Written by Staff Writer
06 Dec, 2013 | 1:00 pm
Obama’s Path Was Shaped by Mandela’s Story
Without Nelson Mandela, there might never have been a President Obama.
That is the strong impression conveyed from Obama, whose political and personal bonds to Mandela, the former South African president, transcended their single face-to-face meeting, which took place at a hotel in Washington, in 2005.
It was the fight for racial justice in South Africa by Nelson Mandela that first inspired a young Barack Obama to public service, the American president recalled on Thursday evening after hearing that Nelson Mandela, the 95-year-old world icon, had died. Obama delivered his first public speech, in 1979, at an anti-apartheid rally.
Obama’s first moment on the public stage was the start of a life and political career imbued with the kind of hope that Mr. Mandela personified.
[quote]The day that he was released from prison gave me a sense of what human beings can do when they’re guided by their hopes and not by their fears.[/quote]
“Hope” would eventually become the mantra for his ascension to the White House.
On two continents separated by thousands of miles and vastly different political cultures, the lives of the two men rarely intersected. Weeks before their only meeting, Obama wrote Mandela a letter that Oprah Winfrey carried to South Africa. As Obama later emerged as a national political leader, he and Mandela occasionally traded phone calls or letters.
Obama wrote about Mandela as a distant but inspirational figure in the forward to Mandela’s 2010 book, Conversations With Myself.
[quote]His sacrifice was so great that it called upon people everywhere to do what they could on behalf of human progress. In the most modest of ways, I was one of those people who tried to answer his call.[/quote]
Mr. Mandela and Mr. Obama served as the first black leaders of their nations and both were looked to by some as the vehicles for reconciliation between polarized electorates. Both won the Nobel Peace Prize, in part for their charisma and their ability to inspire and communicate.
Obama often referred to Mandela by the former president’s clan name, Madiba — a term of affection for the aging, beloved leader in South Africa. On Thursday, Obama spoke of the goals that Mandela worked decades for, and eventually achieved.
“A free South Africa at peace with itself — that’s an example to the world, and that’s Madiba’s legacy to the nation he loved, Obama said from the White House as news of Mr. Mandela’s death spread.
And yet, the struggle by Mandela has been a beacon to Obama, drawing him to South Africa twice to pay homage.
The last trip came in June of this year, as Obama traveled to Senegal, Tanzania and South Africa on a visit overshadowed by the possibility that the ailing Mandela might die at any moment.
The New York Times
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