Speaking at the sixteenth annual Nelson Mandela Lecture in Johannesburg on Tuesday, Graça Machel called on South Africans to give all youth a chance and evoked former US President Barack Obama’s 2008 presidency campaign slogan ‘Yes, we can!’.
Machel said that she was overjoyed to learn of the multitude of festivities organised by government, civil society organisations, business, entertainers and individual citizens from every corner of the globe, who were commemorating her late husband Nelson Mandela’s centenary.
The 2018 Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture, in partnership with the Motsepe Foundation, will be delivered by Obama.
Machel said that it was not by chance that one of the “finest leaders of the 21st century” was asked to deliver the lecture.
Of Obama, Machel said that he was a youthful symbol of transformative leadership in his own right.
“He dutifully heeded Madiba’s call and took on the hard work of leading by example. As the first African-American President, Obama stands on the shoulders of giants; he too was influenced by the generations of greats who came before him. Today, we are in the presence of two inspiring symbols, Mandela and Obama are symbols of victory over adversity,” she said.
She said the two Statesmen represented a bridge of leadership between the 20th and 21st century, built by men of African heritage.
She added that rooted in the deep desire to alleviate the human condition, both Mandela and Obama have been faithful to the dreams and aspirations of their people.
“They are representatives of the masses and reached the pinnacle of power and influence but in doing so they were able to elevate the rights and ambitions of the disenfranchised and weak. They both hold unique prominence in our consciousness,” she stated.
Machel noted that Madiba and Obama give hope and validation to millions of young people who identify with their humble backgrounds. They proved that condition is no limitation, she said.
To honour Madiba’s legacy she called on all people to search and find “in every one of us those values and strengths that enable us to go beyond ourselves”, to embrace the bigger causes, to take risks, to make sacrifices for what is right.
She declared that the festivities and celebrations organised in Mandela’s name would make him happy and proud and she thanked the Nelson Mandela Foundation for being the custodian of Mandela’s legacy.
“With the foundation, I salute all legacy institutions, the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital, The Nelson Mandela Institute for Development Studies and other institutions. These organisations were personally founded or endorsed by Madiba and these mandates carry his blessing,” Machel said.
The centenary is an opportunity to acknowledge his uniqueness in all its different forms.
Machel stated that Madiba’s legacy was a rich tapestry woven over 100 years with the threads and colours of leaders who came before him and all those who sat as his contemporaries.
She acknowledged struggle icon Albertina Sisulu’s centenary which was also taking place this year.
Machel went on to say that over decades Madiba was a student of African heritage and leadership traditions.
“The tapestry of his legacy has woven many generations of great thinkers, strategists, freedom fighters and the named and unknown who piqued his imagination. As we celebrate him and honour his contributions to the world we must remember that while his political party strategically thrust him forward as the symbolic face of the struggle, he was not acting in isolation.
“He considered himself a simple footsoldier. On his jubilant release he said, ‘I stand here before you not a prophet but as a humble servant of you the people.’”
Machel acknowledged that Madiba internalised the courage and determination of his own people and gave the best of himself to give to South Africa its political freedom.
“Even having achieved the highest aspirations of humanity, the Madiba I know is a simple, grounded and humble man. As Madiba famously said on 90th birthday, “It is time for new hands to lift the burdens, it is in your hands now.”
“Young and old, we all have the seeds of Madiba magic within us to confront the challenges we are facing. We have the ability and responsibility to touch the lives of those around us and uplift our communities. As we reflect on the previous 100 years we look with optimism to the next 100 years,” Machel concluded.