What is often lacking in SA’s political discourse is a sense of proportion. Some of the histrionic reactions to former US president Barack Obama delivering the centenary Nelson Mandela lecture in Johannesburg last week were beyond absurd. That the most powerful black man in the history of civilisation could not honour the most famous black man who ever lived was simply preposterous. Such critics were mute when former US president Bill Clinton and former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan — who had both failed to respond courageously to the 1994 Rwandan genocide — as well as Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the former Liberian president who financially supported the warlord Charles Taylor at the start of the country’s civil war, delivered the Mandela lecture. Does Clinton really have more legitimacy to deliver such a lecture than Obama? Both Mandela and Obama were the first black presidents of their countries; both were Nobel peace laureates who admired Gandhi; and both set up foundations named a...

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