South African President Cyril Ramaphosa talks to former US President Barack Obama at the 16th Nelson Mandela annual lecture. Picture: Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko

Johannesburg - President Cyril Ramaphosa exalted Nelson Mandela as a symbol of humanity in a moving tribute to the country's revered former statesman.

He also poked fun at former US President Barack Obama dancing skills...or lack thereof. 

Ramaphosa said: "I have laid in bed and dreamt of being like Madiba, Obama has achieved this. Nobel Peace Laureate, committment to empower young people. One area where he cannot match Madiba, he cannot dance as well as Madiba!

Speaking at the 16th Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture at the Wanderers Stadium in Joburg on Tuesday afternoon, Ramaphosa enthused about the privilege he said he felt at being involved in a lecture which honours a man he called a selfless leader.

"His (Mandela's) most enduring accomplishment was to teach us what it means to be human," Ramaphosa said. "He taught us to strive, he taught us to struggle, strive and to serve, and to do so selflessly."

Ramaphosa had the crowds in stitches when he linked his Thuma Mina campaign to Mandela. "In this year of renewal, I keep hearing Madiba's voice saying 'I'm sending you to serve the nation'."

He said the Thuma Mina message was from Mandela and that the late former statesman was sending all of us to deal with the country's challenges.

The president was speaking just before introducing former US president Barack Obama, who was to deliver the lecture's keynote address, which Ramaphosa called "a very rare privilege". 

"It is because President Obama agreed to come that many of us are here today," Ramaphosa joked, thanking the the Nelson Mandela Foundation for organising the event.   

The president also paid tribute to Mama Albertina Sisulu, who would have also turned 100 years old this year, adding that it was a privilege to honour the late Ma Sisulu for the whole year. 

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The Star