Obama to lead celebrations 100 years after Mandela’s birth

South Africa celebrates the 100th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s birth this week with a flagship speech by former US president Barack Obama and an outpouring of memories and tributes to the late anti-apartheid leader.

Mandela, who died in 2013, remains a global icon for his long fight against white-minority rule and for his message of peace and reconciliation when he was released after 27 years in prison. His birthday on July 18 is marked annually around the world, and the Nelson Mandela Foundation called this year for people to “take action and inspire change” in Mandela’s name.

Obama will set the tone for the celebrations with a speech in Johannesburg on July 17 that aides say will be his most important public address since leaving the White House in 2017.

“It gives him an opportunity to lift up a message of tolerance, inclusivity and democracy at a time when there are obviously challenges to Mandela’s legacy around the world,” his aide Benjamin Rhodes told the
New York Times
. The title of Obama’s Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture is “Renewing the Mandela Legacy and Promoting Active Citizenship in a Changing World.”

Obama will also host a town hall event on July 18 for 200 young leaders selected from across Africa to attend a five-day training programme. The former US president met Mandela only briefly in 2005 but gave a eulogy at his funeral saying Mandela “makes me want to be a better man” and hailing him as “the last great liberator of the 20th century”.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has said he would mark “Mandela 100” by donating half his salary to charity to honour “the great sacrifices he made and his tireless commitment to improving the lives of the most vulnerable.”

Among the many events marking the anniversary are a walk in Johannesburg led by Mandela’s widow Graca Machel, the release of letters that Mandela wrote from his prison cell and the printing of a commemorative banknote.

Climbers are heading up Mount Kilimanjaro, motorcyclists are undertaking a charity ride and a programme to build 100 school libraries will be launched, alongside a series of exhibitions, music festivals and sports events. The year commemorating Mandela’s birth will finish with a concert in Johannesburg in December starring Beyonce, Jay-Z, Ed Sheeran, Pharrell Williams and Cassper Nyovest. AFP


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