Obama to deliver 2018 Mandela lecture

Former United States president Barack Obama has been named the speaker of the 2018 Nelson Mandela lecture, the Nelson Mandela Foundation has announced.

The annual lecture will this year be held on July 17, the day before what would have been Mandela’s 100th birthday.

Obama has been described by the foundation as a “Nobel prize winner, like Mandela, with close ties to Africa”. In the wake of Donald Trump’s rise to office in the US White House, Obama is expected to theme his lecture around tolerance.

“It gives him an opportunity to lift up a message of tolerance, inclusivity and democracy at a time when there are obviously challenges to Mandela’s legacy around the world,” Benjamin J. Rhodes, a former speechwriter for Obama, who remains an adviser to him, told the New York Times.

“Mandela,” he continued, “endured far darker times than anything we’re enduring today.”

In a joint statement on Monday, the Obama Foundation and the Mandela Foundation said this year’s theme for the annual lecture would be “Renewing the Mandela Legacy and Promoting Active Citizenship in a Changing World”.

“The Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture will focus on creating conditions for bridging divides, working across ideological lines, and resisting oppression and inequality,” the statement reads.

Obama will be in Johannesburg for five days in July where he will also be hosting meetings, workshops and training for 200 young people. The youth programme is organised by the Obama Foundation, and will mark one of Obama’s international projects after his departure from public office.

Obama visited South Africa on numerous occasions during his tenure as US president – and even spoke at Mandela’s memorial service in December 2013.

“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 30 years ago, while still a student, I learned of Mandela and the struggles in this land. It stirred something in me,” Obama said in his tribute at the memorial.

“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 30 years ago, while still a student, I learned of Mandela and the struggles in this land. It stirred something in me,” Obama said in his tribute at the memorial.

“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.”

In 2009, Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for supporting nuclear nonproliferation. He has been hailed as one of the US’s most progressive presidents but was also criticised for drone strikes under his government which killed civilians in countries such as Pakistan.

He will be the second US president to speak at the Mandela lecture after Bill Clinton. Other luminaries who have delivered the lecture include former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan, Sudanese-British philanthropist Mo Ibrahim and French economist Thomas Piketty.

The event will be held in Johannesburg, where Obama will once again make his return to South Africa to deliver the lecture. 

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Raeesa Pather
Raeesa Pather
Ra’eesa Pather is a Cape Town-based general news and features journalist.

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