Mandela Foundation urged to withdraw Obama invitation

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GB news 24 desk//

Pressure has been building on the Nelson Mandela Foundation to withdraw an invitation to former US President Barack Obama who is scheduled to travel to South Africa next month to deliver the NGO’s annual lecture, which this year marks the late anti-apartheid icon’s birth centennial.

In an open letter, the Cage Africa advocacy group said that during his eight-year tenure as president and commander-in-chief of the US army, Obama was directly responsible for a massive expansion of US military operations in Africa, including special operations and drone attacks.

“Giving this man a platform would be tantamount to condoning these actions, something that Nelson Mandela would surely have stood against,” the letter, published earlier this month, read.

“This is especially pertinent given Nelson Mandela’s legacy as an individual who was also once designated a ‘terrorist’ and suffered torture and imprisonment as a result, and who despite this is now regarded as one of the pre-eminent figureheads for justice around the world.”

The NGO’s 16th annual lecture is scheduled for July 17 in Johannesburg. An estimated 9,000 people are anticipated to attend the event, in which Obama is expected to speak on “Renewing the Mandela Legacy and Promoting Active Citizenship in a Changing World”.

Karen Jayes, Cage Africa spokesperson, told Al Jazeera that failing to rescind the invitation would cement a belief that the Nelson Mandela Foundation “is part of what many see as the ‘whitewashing’ of Mandela’s legacy”.

Responding to the criticisms from Cage Africa, the Nelson Mandela Foundation would not say if they were reconsidering their invitation, but admitted that they were “taking the concerns seriously”.

Spokesperson Lunga Nene told Al Jazeera that Obama had been selected as part of the Foundation’s special focus on legacy, given that 2018 marks 100 years since Mandela’s birth.

Nene said that it was clear that Mandela, a former president and a hero in the struggle against apartheid South Africa, had held “great respect for President Obama”.

“As a legacy institution we also have had to grapple with the contestation of Madiba’s legacy, particularly from younger people,” added Nene, using the clan name by which Mandela was widely known in South Africa.

“Both leaders were challenged by difficult circumstances during their time in office, and both reflected on mistakes and regrets after leaving office. We have asked President Obama to address these issues,” Nene said.

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