1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites
Barack Obama
Image: Getty Images/AFP/M. Longari

Obama warns of uncertain times in Mandela tribute

Elizabeth Schumacher
July 17, 2018

More than 14,000 people came to hear the former US president speak in Johannesburg. Obama called for a rejection of the "politics of fear, resentment and retrenchment."


Former US President Barack Obama delivered the annual Nelson Mandela Lecture in Johannesburg on Tuesday, using the first major speech since leaving the White House to honor the late South African leader on what would have been his 100th birthday.

In a wide-ranging talk, Obama decried "reactionary" and "strongman" politics, while calling for wider respect for the rights of women and an independent media.

With a thinly veiled reference to his successor, Donald Trump, Obama opened by remarking on the "strange and uncertain times we are in…and they are very strange." The ex-president noted that in a moment filled with "disturbing headlines," it was imperative to "get some perspective."

"More than a quarter century after Madiba walked out of prison, I still have to stand here saying people of all races and women and men are the same," Obama said, referencing Nelson Mandela's clan name.

'I am not being alarmist'

In a speech characterized by its impassioned defense of equality across race, gender, sexual orientation and national lines, Obama slammed the "small-minded" nature of "politics of fear, resentment and retrenchment," without naming any specific politicians.

In what was perhaps another allusion to Trump, he criticized leaders who "just make stuff up...when they're caught in a lie and they just double down."

"Those in power seek to undermine every institution…that gives democracy meaning," including the free press, the former leader said.

He added a stern warning: "I am not being alarmist. I am simply stating the facts. Look around."

The 14,000 people who came to see Obama speak in Johannesburg regularly broke out into thunderous applause throughout the talk.

The celebrations of Mandela came as South Africa is still reeling from a corruption scandal that saw former President Jacob Zuma, of Mandela's African National Congress (ANC) party, resign in disgrace in favor of Cyril Ramaphosa. Ramaphosa was a close friend of the late revered leader.

Each evening at 1830 UTC, DW's editors send out a selection of the day's hard news and quality feature journalism. You can sign up to receive it directly here.

Skip next section Explore more
Skip next section Related topics
Skip next section DW's Top Story

DW's Top Story

People and rescue teams try to reach trapped residents inside collapsed buildings in Diyarbakir, Turkey

Earthquakes kill over 2,500 people in Turkey, Syria — LIVE

Skip next section More stories from DW
Go to homepage