President Barack Obama honored the great life and work of Madiba, Nelson Mandela’s traditional clan name, as one of the true giants of history. His words touched the tens of thousands of attendees:
“It took a man like Madiba to free, not just the prisoner, but the jailer 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.”
Despite a cold rain and large crowds, President Obama warmed the hearts of the mourners as he likened Mandela to great champions of peace and equality like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. He said that Mandela, like these great leaders, was willing to suffer the consequences of his actions and still stand up to powerful oppressors,
“We will never see the likes of Nelson Mandela again,’ Obama Said:
“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.”
He credited Nelson Mandela as the long standing inspiration for his own rise as America’s first black president, just as the late leader was the first in his own country. Obama was joined by three of his own predecessors. Former Presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush, all traveled together to Johannesburg to pay their respects.
Before taking the stage to address the world during the live broadcast, President Obama shook hands with Cuban President Raul Castro, whose nation as long been in conflict with its northern neighbor. He also shook the hand of F. W. de Kierk, the last South African president under minority white apartheid government who shared in Mandela’s Nobel Prize for negotiating the peaceful transition to equal democracy.
One final comment supported Obama’s challenge to the leaders and citizens of the world:
“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,”
The Memorial Service was attended by representatives and dignitaries from almost 100 countries, protected by bullet-proof glass and extremely high numbers of security. The event has been billed as one of the largest gatherings of world leaders in recent years.
For this single day, the nations of the world set aside their disputes to honor the man who inspired so many in his long life. No one can know if this is the start of peace between nations with supposedly unsolvable issues. But for at least this one day, the world feels unified in memory of Nelson Mandela, a man who devoted everything he was to forgiveness and equality for all mankind.