Barack Obama was a stand-out hit at Tuesday’s memorial service for Nelson Mandela.
Even sitting here in my study in London’s Earls Court, watching events on my Mac, I could feel the warmth and affection in the Soweto crowd’s welcoming cheer.
And, when he spoke, I could hear that he returned their emotion.
He asked us to remember Nelson Mandela as “a giant of history”, and thanked the people of South Africa for “sharing Nelson Mandela with us”.
Now, I wonder, how many of us will remember Barack Obama.
A man for his time
He has, for me, been a man both for and of his time.
He made history by becoming the first African American President of the Union.
But history will record that, as President of the Union, he failed to achieve his prime ambitions.
And remember, he cannot be a third term President, so he has no third chance for a second tilt at history.
Nevertheless, if we are wise, we will remember his words today.
Especially we should remember this passage from his address at Soweto:-
“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.”
No easy answers
Obama went on to say that the questions we face today have no easy answers.
But, he said, “South Africa shows us we can change”, and that we can choose to live in a world “defined not by our differences, but by our common hopes”.
We must hope that, while Mandela’s legacy will surely be remembered, Obama’s words on this celebratory occasion will also be recalled long after he has left the White House and his people have chosen another President of their Union.
We should remember what he said. And the man who said it.