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← President Obama Speaks at a Memorial Service for Nelson Mandela

President Obama delivers remarks at a national memorial service for former South African President Nelson Mandela. December 10, 2013.

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  1. [cheers]

  2. Thank you.
  3. [cheers]
  4. Thank you.
  5. [cheers]
  6. Thank you so much.
  7. [cheers]
  8. Thank you.
  9. [cheers]
  10. To Graça Machel and the Mandela family;
  11. To President Zuma and members of the government;
  12. to heads of states and goverments
  13. -- past and present --
  14. distinguished guests.
  15. It is a singular honor to be with you today
  16. to celebrate a life like no other
  17. To the people of South Africa
  18. [cheers]
  19. People of every race and every walk of life
  20. the world thanks you
    for sharing Nelson Mandela with us
  21. His struggle was your struggle
  22. his triumph was your triumph,
  23. your dignity and your hope
  24. found expression in his life and your freedom
  25. Your democracy
  26. it's his cherished legacy
  27. It is hard to eulogize any man
  28. to capture in words
  29. not just the facts and the dates that make a life
  30. but the essential truth of a person
  31. the private joys and sorrows
  32. the quiet moments and uniue qualities
  33. that illuminate someone's soul
  34. How much harder to do so for a giant of history
  35. who moved a nation towards justice
  36. and in the process moved billions around the world
  37. Born during the World War I
  38. fired from court orders of power
  39. a boy raised herding cattle
  40. and tutored by the elders of his Mambu tribe
  41. Madiba would emerge
    as the last great liberator of the 20th century.
  42. Like Gandhi, he would lead a resistence movement
  43. a movement
    that at the start had little prospect for success
  44. Like Dr. King, he would give potent voice
  45. to the claims of the oppressed
  46. and the moral necessity of racial justice
  47. He would endure a brutal imprisonment
  48. that began in the time of Kennedy and Khrushchev
  49. and reached the final days of the Cold War
  50. Emerging from prison without the force of arms
  51. he would -- like Abraham Lincoln --
  52. hold his country together
  53. when it threaten to break apart
  54. and like America's founding fathers he would erect
  55. a constitutional order
    to preserve freedom for future generations
  56. A commitment to democracy and rule of law
  57. ratified not only by his election
  58. but by his willingness to step down from power
    after only one term
  59. Given the sweep of his life
  60. the scope of his accomplishments
  61. the adoration that he so rightly earned
  62. it's tempting -- I think --
    to remember Nelson Mandela as an icon
  63. smilling and serene
  64. detached from the tawdry affairs of lesser men
  65. but Madiba himself strongly resisted
  66. such a lifeless portrait
  67. [cheers]
  68. Instead,
  69. Madiba insisted on sharing with us
    his doubts and his fears
  70. his miscalculations along with his victories
  71. "I am not a saint", he said
  72. "unless you think of a saint
    as a sinner who keeps on trying."
  73. It was precisely
    because he could admit to imperfection
  74. because he could be so full of good humour
  75. even mischief,
    despite the heavy burdens that he carried
  76. that we loved him so.
  77. He was not a bust made of marble,
    he was a man of flesh and blood
  78. a son and a husband
  79. a father and a friend
  80. and that's why we learned so much from him
  81. and that's why we can learn from him still
  82. For nothing he achieved was inevitable
  83. in the arch of his life we see a man
  84. who earned his place in history through struggle
  85. and shrewdness and persistance and faith
  86. he tells us what is possible
  87. not just in the pages of history books
  88. but in our own lives as well.
  89. Mandela showed us the power of action
  90. of taking risks on behalf of our ideas
  91. Perhaps Mandela was right
    that he "inherited a proud rebelliousness
  92. a stubborn sense of fairness" from his father
  93. and we know he shared
    with millions of black and coloured Southafricans
  94. "the anger born of a thousand slights
  95. a thousand indignities
  96. a thousand unremembered moments
  97. a desire to fight the system that imprisoned
  98. my people", he said
  99. But like other early giants of the ANC
  100. the Zulus and the Tambos,
  101. [cheers]
  102. Madiba disciplined his anger
  103. and channelled his desire to fight into organization
  104. and platforms and strategies for action
  105. so men and women could stand up
  106. for the God given dignity
  107. Moreover, he accepted the consequences
    of his actions
  108. knowing that standing up
    to powerful interests and injustice carries a price
  109. "I've fought against white domination
    I've fought against black domination."
  110. [cheers]
  111. "I've cherished the ideal of a democratic
    and free society
  112. in which all persons live together in harmony
    and equal opportunities
  113. it is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve
  114. but if needs be it's an ideal
    for which I am prepared to die."
  115. [cheers]
  116. Mandela taught us the power of action
  117. but he also taught us the power of ideas
  118. the importance of reason and arguments
  119. the need to study not only those who you agree with
  120. but also those you don't agree with.
  121. He understood that ideas cannot be contained by prison walls
  122. or extinguished by a sniper's bullet
  123. He turned his trial into an indictment of apartheid
  124. because of his eloquence and his passion
  125. but also because of his training as an advocate
  126. He used decades of prison to sharpen his arguments
  127. but also to spread his thirst for knowledge
    to others in the movement
  128. and he learned the language
    and the customs of his oppresors
  129. so that one day he might better convey to them
  130. how their own freedom depend upon his.
  131. [cheers]
  132. Mandela has demonstrated
    that action and ideas are not enough
  133. no matter how right
  134. they must also be ciselled in the laws and institutions
  135. He was practical, testing his beliefs
  136. against the hard surface of circumstance and history
  137. On core principles he was unyielding
  138. which is why he could rebuff offers
    of unconditional release
