South Africa on Wednesday marked 100 years since Nelson Mandela's birth, with Barack Obama hosting a youth leadership project as archbishop Desmond Tutu led emotional tributes to the late anti-apartheid icon.
Mr Obama said there were far-right parties in the West that had platforms of protectionism and closed borders but also a "barely hidden racial nationalism".
"Who needs free speech as long as the economy is going good?" he said, in the speech lasting nearly 90 minutes.
"And for Barack Obama to embrace Mandela a day after Trump embraced Putin in Helsinki drew a very stark contrast, even though it was implicit", he added, referring to the summit this week in Finland's capital between U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. "We have to resist that cynicism, because we've been through darker times".
Obama said today's times were "strange and uncertain", adding: "Each day's news cycle is bringing more head-spinning and disturbing headlines ... we see much of the world threatening to return to a more risky, more brutal way of doing business".
Obama has largely stayed away from the political stage since leaving office, but this week, during a speech in South Africa, the former president could not hold his frustrations in any longer.
"Worse still, the documents demonstrate the FBI continued its wrong-headed Communist menace investigations of Mandela and the anti-apartheid movement even after US imposition of trade sanctions against apartheid South Africa, after Mandela's globally-celebrated release from prison, and after the fall of the Berlin Wall".
Obama pointed out that he was standing at this podium, more than a quarter century after Mandela walked out of prison, to say that "we are all human".
Former US President Barack Obama speaks during the 2018 Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture in Johannesburg. —AFP
Ramaphosa added that the legacy of Mandela would continue to live in the hearts and minds of the people of South Africa as he was praised for many things, starting from social grants money, where people in rural areas still say "siyabulela imali ka Mandela" (We thank Mandela's money).
He warned that countries that engage in xenophobia "eventually. find themselves consumed by civil war".
"We see the utter loss of shame among political leaders where they're caught in a lie and they just double down and they lie some more", he said.
"Disgraceful", Blakeman said. "The fact that a former American president on foreign soil would say the comments he did - veiled comments, by the way, not direct - about this president and the current state of American affairs..."
Obama emphasised that globalisation was not going to go away, but - in a thinly veiled dig at current United States President Donald Trump - the only manner in which to address issues such as climate change and migration was through more global cooperation than less. "If you start saying it is an elaborate hoax, where do we start?" "We've been through lower valleys".
After 27 years in prison in South Africa, Mr Mandela was released in 1990 and became the country's first black president four years later.
"So, on Madiba's 100 birthday, we now stand at a crossroads", he said, using a clan name of affection for Mandela.
A memorial stone at Westminster Abbey has been dedicated to Nelson Mandela.
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