Obama: Madiba’s vision set terms of progress at end of 20th century

Barack Obama says Nelson Mandela's vision guided the world on the meaning of progress at the end of the 20th century.

Former US President Barack Obama speaks at the 16th Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture at the Wanderers Cricket Stadium on 17 July 2018. Picture: Christa Eybers/EWN

JOHANNESBURG - Former US President Barack Obama delivered the Annual Nelson Mandela Lecture at a packed Wanderers Stadium on Tuesday afternoon.

He says Madiba's vision guided the world on the meaning of progress at the end of the 20th century.

“During the last decades of the 20th century, the progressive, democratic vision that Nelson Mandela represented in many ways set the terms of the international political debate. It doesn’t mean that vision was always victorious, but it set the terms, the parameters.”

Obama was greeted with cheers of “yes we can” from the crowd.

WATCH: Barack Obama's Nelson Mandela lecture


Obama says the world is still plagued by yawing disparities in income, education, and security often drawn along racial and gender lines.

He says while globalisation has taken hold, inequality lives on in society.

“Women and girls around the world continue to be blocked from positions of power and authority. They continued to be prevented from getting a basic education. They are disproportionately victimised by violence and abuse. They are still paid less than men for doing the same work - that’s still happening.

“Let me tell you what I believe. I believe in Nelson Mandela’s vision, I believe in a vision shared by Gandhi and King, and Abraham Lincoln. I believe in a vision of equality and justice and freedom, multi-racial democracy built on the premise that all people are created equal. And they are endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights.”

Obama says he never imagined having to urge people to treat others equally 100 years after Madiba's birth.

“But it turns out as we are seeing in this recent drift in reactionary politics that the struggle for basic justice is never truly finished. So, we’ve got to constantly be on the lookout and fight for people who seek to elevate themselves by putting somebody else down.”


He says inclusive capitalism is integral to creating a more equal society.

“What an amazing gift to be able to help people, not just yourself. It involves promoting an inclusive capitalism both within nations and between nations.”

Obama has also called on people to be aroused to action, saying now is the time to make a difference.

“Now is a good time to be fired up. And for those of us who care about the legacy that we honour here today, about equality and dignity, democracy and solidarity and kindness. Those of us who remain young at heart, if not in body, we have an obligation to help...”


The former US president has warned the denial of facts in today's world could be the undoing of democracy.

Obama told thousands of guests that finding common ground with those who share different opinions has to be based on facts.

He warns much of today's politics is based on blatant lies.

“Unfortunately, too much of politics today seem to reject the very concept of objective truth. People just make stuff up… we see it in the growth of state propaganda and in internet fabrications.”

He says the way society operates needs to change and people need to give.

“It’s enough. You don’t have to take a vow of poverty to just say 'let me help out a few other folks', 'let me look at that child out there who doesn’t have enough to eat or needs some school fees', it’s okay.”

Earlier, Graca Machel reflected on her late husband's legacy, saying Madiba weaved a colourful tapestry with generations of great leaders who fought for freedom.

She told the crowd Madiba was an example of how good can triumph over evil.

“He was not acting in singular isolation, he in fact regarded himself as a representative of a much broader powerful conglomeration of activists who in their unique and varied ways were driving the attainment of political freedom.”

President Cyril Ramaphosa also paid tribute to Madiba.

“This occasion gives us an opportunity to reflect on Nelson Mandela’s life. A man we are all proud to call the founding father of our united, non-racial, non-sexist and democratic South Africa.”

(Edited by Thapelo Lekabe)