Former U.S. President Barack Obama, left, delivers his speech at the 16th Annual Nelson Mandela Lecture at the Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa, Tuesday, July 17, 2018. In his highest-profile speech since leaving office, Obama urged people around the world to respect human rights and other values under threat in an address marking the 100th anniversary of anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela’s birth. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)
In his highest profile speech since leaving office, former U.S. President Barack Obama on Tuesday denounced the policies of President Donald Trump without mentioning his name, taking aim at the “politics of fear, resentment, retrenchment,” and decrying leaders who are caught lying and “just double down and lie some more.”
Obama was cheered by thousands in Johannesburg’s Wanderers Stadium as he marked the centenary of Nelson Mandela’s birth by urging respect for human rights, the free press and other values he said were under threat.
He rallied people to keep alive the ideals that the anti-apartheid activist worked for as the first black president of South Africa, including democracy, diversity, gender equality and tolerance.
Obama opened by calling today’s times “strange and uncertain,” adding that “each day’s news cycle is bringing more head-spinning and disturbing headlines.”
“We see much of the world threatening to return to a more dangerous, more brutal, way of doing business,” he said.
A day after Trump met in Helsinki with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Obama criticized “strongman politics.”
The “politics of fear, resentment, retrenchment” are on the move “at a pace unimaginable just a few years ago,” Obama added.
“Those in power seek to undermine every institution … that gives democracy meaning,” he said.
The first African-American president of the United States spoke up for equality in all forms, adding: “I would have thought we had figured that out by now.”
Obama praised the diversity of the World Cup champion French team, and he said that those countries engaging in xenophobia “eventually … find themselves consumed by civil war.”
He noted the “utter loss of shame among political leaders when they’re caught in a lie and they just double down and lie some more,” warning that the denial of facts — such as climate change — could be the undoing of democracy.
But Obama reminded the crowd that “we’ve been through darker times. We’ve been through lower valleys.”
He closed with a call to action: “I say if people can learn to hate, they can be taught to love.”
The crowd gave him a standing ovation in the chilly South African winter.
“Just by standing on the stage honoring Nelson Mandela, Obama is delivering an eloquent rebuke to Trump,” said John Stremlau, professor of international relations at Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg.
He called the timing of Obama’s speech auspicious — one day after Trump’s summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin — and said the commitments that defined Mandela’s life are “under assault.”
“Yesterday, we had Trump and Putin standing together; now we are seeing the opposing team: Obama and Mandela.”
This was Obama’s first trip to Africa since leaving office in 2017. Earlier this week, he stopped in Kenya, where he visited the rural birthplace of his late father.
Obama’s speech noted how Mandela, who was imprisoned for 27 years, kept up his campaign against what appeared to be insurmountable odds to end apartheid, South Africa’s harsh system of white minority rule.
Mandela, who was released from prison in 1990 and became president four years later, died in 2013 at the age of 95. He left a powerful legacy of reconciliation and diversity along with a resistance to inequality — economic and otherwise.
Since leaving the White House, Obama has shied away from public comment on the Trump administration, which has reversed or attacked his notable achievements. The U.S. under Trump has withdrawn from the 2015 Paris climate agreement and the Iran nuclear deal while trying to undercut the Affordable Care Act or “Obamacare.”
Obama’s speech drew on his great admiration for Mandela, a fellow Nobel Peace Prize winner whom America’s first black president saw as a mentor.
When Obama was a U.S. senator, he had his picture taken with Mandela. After Obama became president he sent a copy of the photo to Mandela, who kept it in his office. Obama also made a point of visiting Mandela’s prison cell and gave a moving eulogy at Mandela’s memorial service in 2013, saying the South African had inspired him.
Many South Africans view Obama as a successor to Mandela because of his groundbreaking role and his support for racial equality in the U.S. and around the world.
Stremlau, who attended the speech, called it “a tough, strong condemnation of Trump and all that he stands for.”
“Obama hit out at lying, insecurity and putting down others. Obama said he can’t believe it is necessary to once again speak up for equality and human rights,” Stremlau said. “He pulled it together in a carefully worded, measured speech, which urged all to live up to Mandela’s standards and values.”
QUNU, South Africa (AP) — July 18 marks 100 years since the birth of Nelson Mandela, who died in 2013.
