21 January 2009
Former South African president Nelson Mandela has congratulated Barack Obama on his inauguration as president of the United States, saying: “We believe that we are witnessing something truly historic not only in the political annals of your great nation, the United States of America, but of the world.”
In a letter handed to Obama before his inauguration in Washington on Tuesday, Mandela said Obama’s election as America’s first black president had “inspired people as few other events in recent times have done.
“Amidst all of the human progress made over the last century, the world in which we live remains one of great divisions, conflict, inequality, poverty and injustice,” Mandela said. “Amongst many around the world a sense of hopelessness had set in as so many problems remain unresolved and seemingly incapable of being resolved.
“You, Mister President, have brought a new voice of hope that these problems can be addressed and that we can in fact change the world and make of it a better place.”
Reminded of South Africa’s transition
Mandela said the widespread excitement and enthusiasm generated by Obama’s inauguration reminded him of South Africa at the time of its transition from apartheid to democracy in 1994.
“People, not only in our country but around the world, were inspired to believe that through common human effort injustice can be overcome and that together a better life for all can be achieved,” Mandela said.
Business Day correspondent Tim Cohen drew the same comparison, saying that South Africans who witnessed Mandela’s inauguration as South Africa’s first black president in 1994 “would have instantly recognised the atmosphere” in Washington on Tuesday.
“The powerful sense of history in the making, the intoxicating tingle of anticipation and expectation, all underpinned by a feeling of relief, almost as though one could breathe out at last after having held one’s breath for what had seemed like an eternity.”
‘Special excitement’ in Africa
Mandela said Obama’s presidency brought hope of “new beginnings in the relations between nations, that the challenges we all face, be they economic, the environment, or in combating poverty or the search for peace, will be addressed with a new spirit of openness and accommodation.”
He added that there was “special excitement” in Africa on Tuesday “in the knowledge that you have such strong personal ties with Africa.” Obama is the son of a black Kenyan father and a white mother from Kansas.
Mandela said he was aware that expectations of Obama were high, and that the demands on him would be great. “We therefore once more wish you and your family strength and fortitude in the challenging days and years that lie ahead.
“You will always be in our affection as a young man who dared to dream and to pursue that dream. We wish you well.”
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