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Obama The Orator; The Mandela Lecture

Published 3 years ago
By Forbes Africa

It’s 7AM on July 17, a day before Nelson Mandela’s 100th birthday, and Corlett Drive, the road leading to The Wanderers Cricket Stadium in Johannesburg, is a sea of cars.

At least 15,000 people are expected to pour into it today, to hear one former president speak about another. Obama on Mandela. Both names big enough to draw generations of South Africans together to the stadium – and others from abroad – on a cold week day.

“I forgot it was winter in South Africa,” began Barack Obama, instantly warming up to the audience that welcomes him with a thunderous applause.

The former US president is here for the 16th Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture, the biggest ever, timed aptly with the centenary celebrations of the former apartheid struggle hero.

READ MORE: The Power, Humour And Anger Of Mandela

(From Left) Foundation Chairperson Professor Njabulo Ndebele, Graça Machel, President Cyril Ramaphosa, Former US President Barack Obama and Dr Patrice Motsepe. Photo By Gypseenia Lion.

The theme? ‘Renewing the Mandela Legacy and Promoting Active Citizenship in a Changing World’, focusing on creating conditions for bridging divides, working across ideological lines, and resisting oppression and inequality.

“The presence of each and every one here is living proof that the legacy and spirit of Nelson Mandela is alive,” says FORBES billionaire Patrice Motsepe, also founder and CEO of the Motsepe Foundation behind the event, before Obama’s address.

In the audience are recognizable faces, everyone from politicians past and present to billionaire businessmen (Mandela’s long-time friend Richard Branson), movie stars (Charlize Theron), kings and traditional leaders.

The stadium fully represents Mandela’s Rainbow Nation.

The Soweto Gospel Choir. Photo by Motlabana Monnakgotla.

“I am here to see Obama, hopefully I will get a good shot of him. Most importantly, I am here to find out what he has in store for us [South Africa], what he thinks about how we are doing outside the country and his views on how we can take our country forward,” says excited guest Asanda Mokoena.

A few hundred metres from the pitch is a car park for attendees like Mokoena. It is a hive of activity. Vehicles, big and small, scramble about for parking space.

Queues form at the gates hours before.

Inside the stadium, loud laughter and banter. Precious photos reminiscing Mandela and recording Obama. “Yes we can, yes we can, yes we can,” the crowd chants.

Attendees shield their faces from the afternoon sun. Photo by Motlabana Monnakgotla

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who calls Obama to the podium, also receives a standing ovation, the crowds singing and cheering for him.

Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane is in the audience.

“We are living in a global society in which the values of freedom are under threat and it is important that people who believe in individual rights, the market-based economy, the freedoms of people, must stand together and advance the values of Nelson Mandela. So I would hope that today is about advancing the value of non-racialism, and reconcile society, then ultimately, a global world on those values can be established,” says Maimane, walking to the VIP area before the event.

Mandela shone brightly. Says Graça Machel, the former president’s widow, on stage, “these occasions make him very happy”, also drawing parallels between Mandela and Obama, portraying them as “symbols of victory over adversity”.

“It should make us hopeful..,” says Obama in his address. “Ultimately, Mandela came to signify something more…He came to embody the universal aspirations of people all around the world.

“We have to start by admitting that whatever laws may have existed on the books, whatever wonderful pronouncements existed in constitutions, whatever nice words were spoken these last decades at international conferences or in the halls of the United Nations, the previous structures of power and privilege and injustice and exploitation never completely went away…

“I believe in a vision of equality and justice and freedom and multi-racial democracy built on the premise that all people are created equal and they’re endowed by our creator certain inalienable rights. And I believe that a world governed by such principles is possible and that it can achieve more peace and more cooperation and pursuit of a common good,” says Obama, also touching on the politics of fear and the recent chaos in the world.

As the winter sun comes down, and at the end of Obama’s impassioned 90-minute address, the audience is suitably invigorated.

South African actor and presenter, Thapelo Mokoena, says this is a much-needed reminder of the values and sacrifice of Mandela.

Thapelo Mokoena, Actor. Photo by Gypseenia Lion.

“Just like art has a way of reminding us who we are and where we are from, this contributes to that. As an artist, this means the entire world and I can tell the story for many years to come,” he says.

“I just feel it is very opportune for us as South Africans to reflect on the kind of leadership that we want to bring into our own lives,” says Tinashe Zigomo, another audience member.

As the crowds leave, they take with them revitalized reflections on Mandela and lessons from Obama.

– By Ancillar Mangena and Gypseenia Lion

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Related Topics: #Annual Lecture, #Barack Obama, #Cyril Ramaphosa, #Featured, #Mandela, #Obama.