President Obama addressed a massive South African crowd today at the memorial service for Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg, and if you missed his remarks, they’re worth your time. (For those who can’t watch clips online, the White House has already posted a transcript.)
The oratory on Madiba’s life and legacy was stirring, but perhaps the most salient rhetoric came when Obama looked ahead.
“The struggles that follow the victory of formal equality or 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. We still see run-down schools. We still see young people without 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, and how they worship, and who they love. That is happening today.“And so we, too, must act on behalf of justice. We, too, must act on behalf of peace. There are too many people 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 on the sidelines, comfortable in complacency or cynicism when our voices must be heard.”
It was pointed precisely because it applied to some of the very leaders who traveled to South Africa for the event and heard the rhetoric from the stage.
Indeed, hearing a U.S. president, who was very warmly received, use this opportunity to speak in Africa with a reference to gay rights was itself striking.
I suspect the political world will soon be preoccupied with who shook who’s hand and when, but before the distractions become overwhelming, I hope folks will consider one of the more beautiful eulogies I’ve heard in a long while.