If we’re going to continue Nelson Mandela’s legacy for universal freedom, we have to “fight harder,” according to Barack Obama.
On Tuesday, Obama kicked off Mandela’s centenary birthday celebrations in Johannesburg, South Africa by delivering the 2018 Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture. Established in 2003, in commemoration of Nelson Mandela International Day, the lecture has served as a platform for global leaders to raise topical issues affecting South Africa and the world.
During his 90-minute speech, held at Johannesburg’s Bidvest Wanderers Stadium, Obama focused on renewing Madiba’s legacy by creating conditions to bridge the gap with equality and building a multi-racial democracy.
“On Madiba’s 100th birthday, we now stand at a crossroads. A moment in time in which two very different visions of humanity’s future compete for the hearts and minds of citizens around the world,” he said to the 9,000 people in attendance. “Two different stories, two different narratives about who we are and who we should be. How should we respond? Should we see that wave of hope that we felt with Madiba’s release from prison, [or] from the Berlin Wall coming down — should we see that hope as naive and misguided?”
“I believe in a vision of equality and justice, freedom and multi-racial democracy built on the premise that all people are created equal and they’re endowed by your creator with certain rights,” he continued. “And I believe a world governed by such principles is possible and that it can achieve more peace and more cooperation in pursuit of the common good. That’s what i believe.”
For Obama, who also delivered a eulogy at Mandela’s funeral, issues such as racial discrimination and unequal pay for women is among the years of “institutionalized oppression” in the United States in South Africa.
“It is a plain fact that racial discrimination still exists in both the United States and in South Africa,” he said. “And it is also a fact the accumulated disadvantages of years of institutionalized oppression have created disparities in income and in wealth, and education, and in health, and in personal safety and access to credit. Women and girl’s around the world continue to be blocked from positions of power and authority. They continue to be prevented from getting a basic education. They are disportionately victimized by violence and abuse. They’re still paid less than men for doing the same work. That’s still happening.”
As a solution, the former Commander-in-Chief encourages citizens to follow Mandela’s universal principles to help bring forth equality and freedom.
“If we’re going to truly continue Madiba’s long walk towards freedom, we’re going to have to work harder,” he suggested. “We’re going to have to be smarter. We’re going to have to learn about the mistakes of the recent past…We’re going to have to fight harder to reduce inequality and promote lasting economic opportunity for all people…So if we’re serious about universal freedom today, if we care about social justice today then we have a responsibility to do something about it.”
Before he made his exit from the podium, Obama also shared his thoughts on the current state of politics as it pertains to alternative facts and fake news.
“And I should add, for this to work we have to actually believe in a objective reality. This is another one of these things I didn’t think I had to lecture about — you have to believe in facts,” he said. “Without facts, there’s no basis for cooperation. If I say ‘this is a podium’ and you say ‘this is an elephant’ it’s going to be hard for us to cooperate. I can find common ground for those who … they might say it’s more important for us to provide cheap energy for the poor, even if it means in the short term there’s more pollution. At least I can have a debate with them about that… I can’t find common ground if somebody says climate is just not happening, when almost all of the world’s scientists tell us, it is.”
He continued, “I don’t know where to start talking to you about this. If you start saying it’s an elaborate hoax, I don’t know. Where do we start? Unfortunately too much of the politics today seems to reject the very concept of objective truth. People just make stuff up.”
In addition to delivering his keynote speech, on #MandelaDay (July 18) Obama will also host a town hall event for 200 young leaders selected from across Africa to attend a five day training program.