After her keynote speech at the University of Johannesburg in November, Oprah Winfrey’s name has been on everyone’s lips in South Africa.
And now, at Global Citizen Festival: Mandela 100, presented and hosted by the Motsepe Foundation, she delivered a second inspirational speech — teaching us the importance of small acts of kindness, and how they are the cornerstone of Nelson Mandela’s legacy.
She began her keynote speech, addressing the tens of thousands of Global Citizens filling Johannesburg’s FNB Stadium, with a little background about how she first met Mandela, giving us insight into the kind of man he was on a personal level.
“In 2002, I was invited to spend 10 days and nights with Nelson Mandela,” she told the crowd. “We shared 29 consecutive meals — breakfast, lunch, and dinner — at his table in Qunu and for me to have a seat at his table to break bread, and linger over conversation, and laugh, and listen, and actually bear witness to his nobility, to his humility, to his tenderness, to his wit, and his courage was one of the greatest honours of my life.”
“Nelson Mandela as we all know entered prison as a man defiant and determined,” she said. “He left 27 years later not only as a president, but in my mind and I know in SA’s mind as a king… in every sense of the word.”
“He commanded respect, he modelled integrity, he brought joy and hope to every life he touched,” Winfrey continued, in the year that marks 100 years since Mandela’s birth, and as the world remembers and is inspired by his legacy.
“He used his power judiciously,” she said. “He could have crushed his oppressors. Instead he chose to defeat them without ever dishonouring them.”
“He sought to reconcile, not to retaliate,” she added. “During his time in prison, he was not allowed to raise his own children, so instead he came out and he raised a nation. We’re all the better because Nelson Mandela lived!”
This is a year for exploring the lessons that Mandela can teach us, and learning from this lessons to continue to drive forward in the mission to end extreme poverty, wherever it exists anywhere in the world.
For Winfrey, Mandela’s legacy continues to live in that it “urges each one of us to become a global citizen forging a more equitable and secure world for all people.”
And, she highlighted, “every single one of us has the ability to comfort and strengthen somebody through small acts of kindness…. We can help somebody to feel if not cherished, which is my very favourite word, we can help somebody to feel at least not alone. And that, my friends, is everything.”
For Winfrey, a key lesson that we can learn from Mandela is that “when a society is wounded, we all bleed.”
“That when many are lacking,” she continued, “all of us are less than we could be. Until each of us is truly free, all of us are in shackles.”
Winfrey cited Mandela himself saying that “music is a great blessing, because it gets people free to dream.”
“Sing your song,” she told the crowd. “Sing it loud, and sing in your own voice your own way. Sing it from the space you hold right now, and you can make the kind of joyful noise that turns hope into action for someone who is not as blessed as you have been.”
She reminded us that we are not able to live alone in the world.
“We’re all on this sacred earth to all get along,” she finished. “Can we just get along? We’re here to learn to take care of ourselves, to give a hand up to those who are all falling behind. We can and we must and we will live in a society where — as Madiba explained — overcoming poverty is not just a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice.”
The Global Citizen Festival: Mandela 100 is presented and hosted by The Motsepe Foundation, with major partners House of Mandela, Johnson & Johnson, Cisco, Nedbank, Vodacom, Coca Cola Africa, Big Concerts, BMGF Goalkeepers, Eldridge Industries, and associate partners HP and Microsoft.