Nelson Mandela welcomes Obama as 'A new voice of hope'
In a letter to new US president, former South African leader describes Obama's election as 'something truly historic'
•Chris McGreal in Johannesburg
Tuesday 20 January 2009 19.47 GMT
Fifteen years after the world celebrated the election of a black president that many doubted would ever happen, Nelson Mandela has written to Barack Obama comparing his inauguration to the inspiration provided by South Africa's embrace of democracy.
In a letter delivered to Obama before the ceremony, the former South African president described the election of America's first black president as "something truly historic not only in the political annals of your great nation, the United States of America, but of the world".
"We are in some ways reminded today of the excitement and enthusiasm in our own country at the time of our transition to democracy," Mandela said in the letter.
"People, not only in our country but around the world, were inspired to believe that through common human effort injustice can be overcome and that together a better life for all can be achieved."
Mandela told Obama he represents a "new voice of hope" in a world still beset by inequality and division.
"Your election to this high office has inspired people as few other events in recent times have done. Amidst all of the human progress made over the last century the world in which we live remains one of great divisions, conflict, inequality, poverty and injustice," said Mandela.
"You, Mister President, have brought a new voice of hope that these problems can be addressed and that we can in fact change the world and make of it a better place."
Mandela also reminded Obama of his Kenyan origins, although even today in South Africa the new US president would commonly be regarded as "coloured" or mixed race, and not black.
"There is a special excitement on our continent today, Mister President, in the knowledge that you have such strong personal ties with Africa. We share in that excitement and pride," he said.