Ramaphosa accidentally says Madiba was African-American

South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: GCIS

South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: GCIS

The president appeared to struggle with just using the word ‘black, so found himself making a rather weird comparison.

In introducing keynote speaker former US president Barack Obama on Tuesday afternoon, President Cyril Ramaphosa did not quite choose his words as carefully as he might have at the Wanderers cricket stadium in Illovo, Johannesburg.

Obama delivered the annual Nelson Mandela annual lecture ahead of Mandela Day. This year celebrates 100 years since Mandela’s birth.

In his introduction, Ramaphosa said there were many parallels between Mandela and Obama, who had succeeded in “being like Madiba”, which Ramaphosa admitted was something he wanted for himself and which he had often lain in bed at night dreaming about being.

He said that, among the parallels between the two men was that both Madiba and Obama had won the Nobel peace price.

He also said that Mandela had, just like Obama, been “the first African-American president of his country”.


Some on Twitter were quick to call Ramaphosa out for an apparent inability to just say the word ‘black’.

When Obama took to the podium, he started by joking that he would need to “correct” Ramaphosa. But he instead objected that he was, in fact, a good dancer, though not as good as his wife. He was responding to a prior comment from Ramaphosa that Madiba had been the better dancer between them.

Obama also explained that he hadn’t exactly been invited to speak at the event; he had been “ordered” by Graca Machel to come. Both comments generated much laughter, especially from Ramaphosa.

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