Barack Obama Lectures World on Racial, Wealth Inequality in South Africa

Former U.S. President Barack Obama, left, delivers his speech at the 16th Annual Nelson Mandela Lecture at the Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa, Tuesday, July 17, 2018. In his highest-profile speech since leaving office, Obama urged people around the world to respect human rights and other values under threat …
AP Photo/Themba Hadebe

Former President Barack Obama on Tuesday delivered the 16th annual Nelson Mandela lecture in Johannesburg, South Africa and called for greater global wealth redistribution, scolding the rich for having more money than they need.

“For almost all countries, progress is going to depend on an inclusive market-based system – one that offers education for every child, that protects collective bargaining and secures the rights of every worker,” Obama began. “That breaks up monopolies to encourage competition and small and medium-sized businesses and has laws that root out corruption and ensures fair dealing in business, that maintains some form of progressive taxation so that rich people are still rich, but they’re giving a little bit back to make sure that everybody else has something to pay for universal healthcare and retirement security, and invest in infrastructure and scientific research that builds platforms for innovation.”

The former president has raised eyebrows over his opulent lifestyle since departing the White House. Obama in February of 2017 vacationed in the British Virgin Islands with Virgin Group founder and billionaire Richard Branson and joined Oprah and Bruce Springsteen on a luxury cruise on Hollywood mogul David Geffen’s $590 million yacht in April of that year.

In a bizarre moment, the former president then criticized himself for amassing too large of a fortune. “I should add, by the way, right now I’m actually surprised by how much money I got, and let me tell you something, I don’t have half as much as most of these folks or a tenth or a hundred thou— there’s only so much you can eat, there’s only so big a house you can have, there’s only so many nice trips you can take. I mean, it’s enough,” he lamented.

Obama also offered up criticism of the current state of race relations in the United States. “It is a plain fact that racial discrimination still exists in both the United States and South Africa,” Obama told attendees of the speech at Ellis Park Arena. “And it is also a fact that the accumulated disadvantages of years of institutionalized depression have created yawning disparities in income, and in wealth and in education, and in health, in personal safety, in access to credit.”

Obama opened by describing today’s times as “strange and uncertain,” adding that “each day’s news cycle is bringing more head-spinning and disturbing headlines.” These days “we see much of the world threatening to return to a more dangerous, more brutal, way of doing business,” he said.

This is the former president’s first visit to Africa since leaving office in early 2017. He stopped earlier this week in Kenya, where he visited the rural birthplace of his late father. Obama’s speech highlighted how the Nobel Peace Prize winner, who was imprisoned for 27 years, kept up his campaign against what appeared to be insurmountable odds to end apartheid, South Africa’s harsh system of white minority rule.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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