Visitors can follow in Mandela’s footsteps from the villages where he was born and raised, to the Soweto township where he became an anti-apartheid leader, to Robben Island where he was imprisoned for years.
THE EASTERN CAPE
“When Mandela was just a child, he walked for miles on this route, moving from one village to another,” said tour guide Velile Ndlumbini as we drove through the picturesque green rolling hills of the Eastern Cape.
The homestead where he was born can be seen in the small village of Mvezo. He lived here until age 2, when his father lost his position as village chief in a dispute with a magistrate.
The family then moved to neighboring Qunu, where Mandela lived until age 9, when his father died. He and his mother then moved 19 kilometers (12 miles) away to Mqhekezweni.
Here he was adopted by the acting regent king and groomed for leadership. Mandela wrote in his autobiography, “Long Walk to Freedom,” that his interest in politics was first kindled listening to tribal elders holding community meetings in Mqhekezweni. A shady spot under a circle of gum trees, Ndlumbini said, is still used for that purpose.
It was Qunu where Mandela returned after 27 years in prison. He built a complex there along the N2 highway for his family, where some still live, and he moved back to Qunu himself after retiring from public life.
Dusty roads lead to his private grave, across from his family’s burial site.
Qunu also houses the Nelson Mandela Museum, which opened on Feb. 11, 2000, the 10th anniversary of his release from prison. It takes visitors from his childhood through his involvement in politics to his triumphant election as president.
Some 200 kilometers (125 miles) south lies the Steve Biko Museum in King William’s Town. Biko was an icon of anti-apartheid activism, an African nationalist and a leader of the grassroots Black Consciousness Movement. He was a major influence on Mandela, and died in 1977 after being arrested and beaten.
In neighboring Mandela Bay in Port Elizabeth, an installation called Route 67 showcases 67 artworks symbolizing Mandela’s 67 years of service. The art, all by locals, depicts significant moments on the journey from apartheid to democracy, moving from laser-cut steel figures forming a voting line in the country’s first democratic elections in 1994, to a stairway that starts in darkness and progresses to an era of color and new beginnings.
Created in the 1930s by the white government to relocate the black population away from Johannesburg, Soweto became the largest black city in South Africa. Poverty was rampant in the shanty towns and civil unrest was common during apartheid.
Mandela lived in Soweto from 1946 to 1962 and met African National Congress activist Walter Sisulu there.
Mandela’s Soweto home has also been converted into a museum. But the most exhaustive and heartbreaking site is the Apartheid Museum. The entrance is divided into “blankes/whites” and “nie-blankes/non-whites,” followed by a display of “passes” that the black population was required to carry, restricting their movements. The museum details the white settlers’ history in South Africa, the beginnings of apartheid and daily struggles blacks endured, along with the story of how Mandela transformed the African National Congress into a mass political movement.
The Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum tell the story of the 1976 Soweto riots. Hector was 12 when he was shot and killed by police firing on student protesters. A famous photo shows his limp body being carried as his sister ran alongside. Some accounts say hundreds died during the protests. The museum contains a heart-wrenching and moving collection of oral testimonies, large-scale photos, audiovisual displays and historical documents about the uprising.
A drive north takes you to Liliesleaf, in the suburb of Rivonia. This farm-turned-museum, once owned by South African Communist Party member Arthur Goldreich, was used in the 1960s as a secret hideout for Mandela and other activists on the run from police. The famous Rivonia Trial ended with Mandela and his comrades sentenced to life in prison on Robben Island.
A 45-minute ferry ride from Cape Town, Robben Island is where Mandela spent 18 years of his 27 years in prison, beginning in 1964, alongside other heroes of the movement like Sisulu and Govan Mbeki.
The most powerful part of the tour, led by a former prisoner, is a visit to Mandela’s cell, a 7-by-9-foot (2-by-2.7-meter) room. Despite the humiliation and oppression of his years here, this was also where he honed his skills as a leader, negotiator and proselytizer, which put him on the path to the presidency in 1994.
For visitors, making a pilgrimage to places connected to Mandela’s life is both distressing and uplifting. While South Africa has come a long way, this young democracy still has a lot of work ahead, including improving living conditions and resources for its majority black population.
A mobile app, Madiba’s Journey, created by South African Tourism and the Nelson Mandela Foundation, can help you trace the footsteps of the man who dedicated his life to freedom.
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