Madiba gave foundation of hope for us to build the future on

Former US president Barack Obama's 16th Nelson Mandela annual lecture in honour of the centennial of Madiba's birth lived up to the moment and captured the spirit of hope that he symbolised, says the writer.
Former US president Barack Obama's 16th Nelson Mandela annual lecture in honour of the centennial of Madiba's birth lived up to the moment and captured the spirit of hope that he symbolised, says the writer.
Image: ALON SKUY

The celebration of the centenary of the birth of Nelson Mandela came at a time when South Africa finds itself at another point of transition.

This time it's not from apartheid to democracy. It is from an increasing decline and erosion of democracy and economic stagnation. The country is coming out of a period where its fledgling democracy has been subject to a barrage of attacks by those who attempted to weaken the checks and balances put in place to guard against the abuse of power.

Socioeconomic pressures and deepening inequality have also resulted in an atmosphere of despondency and growing discontent across the republic.

Celebrating Madiba's centenary is just the kind of platform South Africa needed to reflect on the legacy of and values espoused by the man who stands head and shoulders above present-day politicians and statesmen by way of moral authority.

The Nelson Mandela Foundation annual lecture truly encapsulated the critical moment that not only SA but also the continent and indeed the world finds itself in.

It was able to capture that spirit of hope that pervaded the life of Madiba, that hope he exuded and symbolised for a nation coming out of a dark past looking forward to a brighter and more prosperous future.

The centenary celebration at the Wanderers Stadium, Joburg, was able to embody and present that hope. Former US president Barack Obama's speech lived up to the moment.

He invoked Madiba's vision of a just and equitable world. "And during the last decades of the 20th century, the progressive, democratic vision that Nelson Mandela represented in many ways set the terms of international political debate.

"It doesn't mean that vision was always victorious, but it set the terms . and it continued to propel the world forward."

Madiba participated in propelling the world towards a just order, where the dignity of all is recognised and respected, where race, caste, gender, ethnicity and background should not determine access to basic human rights.

But this must be contrasted with the prevailing trend in contemporary politics of reversing the gains that Madiba and his generation sacrificed their lives for.

"So we have to start by admitting that whatever laws may have existed on the books .whatever nice words were spoken during these last several decades at international conferences or in the halls of the United Nations, the previous structures of privilege and power and injustice and exploitation never completely went away."

Obama having himself been the leader of the free world has to shoulder some blame in regard to the shift towards the hardening of hearts and the polarisation we see in the world and in politics today.

Even so, his message of hope is worth echoing, particularly in the context of a South Africa that needs to change its political and socioeconomic trajectory. "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 and multi-racial democracy, built on the premise that all people are created equal . And I believe that a world governed by such principles is possible and that it can achieve more peace and more cooperation in pursuit of a common good. That's what I believe."

It is this hope that will keep us going. Madiba's generation laid the foundation. This generation must build on it.

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