HomeOpinionCommentaryExcerpts from Remarks by President Obama at Memorial Service for President Nelson Mandela

Excerpts from Remarks by President Obama at Memorial Service for President Nelson Mandela

First National Bank Stadium
Johannesburg, South Africa

Black news from Pasadena - Commentary - President Obama on Nelson Mandela"It is hard to eulogize any man -- to capture in words not just the facts and the dates that make a life, but the essential truth of a person -- their private joys and sorrows; the quiet moments and unique qualities that illuminate someone's soul. How much harder to do so for a giant of history, who moved a nation toward justice, and in the process moved billions around the world.

"Born during World War I, far from the corridors of power, a boy raised herding cattle and tutored by the elders of his Thembu tribe, Madiba would emerge as the last great liberator of the 20th century. Like Gandhi, he would lead a resistance movement -- a movement that at its start had little prospect for success. Like Dr. King, he would give potent voice to the claims of the oppressed and the moral necessity of racial justice. He would endure a brutal imprisonment that began in the time of Kennedy and Khrushchev, and reached the final days of the Cold War. Emerging from prison, without the force of arms, he would -- like Abraham Lincoln -- hold his country together when it threatened to break apart. And like America's Founding Fathers, he would erect a constitutional order to preserve freedom for future generations -- a commitment to democracy and rule of law ratified not only by his election, but by his willingness to step down from power after only one term.

"Madiba insisted on sharing with us his doubts and his fears; his miscalculations along with his victories. "I am not a saint," he said, "unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying." It was precisely because he could admit to imperfection -- because he could be so full of good humor, even mischief, despite the heavy burdens he carried -- that we loved him so.

"Mandela showed us the power of action; of taking risks on behalf of our ideals. But like other early giants of the ANC -- the Sisulus and Tambos -- Madiba disciplined his anger and channeled his desire to fight into organization, and platforms, and strategies for action, so men and women could stand up for their God-given dignity.

"Mandela taught us the power of action, but he also taught us the power of ideas; the importance of reason and arguments; the need to study not only those who you agree with, but also those who you don't agree with. He used decades in prison to sharpen his arguments, but also to spread his thirst for knowledge to others in the movement. He showed in painstaking negotiations how to transfer power and draft new laws, and he was not afraid to compromise for the sake of a larger goal. And because he was not only a leader of a movement, but a skillful politician, Mandela understood the ties that bind the human spirit. There is a word in South Africa -- Ubuntu -- a word that captures Mandela's greatest gift: his recognition that we are all bound together in ways that are invisible to the eye; that there is a oneness to humanity; that we achieve ourselves by sharing ourselves with others, and caring for those around us.

"It took a man like Madiba to free not just the prisoner, but the jailer as well to show that you must trust others so that they may trust you; to teach that reconciliation is not a matter of ignoring a cruel past, but a means of confronting it with inclusion and generosity and truth. He changed laws, but he also changed hearts.

"We know that, like South Africa, the United States had to overcome centuries of racial subjugation. As was true here, it took sacrifice of countless people. Michelle and I are beneficiaries of that struggle.

"And so we, too, must act on behalf of justice. We, too, must act on behalf of peace. The questions we face today -- how to promote equality and justice. South Africa shows we can change not by conflict, but by peace and justice and opportunity.

"We will never see the likes of Nelson Mandela again. But let me say to the young people of Africa and the young people around the world -- you, too, can make his life's work your own. After this great liberator is laid to rest, and when we have returned to our cities and villages and rejoined our daily routines, let us search for his strength. Let us think of Madiba and the words that brought him comfort within the four walls of his cell:

"It matters not how strait the gate, how charged with punishments the scroll, I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul."

 

 

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