see the likes of Nelson Mandela again.”
Obama said Madiba channelled his desire to fight through platforms and organisations so that people could stand up with moral dignity and fight.
This carried a price, he said.
He said Mandela had an ideal which he was prepared to die for.
Mandela was not afraid to compromise for the sake of a larger goal and he understood the ties that bind the human spirit.
“Ubuntu, a word that captures Mandela’s greatest gift,” he said.
Obama said the world thanked South Africa for sharing Mandela.
“It is an honour to be with you today, to celebrate a life like no other,” he said.
“People of every walk of life, the world thanks you for sharing Mandela with us. His struggle was your struggle. His triumph was your triumph.”
Mandela was the last great liberator of the 20th Century.
He was committed to democracy and rule of law and received the adoration he deserved, Obama said.
Madiba could admit to imperfection and showed humility.
“We loved him so . . . He was a man of flesh and blood, a son and a husband . . . that’s why we learnt so much from him.”
He earned his place in history through the struggle, Obama said.
After he finished speaking, Obama walked to Graca Machel. He exchanged a few whispering words with her before taking his seat.