  139. reminding the aparthaid regime
  140. that "prisoners cannot enter into contracts."
  141. But as he showed in painstaking negotiations
  142. to transfer power and draft new laws
  143. He was not afraid to compromise for the sake of a larger goal
  144. And because he was not only a leader of a movement
    but a skilful politician
  145. the constitution that emerged was worthy
    of this multi-racial democracy
  146. true to his vision of laws to protect minority
  147. as well as majority rights
    and the precious freedom of every Southafrican
  148. And finally Mandela uderstood
  149. the ties that bind the human spirit.
  150. There is a word in Southafrican
  151. Ubuntu
  152. [cheers]
  153. A word that captures Mandela's greatest gift:
  154. his recognition that we are all bound together in ways
  155. that are invisible to the eye
  156. that there is a oneness to humanity
  157. that we achieve ourselves
    by sharing ourselves with others
  158. and caring for those around us
  159. We can never know
    how much of this sense was innate in him
  160. or how much was shaped in a dark and solitary cell.
  161. But we remember the gestures -- large and small --
  162. introducing his jailers as honored guests
    at an inauguration;
  163. taking a pitch in a springbok uniform;
  164. turning his family's heartbreak into a call
    to confront HIV-AIDS
  165. that reveal the depths of his empathy
    and his understanding
  166. He not only embodied ubuntu he taught millions
  167. to find that truth within themselves.
  168. It took a man like Madiba to free
  169. not just the prisoner but the jailer as well
  170. [cheers]
  171. to show that you must trust
  172. others so that they may trust you
  173. to teach that reconciliation is not a matter
    of ignoring a cruel past
  174. but a means of confronting it
    with inclusion and generosity and truth
  175. He changed laws
  176. but he also changed hearts
  177. For the people of South Africa
  178. for those he inspired around the globe
  179. Madiba's passing is rightly a time of mourning
  180. and a time to celebrate a heroic life
  181. But I believe it should also prompt in each of us
  182. a time for self-reflection with honesty
  183. regardless of our station or circumstance
  184. we must ask: "How well have I applied
  185. his lessons in my own life?"
  186. It's a question I ask myself
  187. as a man and as a president
  188. We know that white South Africa
  189. the United States had overcome
    centuries of racial subjugation
  190. As was true here, it took sacrifice
  191. the sacrifices of countless people
  192. -- known and unknown --
  193. to see the dawn of a new day
  194. Michelle and I are beneficiaries of that struggle
  195. [cheers]
  196. But in America and in South Africa
    and in countries all around the globe
  197. we cannot allow our progress to cloud the fact
  198. that our work is not yet done
  199. The struggles that follow
    the victory of formal equality
  200. or universal franchise
    may not be as filled with drama and moral clarity
  201. as those that came before
  202. but they are not less important
  203. For around the world today
  204. we still see children
    suffering from hunger and disease
  205. we still see run down schools
  206. we still see young people
    without prospects for the future.
  207. Around the world today
  208. men and women are still imprisoned
    for their political beliefs
  209. and are still persecuted for what they look like
  210. and how they worship, and who they love
  211. and that is happening today
  212. [cheers]
  213. And so we, too, must act on behalf of justice
  214. We, too, must act on behalf of peace
  215. There are too many people who happily embrace
  216. Madiba's legacy of racial reconciliation
  217. but passionately resist even modest reforms.
  218. that would challange chronic property
    and growing inequality
  219. There are too many leaders who claim solidarity
  220. with Madiba's struggle for freedom
  221. but do not tolerate the same for their own people
  222. [cheers]
  223. And there are too many of us
  224. too many of us on the side lines
  225. comfortable in complacency or cynicism
  226. when our voices must be heard
  227. The questions we face today
  228. how to promote equality and justice;
  229. how to uphold freedom and human rights;
  230. how to end a conflict and sectarian war
  231. these things do not have easy answers
  232. But there were no easy answers
  233. in front of that child born in World War I
  234. Nelson Mandela reminds us that
  235. it always seems impossible until it is done
  236. South Africa shows that it is true
  237. South Africa shows we can change
  238. that we can choose a world
    defined not by our differences
  239. but by our common hopes
  240. we can choose a world defined not by conflict
  241. but by peace and justice and opportunity
  242. [cheers]
  243. We will never see
  244. the likes of Nelson Mandela again
  245. But let me say that the young people of Africa
  246. and the young people around the world
  247. you, too, can make his life's work your own
  248. Over thirty years ago, while still a student
  249. I learned of Nelson Mandela
  250. and the struggles taking place in this beautiful land
  251. and it stirred something in me
  252. it woke me up to my responsibilities
  253. -- to others and to myself --
  254. and set me on an improbable journey
  255. that finds me here today
  256. and while I will always fall short of Madiba's example
  257. he makes me want to be a better man
  258. [cheers]
  259. He speaks
  260. to what is best inside us
  261. After this great liberator is laid to rest
  262. and when we return to our cities and villages
  263. and rejoined our daily routines
  264. let us search for his strength
  265. let us search for his largeness of spirit
  266. somewhere inside of ourselves
  267. and when the night grows dark
  268. when injustice weights heavy on our hearts
  269. when our best laid plans seem beyond our reach
  270. let us think of Madiba
  271. and the words that brought him comfort
  272. within the 4 walls of his cell:
  273. "It matters not how streight the gate,
  274. how charged the punishment the scroll
  275. I am the master of my fate,
  276. I am the captain of my soul."
  277. What a magnificent soul it was
  278. We will miss him deeply
  279. May God bless the memory of Nelson Mandela.
  280. May God bless the people of South Africa
  281. [cheers]