The Presidential Years

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Thank you, thank you, thank you

Many forces have influenced the history of our country, as they have done in the history of other countries. The workers, traditional leaders and tribesmen from the countryside, educationists, economists, businessmen, religious leaders: all have played a role in our history. But for one or two moments I want to talk about two forces which have been of particular relevance in the history of our country.

We are aware of the type of government we have had since 1910, which relied on brute force and coercion. The many decades of that coercion only served to produce the Mbeki’s, the Sisulu’s, the Joe Slovo’s, the Bram Fischer’s, the Dadoo’s, the Naicker’s, the Trevor Manuel’s; and they have become national heroes today and some of them are now holding Cabinet posts. They prevailed after a lot of bitterness had been created, and it is as a result of that policy that deep wounds have been created in our country: coercion, brute force, impatience, the inability to sit down with your countrymen and to talk.

But there has been another force: that of compassion, that of love and loyalty to your country, that of ignoring what is negative in a human being and concentrating on that which is good. Through dialogue, through persuasion, we have been able to bring South Africa out of that era of darkness, bitterness, pessimism, to a moment where the entire world has joined us to come and celebrate.

That is a lesson, not just for this day; it is a lesson on which we can build for the future. Perhaps it was fortunate that we had this era, because we are now able to appreciate the sacrifices that have been made by the Sisulu’s and Mbeki’s and the others. We now know the calibre of the men and women of South Africa. South Africa is rich not only in natural wealth in gold; it is rich in the calibre of its men and woman. We appreciate that, and we have come to appreciate it more because of the struggle that they put forward.

But there is another aspect. From the opposite direction, among those who have been produced by apartheid, there have been men and women with a vision, who realised that human beings are human beings. I spent so many years in prison. You will be surprised to know the friendships, the strong friendships that were built between black prisoners and white warders. It was difficult for the policymakers to persecute us as they wanted, because we became friends with the warders in our passages. It is through them that we could be persecuted, and the firm friendships we formed were itself a protection. I don’t know whether my friends are here: I invited three of the warders looked after me to attend this celebration. I invited them to come – or rather I asked the committee that was arranging it to invite them to come – because I wanted them to share in the joys that have emanated, spontaneously, around this day, because, in a way, they also contributed to it.

Then, of course, there’s my friend, Mister De Klerk. He was one of those who gave us a hard time. The late Doctor Danie Craven – the chairman of the South African Rugby board – and Doctor Luyt –the chairman I think of the southern Transvaal Rugby board – they went to Harare to see the ANC because they realised that South African rugby could not go back into international sport without going through the ANC. They knew that the key to international rugby was the ANC. They did a good thing, it was good for them, they had foresight, they suppressed all their prejudices and realised that this is the organisation that would help them. When they came back, they were chastised by Mister De Klerk for having discussions with a terrorist organisation.

I mention this as a measure of the change they have undergone, the personal courage, the vision, the honesty, the integrity with which he came to examine the situation in South Africa, and used his enormous power as the head of the government to bring about reforms.

So, we have forgotten the past. We must know the past, so that, when we work together now in a government of national unity, we must know precisely what we have come through, what we should avoid. We said a lot of unkind things about one another during the election, but we have fought the election, we’ve had a good fight; now it is the time for us to put together the broken pieces of our country and to ensure that our people speak with one voice.

We feel, because of the many years of discussions which we have had – before I was released from jail I had meetings with them, we discussed the situation together – and then during these four years we have exchanged on a wide variety of very sensitive issues. When our own teams could not agree, we sat down together and exchanged views. I took him into confidence about some of the problems that I had; he took me into confidence about the problems he had, and we worked as a team behind the scenes, and we were able to keep together at one time 26 political parties, with different backgrounds, pulling in different directions.

Today is the result of that other force in our country, that of persuasion, that of discussion, that of dialogue, that of love and loyalty to our common fatherland.

In the days to come this is the force on which we are going to rely. We are still going to have many problems, because when Mister De Klerk talks about democracy, sometimes he doesn’t mean the same thing which I understand about democracy, and when our own people, when we talk about a government of national unity which now must fight for reconciliation, for nation building, they don’t understand the same thing which he understands – sometimes they don’t understand the same thing which I understand.

So the government of national unity has to face all these problems. But I have no doubt that we have the men and women in this country, from all sections of the population, who will rise to the challenge.

There are many Americans here. Perhaps let me repeat what I have said in the absence, because this comes from an American who is alive today and those who have been with me in the meetings I have addressed must pluck the ears because they will be bored to hear it again. An American has said, “A person who does what all others can do is an ordinary person. A person who does what no other person can do is exceptional. But a person who does what no other person has ever done is a national asset, is a genius, is an institution. South Africa today once men and women who strive to do what no other person has done. We require this of our country. It is your wish, every one of you, that when your last days on earth come, we should be able to say, here lies a man or woman who has done his or her duty on earth. And if you strive to do what no other person has done, we will be able to say, here lies a person who did his duty on earth.

I thank you.

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