Obama memorial speech for Nelson Mandela

10-12-2013
U.S. President Barack Obama delivered a  powerful tribute Tuesday morning at the at the memorial service for the late South African  President Nelson Mandela.
Here are his remarks, in full, as prepared for delivery:

To Graça Machel and the Mandela family; to  President Zuma and members of the government; to heads of state and government,  past and present; distinguished guests – it is a singular honor to be with you  today, to celebrate a life unlike any other.  To the people of South Africa  – people of every race and walk of life – the world thanks you for sharing  Nelson Mandela with us.  His struggle was your struggle.  His triumph  was your triumph.  Your dignity and hope found expression in his life, and  your freedom, your democracy is his cherished legacy.
 
It is hard to eulogize any man – to capture  in words not just the facts and the dates that make a life, but the essential  truth of a person – their private joys and sorrows; the quiet moments and unique  qualities that illuminate someone’s soul.  How much harder to do so for a  giant of history, who moved a nation toward justice, and in the process moved  billions around the world.
 
Born during World War I, far from the  corridors of power, a boy raised herding cattle and tutored by elders of his  Thembu tribe – Madiba would emerge as the last great liberator of the 20th  century.  Like Gandhi, he would lead a resistance movement – a movement  that at its start held little prospect of success.  Like King, he would  give potent voice to the claims of the oppressed, and the moral necessity of  racial justice.  He would endure a brutal imprisonment that began in the  time of Kennedy and Khrushchev, and reached the final days of the Cold  War.  Emerging from prison, without force of arms, he would – like Lincoln  – hold his country together when it threatened to break apart.  Like  America’s founding fathers, he would erect a constitutional order to preserve  freedom for future generations – a commitment to democracy and rule of law  ratified not only by his election, but by his willingness to step down from  power.
 
Given the sweep of his life, and the  adoration that he so rightly earned, it is tempting then to remember Nelson  Mandela as an icon, smiling and serene, detached from the tawdry affairs of  lesser men.  But Madiba himself strongly resisted such a lifeless portrait.  Instead, he insisted on sharing with us his doubts and fears; his  miscalculations along with his victories.  “I’m not a saint,” he said,  “unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.”
 
It was precisely because he could admit to  imperfection – because he could be so full of good humor, even mischief, despite  the heavy burdens he carried – that we loved him so.  He was not a bust  made of marble; he was a man of flesh and blood – a son and husband, a father  and a friend.  That is why we learned so much from him; that is why we can  learn from him still.  For nothing he achieved was inevitable.  In the  arc of his life, we see a man who earned his place in history through struggle  and shrewdness; persistence and faith.  He tells us what’s possible not  just in the pages of dusty history books, but in our own lives as  well.
 
Mandela showed us the power of action; of  taking risks on behalf of our ideals.  Perhaps Madiba was right that he  inherited, “a proud rebelliousness, a stubborn sense of fairness” from his  father. Certainly he shared with millions of black and colored South Africans  the anger born of, “a thousand slights, a thousand indignities, a thousand  unremembered moments…a desire to fight the system that imprisoned my  people.”
 
But like other early giants of the ANC –  the Sisulus and Tambos – Madiba disciplined his anger; and channeled his desire  to fight into organization, and platforms, and strategies for action, so men and  women could stand-up for their dignity.  Moreover, he accepted the  consequences of his actions, knowing that standing up to powerful interests and  injustice carries a price.  “I have fought against white domination and I  have fought against black domination,” he said at his 1964 trial.  “I’ve  cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live  together in harmony and with equal opportunities.  It is an ideal which I  hope to live for and to achieve.  But if needs be, it is an ideal for which  I am prepared to die.”
 
Mandela taught us the power of action, but  also ideas; the importance of reason and arguments; the need to study not only  those you agree with, but those who you don’t.  He understood that ideas  cannot be contained by prison walls, or extinguished by a sniper’s bullet.   He turned his trial into an indictment of apartheid because of his eloquence and  passion, but also his training as an advocate. He used decades in prison to  sharpen his arguments, but also to spread his thirst for knowledge to others in  the movement.  And he learned the language and customs of his oppressor so  that one day he might better convey to them how their own freedom depended upon  his.
 
Mandela demonstrated that action and ideas  are not enough; no matter how right, they must be chiseled into laws and  institutions.  He was practical, testing his beliefs against the hard  surface of circumstance and history.  On core principles he was unyielding,  which is why he could rebuff offers of conditional release, reminding the  Apartheid regime that, “prisoners cannot enter into contracts.”  But as he  showed in painstaking negotiations to transfer power and draft new laws, he was  not afraid to compromise for the sake of a larger goal.  And because he was  not only a leader of a movement, but a skillful politician, the Constitution  that emerged was worthy of this multiracial democracy; true to his vision of  laws that protect minority as well as majority rights, and the precious freedoms  of every South African.
 
Finally, Mandela understood the ties that  bind the human spirit.  There is a word in South Africa- Ubuntu – that  describes his greatest gift: his recognition that we are all bound together in  ways that can be invisible to the eye; that there is a oneness to humanity; that  we achieve ourselves by sharing ourselves with others, and caring for those  around us.  We can never know how much of this was innate in him, or how  much of was shaped and burnished in a dark, solitary cell.  But we remember  the gestures, large and small – introducing his jailors as honored guests at his  inauguration; taking the pitch in a Springbok uniform; turning his family’s  heartbreak into a call to confront HIV/AIDS – that revealed the depth of his  empathy and understanding.  He not only embodied Ubuntu; he taught millions  to find that truth within themselves.  It took a man like Madiba to free  not just the prisoner, but the jailor as well; to show that you must trust  others so that they may trust you; to teach that reconciliation is not a matter  of ignoring a cruel past, but a means of confronting it with inclusion,  generosity and truth. He changed laws, but also hearts.
 
For the people of South Africa, for those  he inspired around the globe – Madiba’s passing is rightly a time of mourning,  and a time to celebrate his heroic life.  But I believe it should also  prompt in each of us a time for self-reflection. With honesty, regardless of our  station or circumstance, we must ask:  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.  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.
 
We, too, must act on behalf of  justice.  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.  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.
 
The questions we face today – how to  promote equality and justice; to uphold freedom and human rights; to end  conflict and sectarian war – do not have easy answers.  But there were no  easy answers in front of that child in Qunu.  Nelson Mandela reminds us  that it always seems impossible until it is done.  South Africa shows us  that is true.  South Africa shows us we can change.  We can choose to  live in a world defined not by our differences, but by our common hopes.   We can choose a world defined not by conflict, but by peace and justice and  opportunity.
 
We will never see the likes of Nelson  Mandela again.  But let me say to the young people of Africa, and young  people around the world – you can make his life’s work your own.  Over  thirty years ago, while still a student, I learned of Mandela and the struggles  in this land.  It stirred something in me.  It woke me up to my  responsibilities – to others, and to myself – and set me on an improbable  journey that finds me here today.  And while I will always fall short of  Madiba’s example, he makes me want to be better.  He speaks to what is best  inside us.  After this great liberator is laid to rest; when we have  returned to our cities and villages, and rejoined our daily routines, let us  search then for his strength – for his largeness of spirit – somewhere inside  ourselves.  And when the night grows dark, when injustice weighs heavy on  our hearts, or our best laid plans seem beyond our reach – think of Madiba, and  the words that brought him comfort within the four walls of a cell:
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the  scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
What a great soul it was.  We will  miss him deeply.  May God bless the memory of Nelson Mandela.  May God  bless the people of South Africa

Nieuwsbrief