On a rainy Tuesday afternoon in Johannesburg, South Africa, tens of thousands gathered at the continents largest stadium to pay respects to icon and former South African President Nelson Mandela. At memorial, attended by dozens of heads of state, President Barack Obama delivered a speech paying tribute to Mandela’s life, and calling on the world to remember him by continuing to fight injustice.
His rousing tribute to Madiba was followed by a challenge for people to ask themselves: “How well have I applied his lessons in my own life?”
“It is a question I ask myself – as a man and as a President,” President Obama continued. “We know that like South Africa, the United States had to overcome centuries of racial subjugation. As was true here, it took the sacrifice of countless people – known and unknown – to see the dawn of a new day. Michelle and I are the beneficiaries of that struggle. But in America and South Africa, and countries around the globe, we cannot allow our progress to cloud the fact that our work is not done. The struggles that follow the victory of formal equality and universal franchise may not be as filled with drama and moral clarity as those that came before, but they are no less important. For around the world today, we still see children suffering from hunger, and disease; run-down schools, and few prospects for the future. Around the world today, men and women are still imprisoned for their political beliefs; and are still persecuted for what they look like, or how they worship, or who they love.”
The President then called on world leaders to translate their reverence for Mandela into action. “We, too, must act on behalf of justice,” the President said. “We, too, must act on behalf of peace.”
“There are too many of us who happily embrace Madiba’s legacy of racial reconciliation, but passionately resist even modest reforms that would challenge chronic poverty and growing inequality,” he continued. “There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba’s struggle for freedom, but do not tolerate dissent from their own people. And there are too many of us who stand on the sidelines, comfortable in complacency or cynicism when our voices must be heard.”
Read the full speech here.