President Obama’s Eulogy to Nelson Mandela

Reading between the Lines

Time Mandela cover July 2 1990by Sachi Sri Kantha, December 11, 2013

Mandela- Partisan and Peacemaker, Negotiation Journal (July 2003)

President Barack Obama delivered a eulogy on December 10th to Nelson Mandela’s memorial service held at the First National Bank Stadium, Johannesburg, South Africa. I composed this short commentary, based on the material provided by the Office of the Press Secretary, The White House (immediate release on December 10, 2013).

Length of eulogy: 1,950 words.

Author: Who wrote it? Was it written by President Obama? Or was it written by his team of speech writers? Status unknown.

Notable Names dropped: Graca Machel (wife of Mandela), President Jacob Zuma (President of South Africa), Gandhi (Mahatma), Dr. King (Martin Luther Jr.), Kennedy (President J.F.), Khrushchev (Nikita), Abraham Lincoln, Sisulus (Walter and Albertina couple), Tambos (Oliver and Adelaide couple), Michelle (Obama).

Notable names omitted: Desmond Tutu, Steve Biko

Mentioned notable word: ‘Ubuntu’ (a Nguni Bantu term popularized by Mandela and retired Anglican bishop Desmond Tutu), which in translation reads ‘human-ness’ (i.e., human kindness).

Unmentioned notable word/phrase: terrorist or terrorism or Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation) – the underground military wing of African National Congress, of which Mandela was its commander!

Mentioned episode in Mandela’s life: “On core principles he was unyielding, which is why he could rebuff offers of unconditioned release, reminding the Apartheid regime that ‘prisoners cannot enter into contracts.’ ”

Unmentioned episode in Mandela’s life: That Uncle Sam, in support of Apartheid regime, kept Mandela’s name in its terrorist list until 2008, long after he had been released from prison and long after he had served as the President of South Africa.

Mandela out of T list 2008

Mentioned link to Mandela in personal life: “Over 30 years ago, while still a student, I learned of Nelson Mandela and the struggles taking place in this beautiful land, and it stirred something in me…”

Unmentioned link to Mandela in personal life: Both being recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Mentioned questions that we face today: “How to promote equality and justice? How to uphold freedom and human rights? How to end conflict and sectarian war?”

Unmentioned questions that we face today: On what legitimate grounds, Uncle Sam decides who should be in his terrorist list? On what grounds, the President of USA decides which party it should support in a sectarian war (such as, in Sri Lanka – supporting the racist, majoritarian ruling party or in Libya and Syria – supporting the upstart rebels against the ruling party)? On what grounds, Uncle Sam decides which country should be split (such as East Timor or Sudan) or which country should not be split (Sri Lanka)?

Number of Applauses received: The script provided by the White House indicates, that President Obama received 11 applauses from the assembled crowd for his eulogy

For those who are interested in learning more about Nelson Mandela’s personal traits, beyond what President Obama had eulogized, I provide a PDF copy of Daniel Lieberfeld’s 22-page paper entitled, ‘Nelson Mandela: Partisan and Peacemaker’, that appeared in the Negotiation Journal of July 2003, vol.19(3): 229-250.

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