Johannesburg - A rallying call to Africans, and the world, not to forsake their common humanity was made by former US president Barack Obama to South Africans.
Obama, who delivered the Annual Mandela Lecture at the Wanderers Stadium on Tuesday, said Mandela stood for and embraced common humanity. He contended that South Africans should not see the wave of hope and optimism which engulfed the country, and the world, following Mandela’s release from prison in 1990 as naive and misguided.
He added that “we should see in this current trend of reactionary politics that the struggle for basic justice is never truly finished. So we have to constantly be on the lookout and fight those who seek to elevate (themselves) by putting someone else down.
“We also have to actively resist the notions that basic freedoms like dissent, or for women to fully participate in society, the rights for minorities to equal freedoms, the right for people to not be beaten up and jailed because of their social orientation, should not concern us. We have to remember not to say: ‘Well, that does not apply to us,” he asserted in his message, designed to foster shared love for fellow humans.
He also railed against corruption; a message which was loudly cheered by the crowd. It was a bullish, hour-long speech by Obama, where he rebuked nationalism, xenophobia as well as racial prejudices.
“Embracing our common humanity does not mean we have to abandon our unique ethnic, national and religious identities. Madiba never stopped being proud of his tribal heritage; he didn’t stop being proud of being a black man, of being a South African. But he believed, as I believe, that you can be proud of heritage without denigrating those of a different heritage,” Obama added.
President Cyril Ramaphosa also spoke, stressing the need to join the fight against corruption with Mandela’s love for humanity, saying his much-publicised Thuma Mina (send me) mantra was akin to “Madiba sending all of us to deal with corruption, and to root it out of South African soil”.
“His (Mandela’s) most enduring accomplishment was to teach us what it means to be human,” Ramaphosa added.
“He taught us to strive, he taught us to struggle, strive and to serve, and to do so selflessly.”
Ramaphosa also said South Africa did not only celebrate Obama as the 44th president of the US but also because he possessed many of the values that “embodied our struggles for liberation. In Obama we found a brother, a kindred spirit,” he said.
These messages strongly resonated with Mhlangabezi Vundla, a 75-year-old man, who said he spent time with Obama’s father, Barack Hussein Obama senior, during Vundla’s almost 30 years in exile in Kenya.
“This is my first (Mandela) lecture. I came because I knew Obama’s father intimately from our time in Kenya. We used to work together in the field of politics in Kenya, where I spent many years in that country during my time in exile as a Pan Africanist Congress activist,” Vundla said.
“We can talk about humanity until we are blue in the face. But for as long as there are those leaders who steal from the people, there will not be any humanity. When you steal from the people, then you have no humanity. We can pronounce slogans of ubuntu and all its attendant slogans, but for as long as there is corruption, we will remain an inhumane society. This is the message I appreciated the most from Obama,” Vundla enthused.
Also at the lecture was 77-year-old Susie Pather, a human rights activist, who took joy in showing The Star her pictures with Mandela, including when they were in Canada. Pather said it was important for Obama to speak about corruption “as it is a cancer which is eroding the very fabric of society which Madiba envisioned”.
Meanwhile, renowned Kenyan public intellectual and legal expert Patrick Lumumba warned that South Africa was heading for disaster if the white minority did not share land with the majority. Lumumba was addressing the Nelson Mandela Memorial Lecture in Mthatha in the Eastern Cape, which was organised by the South African National Heritage Council.
Responding to questions from a packed audience, Lumumba said South Africans were the most dispossessed of all Africans of their land.
“Any person who takes your land undermines your humanity, and your history of land dispossession is well documented. They (white people) must know that it is untenable for a small population to hold the land while marginalising the majority.
“If it is not addressed it will lead to destruction. I’ve seen successive leaders in South Africa trying to grapple with the issue, and I see Ramaphosa talking to the traditional leaders because they have an interest. Those who hold land must be told that without accommodating the majority, there will be no peace." - Additional reporting by Siviwe Feketha