News / Africa

Obama: Mandela Bent Arc of Moral Universe Toward Justice

President Barack Obama pauses as he speaks about the death of Nelson Mandela in the briefing room of the White House, Dec. 5, 2013.
President Barack Obama pauses as he speaks about the death of Nelson Mandela in the briefing room of the White House, Dec. 5, 2013.
President Barack Obama called Nelson Mandela, who died Thursday at the age of 95, a man of fierce dignity and unbending will who transformed South Africa, and now "belongs to the ages."  

The first African-American president of the United States, his own political and personal life intensely influenced by Mandela, spoke shortly after news of Mandela's death was delivered to the world.

"Nelson Mandela lived for that ideal and he made it real.  He achieved more than could be expected of any man.  Today he has gone home.  We have lost one of most influential, courageous and profoundly good human beings that any of us will share time with on this Earth.  He no longer belongs to us.  He belongs to the ages," said President Obama.

Like Obama, Mandela became his nation's first black president.  President Obama said he is "one of the countless millions" who drew inspiration from him.

Obama recalled that the first thing he did "involving an issue or policy or politics" was a protest against apartheid.

"I would study his words and his writings.  The day 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.  And like so many around the globe, I cannot fully imagine my own life without the example that Nelson Mandela set, and so long as I live I will do what I can to learn from him," said President Obama.

Mandela's "journey from prisoner to a president," said Obama, "embodied the promise that human beings - and countries - can change for the better."

"His commitment to transfer power and reconcile with those who jailed him set an example that all humanity should aspire to, whether in the lives of nations or our own personal lives.  And the fact that he did it all with grace and good humor, and an ability to acknowledge his own imperfections, only makes the man that much more remarkable," said Obama.

Obama and Mandela met just once, a spontaneous encounter during a conference in Washington in 2005, when Obama was still a junior U.S. senator.

When he visited South Africa earlier this year, Obama did not see Mandela, who was seriously ill at the time.  He did tour Robben Island, where Mr. Mandela was imprisoned for 18 of the 27 years he spent behind bars.

In a speech at the University of Cape Town, Obama described the Mandela legacy as "young people, black, white, Indian, everything in between living and learning together in a South Africa that is free and at peace."

First lady Michelle Obama and the Obama daughters, Malia and Sasha, did get to meet with Mandela during a visit to South Africa in 2011.

Members of Congress and former U.S. presidents offered tributes to Mandela.

Former president Bill Clinton said, "History will remember Nelson Mandela as a champion for human dignity and freedom, for peace and reconciliation."

Former president George H. W. Bush said Mandela set a powerful example of redemption and grace, calling him a man of tremendous moral courage who changed the course of history.

Addressing the people of South Africa, President Obama said Mandela's legacy is "a free South Africa at peace with itself, that is an example to the world."  Mandela, he said, was a man who took history in his hands, and bent the arc of the moral universe toward justice.

The White House has not yet provided any information about when President Obama will, as is expected, travel to South Africa for the state funeral.

You May Like

Video Iran Nuclear Deal Becomes US Campaign Issue

Voters in three crucial battleground states - Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania - overwhelmingly oppose nuclear deal with Iran More

With IS in Coalition Cross-Hairs, al-Qaida's Syria Affiliate Reemerges

Jabhat al-Nusra has rebounded, increasingly casting itself as a critical player in battle for Syria’s future More

Lessons Learned From Katrina, 10 Years Later

FEMA chief Craig Fugate says key changes include better preparation, improved coordination among state, federal assistance agencies More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs