Obama tells us that, yes, we still can
In what was an expected oratorical masterpiece, former US president Barack Obama hits out at the new world order
“Yes we can. Yes we can,” chanted the excited crowd that packed the Wanderers Stadium as former United States president Barack Obama stood up to deliver the centennial edition of the annual Nelson Mandela lecture on a cold winter’s afternoon.
He paused and smiled to acknowledge them and, in true Obama style, went on to deliver another oratorical masterpiece.
The former US head of state rebuked the current world order, saying racial and gender discrimination were still prevalent despite economic and social advances that have been made.
“Women and girls around the world continue to be blocked from positions of power and authority. They are still paid less than men for doing the same work,” he said to raucous applause.
Obama landed in South Africa on Tuesday night from Kenya, where he visited his father’s ancestral home and delivered an address. There was tight security outside the stadium, with crowds queuing patiently from around lunchtime to go through metal detectors manned by members of the South African Police Service. Inside the stadium, a number of erected stalls made quick business selling Mandela memorabilia, food and drinks.He told the crowd that included Mandela’s widow, Graca Machel, and President Cyril Rampahosa, that he was inspired by Mandela’s vision.
“I believe in Nelson Mandela’s vision. In the vision shared by [Mahatma] Ghandi and [Martin Luther] King, in a vision of equality and justice, freedom and multiracial democracy built on the premise that people are created equal. A world governed by such principles is possible and it can achieve more peace and more co-operation to pursue a common good. I believe we have no choice but to move forward.”Obama also warned that countries and governments that advance nationalism and xenophobia instead of opening their borders to genuine migration and globalisation were doomed to failure.
“Countries that rely on nationalism, xenophobia and racial superiority; those countries find themselves consumed by civil war or external war. Technology cannot be put back in a bottle. We are stuck with the that fact we live closer together and populations are moving. The only way to address climate change, mass migration, pandemic disease is to develop more international co-operation, not less.”Taking a tacit dig at the immigration policy of his successor Donald Trump, Obama said it was possible for countries to enforce proper border control while respecting human rights.
“It’s not wrong to insist that national borders matter, that laws need to be followed. But that can’t be an excuse for immigration policies based on race, ethnicity or religion. We can enforce the law while respecting the essential humanity of those striving for a better life,” he said.
Obama urged those who have to give more to those who do not have instead of acquiring things they do not need.
“Right now I’m surprised at how much money I have. There’s only so much you can eat.”
Earlier, Machel paid tribute to her late husband, describing him as a skilful strategist, visionary statesman and icon who inspired not only South Africa but the world at large.“Madiba was a selfless symbol of unrelenting resistance, resilience and victory. He embedded the sacrifices of millions to overthrow apartheid; incredulous in strength and character. His was a narrative that good can triumph over evil,” she said.
Other VIP guests at the lecture included former president Kgalema Motlanthe, National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete, Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini, former Irish president Mary Robison, former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, former Liberian president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and ex-Italian president Matteo Renzi.
US saxophonist Kirk Whalum, local afrosoul sensation Thandiswa Mazwai and Zimbabwean singer Oliver Mtukudzi were some of those who performed for the crowd after the lecture.