Former U.S. President Barack Obama delivers his speech at the 16th Annual Nelson Mandela Lecture at the Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa. Picture: AP Photo/Themba Hadebe
I generally regard myself as a fierce opponent of idolatry yet still find it hard not to get excited when Barack Obama speaks.

And so I trudged along and joined the hordes of fellow hangers-on who descended on the Wanderers Stadium on Tuesday when the 44th president of the United States of America delivered the 16th Annual Nelson Mandela Lecture.

He said he was not sure if he was equal to the task of delivering a “lecture” as he associated such with “stuffy old professors in bow ties and tweed” who were at a stage in their lives of “grey hair and slightly failing eyesight”.

Any man who will implore me to “believe in facts” will have my undivided attention anytime, anywhere. I therefore did not mind braving the elements to be at the cricket stadium when I’d otherwise have been indoors elsewhere.

I find it equally absurd that there could be a world view, in the 21st century, that, to appropriate Obama’s speech, “certain races, certain nations, certain groups were inherently superior to others”.

I thought of Afrikaner lobby group, AfriForum, at this point and how, through the prism of their bigoted politics, a certain Van der Merwe, Snyman or Botha should hold certain rights above people of a darker hue simply on the basis that he lacks melanin.

I thought of the brutalities of Israel, which on Thursday was declared a nation-state of the Jewish people, and how those who voted for this apartheid law hold the mistaken and anachronistic view that they are better than Palestinians.

In the words of Professor Patrick Lumumba of Kenya, who spoke at Walter Sisulu University in Mthatha at the same time Obama had us enthralled in Illovo, the Israelis think of Arabs as “children of a lesser God”. Obama reminded us that “racial discrimination still exists in both the United States and South Africa”. He called this assertion a plain fact.

Those who will disagree with this fact are the likes of those who will see an elephant where Obama sees a podium. And it is not easy to engage such people.

They live among us. They see South Africa as ripe for divisions into enclaves of racism and tribalism. They seek to etch out further Oranias from the country whose new dispensation in 1994 came on the back of people paying the ultimate sacrifice, dying to see it birthed.

Obama says: In other words, for far too many people, the more things have changed, the more things stayed the same.

The white racist wants to keep the status quo - his privilege. Do not talk about expropriation of land without compensation, he warns us, lest the markets react negatively.

The original owners of the land must be kept in shacks and small backyards.

I do not see how I cannot be agitated by Obama who shines the light on the Big Man syndrome when Africa is held to ransom by the greed of such men, who previously wanted third terms, but have now since moved to seek presidencies-for-life, after the example of Beijing.

“Look around. Strongman politics are ascendant suddenly, whereby elections and some pretence of democracy are maintained - the form of it - but those in power seek to undermine every institution or norm that gives democracy meaning,” Obama said.

Rigging polls has become de rigueur on the continent. It is only Obama, a man of Kenyan stock himself, who can warn us about these things.

“So we have to stop pretending that countries that just hold an election where sometimes the winner somehow magically gets 90% of the vote because all the opposition is locked up, or can’t get on TV, is a democracy.”

We have seen this sham democracy with Pierre Nkurunziza in Burundi. We have seen it with Yoweri Museveni in Uganda. We have seen it with Paul Kagame in Rwanda. At the time of writing, Joseph Kabila in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was going to address the nation. Hope to God he had seen the light, and that he was telling the long-suffering Congolese that he had heeded their call and was vacating office.

I have a weakness. I am a Mbeki-ite. I am an Obama man. I believe in what Obama believes in. He says: “Let me tell you what I believe. I believe in Nelson Mandela’s vision. I believe in a vision shared by (Mahatma) Gandhi and (Martin Luther) King and Abraham Lincoln.

“I believe in a vision of equality, justice, freedom and multi-racial democracy, built on the premise that all people are created equal, and they’re endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights.

“And I believe that a world governed by such principles is possible and that it can achieve more peace and more co-operation in pursuit of a common good. That’s what I believe.”

He says he’s “actually surprised by how much money I got” and understands that he is duty-bound to “help out and let a few of the other folks - let me look at that child out there who doesn’t have enough to eat or needs some school fees, let me help him out. I’ll pay a little more in taxes. It’s okay. I can afford it”.

This is my kind of man, who is surprised that politicians today find it normal to lie, and when caught out, continue lying.He was speaking to me.

The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

SUNDAY TRIBUNE