Comparing him to Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Abraham Lincoln and America's founding fathers, President Barack Obama eulogized Nelson Mandela during a memorial service held at a half-full FNB Stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa, Tuesday. Mandela died Thursday at the age of 95.
Before a crowd of about 40,000, Obama said the freedom fighter who served 27 years in prison only to become South Africa's first black president - and the father of its constitution - became a worldwide figure based on his extraordinary accomplishments, but also his manner.
"It was precisely because he could admit to imperfection - because he could be so full of good humor, even mischief, despite the heavy burdens he carried - that we loved him so," Obama said. "Mandela showed us the power of action; of taking risks on behalf of our ideals."
Unlike others fighting for racial equality under apartheid, Obama said, Mandela found a way to control his emotions and use them toward a practical end.
"Madiba disciplined his anger; and channeled his desire to fight into organization, and platforms, and strategies for action, so men and women could stand-up for their dignity," Obama said. referring to Mandela by his clan name. "Moreover, he accepted the consequences of his actions, knowing that standing up to powerful interests and injustice carries a price."
Also a part of Mandela's legacy, was his willingness to birth a democracy in South Africa that respected minority rights, despite the injustice of the white minority rule.
"There is a word in South Africa- Ubuntu - that describes his greatest gift: his recognition that we are all bound together in ways that can be invisible to the eye; that there is a oneness to humanity; that we achieve ourselves by sharing ourselves with others and caring for those around us," Obama said.
"He not only embodied Ubuntu; he taught millions to find that truth within themselves," he continued. "It took a man like Madiba to free not just the prisoner, but the jailor as well; to show that you must trust others so that they may trust you; to teach that reconciliation is not a matter of ignoring a cruel past, but a means of confronting it with inclusion, generosity and truth. He changed laws, but also hearts."
But Obama also used the memorial service as a call-to-arms for young people to continue Mandela's legacy throughout the globe.
"We cannot allow our progress to cloud the fact that our work is not done," he said. "Around the world today, men and women are still imprisoned for their political beliefs; and are still persecuted for what they look like, or how they worship, or who they love."
Mandela, in fact, was what inspired him to get into politics to begin with, Obama said.
"Over 30 years ago, while still a student, I learned of Mandela and the struggles in this land," he said. "It stirred something in me. It woke me up to my responsibilities - to others, and to myself - and set me on an improbable journey that finds me here today. And while I will always fall short of Madiba's example, he makes me want to be better."