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Rapturous applause for Obama

The US president had the crowd at FNB Stadium on its feet when delivering his tribute to Nelson Mandela.

US President Barack Obama delivering his tribute to Nelson Mandela. Picture: Sapa.

JOHANNESBURG - In what is already being described by some as the most powerful speech in history, US President Barack Obama has praised Nelson Mandela's life and legacy.

He thanked the people of South Africa for sharing Mandela with the rest of the world.

"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 and his triumph your triumph."

Obama stated it was hard to eulogise any man, let alone one of the greatest leaders of all time.

"How much harder to do so for a giant of history who moved a nation towards justice and in the process, moved millions around world."

Obama said while it was tempting to remember Mandela as an icon, Madiba himself strongly resisted such a description of himself.

"Instead, Madiba insisted on sharing with us his doubts and fears, his miscalculations along with his victories."

Obama praised Mandela for being able to admit to imperfection and said it was precisely that which made him so human in the eyes of the world.

"He was practical, testing his beliefs against history. On core principles, he was unyielding."

He said Mandela not only embodied 'ubuntu' but taught millions to find it within themselves.

"He was a man of flesh and blood, a son, a father a friend. That is why we learnt so much from him and still learn from him. Nothing he achieved was inevitable."

He applauded Mandela for showing the world the power of actions and of taking risk on behalf of one's ideals.

"He accepted consequences for action knowing that standing up for injustice comes with a price."

He praised Mandela's willingness to listen to and embrace all opinions and arguments.

"Mandela taught us the power of action and also the importance of reason and arguments. His ideas couldn't be contained by prison walls or extinguished by snipers bullet."

He said Mandela's life has prompted a time of self-reflection where people should ask how well they have applied his lessons in their own lives.

"How well have I applied his lessons in my own life? It is a question I ask myself as a man and as a President."

He said in his own life, he takes inspiration from Mandela's legacy.

"While I will always fall short of Madiba's example, he makes me want to be a better man.

But he cautioned that Mandela's work is not yet done.

"People are still persecuted for their political beliefs and for the way they look. That is happening today. We still see children suffering from hunger and still see broken down schools. People are still persecuted."

Obama said while there were no easy answers, there were no easy answers in front of Nelson Mandela.

"It always seems impossible until it's done."

He said the world will never see the likes of Mandela again.

"I learnt of Nelson Mandela and it stirred something in me. It set me on an improbable journey that finds me here today."

"We will miss him deeply. May God bless the soul of Nelson Mandela. May God bless Africa."

A standing ovation greeted the end of Obama's speech.