Acceptance address by Nelson Mandela at the Clark University Investiture, Atlanta, Georgia -  United States

10 July 1993

Mr President,
Distinguished members of the faculty,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a singular honour for me to stand before you today to receive this degree, I accept it not as recognition of the individual, Nelson Mandela, but rather as an accolade bestowed on our movement, the African National Congress for the role it has played to realise the values of democracy and freedom in our country. I receive it as a tribute to the valiant people of South Africa whose struggle for liberty and justice has found an echo in every part of the world.

South Africa has entered a period of momentous change. The possibility for fundamental and democratic transformation, away from the life destroying philosophy of apartheid, now exists because the people of South Africa, supported by your efforts have made it so through their determination and courage.

The liberated South Africa we have struggled for is one in which all our people, both black and white, will be one to the other, sister and brother. The challenge that faces South Africa today is that of a Democratic Constitution, it is to that challenge that I shall address my remarks.

Since the founding of the ANC we have fought for a democratic constitution. We have sought a constitution freely adopted by the people of South Africa, reflecting their aspirations. Since 1923, when the first ever Bill of Rights in South Africa was adopted by the ANC, human rights and the attainment of justice have explicitly been at the centre of our concerns. Even during the difficult years of the second world war, when he very survival of democracy in the world was in the balance, the ANC adopted the African claims, a document inspired by the Atlantic Charter, in which we set our vision of the future. In the midst of the nightmare, called grand apartheid, crafted the Freedom Charter, a political programme born of our struggle and rooted in South African realities, which has received international acclaim as an outstanding human rights document.

The Freedom Charter still provides a firm moral basis for law and law making. It is placed before South Africa an inclusive basis for citizenship at a time when the policy of exclusion by the application of violence was at it height.

A movement without a vision, is a movement without moral foundation. As our distinctive contribution to the future, a Draft Bill of Rights was published by the ANC in November 1990. That bill of rights was contextualised by a further document, The Constitutional Principles and Structures for a Democratic South Africa, published in April 1991.

These documents, dating from as far back as 1923, give expression an alternative legal and moral order, which is the antithesis of racial discrimination, oppression and exploitation. That vision has provided a basis for the negotiations which began in December 1991 and which will be will be completed in the multi-party forum meeting at Kempton Park outside Johannesburg.

The day is nor far off when we shall finally exorcise the ghost of apartheid by establish a free society in South Africa.

Democracy and human rights, in our view, are inseparable. We cannot have the one, without the other. The road ahead will not be easy. The end of apartheid will not guarantee the beginning of democracy. But until apartheid is no more, there can be no democracy.

We must be vigilant that the language of rights is not abused in order to maintain, in any for, power, privilege or status for one group. A Bill of rights cannot be associated with the political or economic subordination of either the majority or the minority. If there is one lesson we can learn from the struggle against racism, in our country as well as yours, it is that racism must be consciously combatted, and not discreetly tolerated.

A democratic political order must be based on the majority principle, especially in a country where the vast majority have been systematically denied their rights. We must guard against proposals that will demobilise democracy under the guise of power-sharing. We are however committed to safeguarding the rights of political and other discrete minorities. The legal order must be at the same time assist and not impede the awesome task of reconstruction and the redevelopment of our battered society.

A Bill of Rights is an important statement about the nature of power relations in any society. Unlimited executive and legislative power - which still pervades our society under White minority rule - cannot comfortably co-exist with a commitment to individual political and civil rights. It is an historic irony of great proportions that it is the oppressed and right-less in South Africa who have made a categorical statement of our future intentions: that a future government of the free South Africa, must operate within the constraints of a constitution which will not only limit the powers of government in relation to the individual citizen, but which will be enforced by a Constitutional Court that enjoys the confidence of the people.

Democracy is not based solely on the accepted principle of one person, one vote. It must in addition, recognise the constitutional right of dissent and ensure that the majority is constrained by constitutional means. We must, however, reject any suggestion to insert eccentric and racially motivated proposals which would discourage any future government from embarking on the task of reconstruction. The Bill of Rights cannot be an instrument for the maintenance of the status quo. While it will be a instrument to create stability, it must also be an instrument to bring about change.

The new human rights culture we hope to implant in our country must in the first instance accept and embrace the cultural distinctiveness among our people. Cultural, ethnic and political pluralism are not problems. They add richness to the experience of being human. We accept, that language, culture and religion are important indicators of identity. We however totally reject that apartheid derived assumption that the racial or ethnic group is the basis of all social organisation, and especially that these should define power relations in society. Our proposals underline the reality that human beings have multiple lives and identities within and across racial and ethnic lines. The key, therefore, to the protection of any minority is to put core civil and political rights, beyond the reach of temporary majorities by guaranteeing them as fundamental human rights, enshrined in a democratic constitution.

A democratic constitution must address the issues of poverty, inequality, deprivation and want in accordance with internationally recognised standards of the indivisibility of human rights. A vote without food, shelter and health care would be to create the appearance of equality while actual inequality is entrenched. We do not want freedom without bread, no do we want bread without freedom. While providing the rights associated with democracy, our constitution should also create the basis for an expanding floor of entitlements so as to accord every citizen that measure of dignity intrinsic to being human. This implies a strong affirmative action component designed to reverse the discriminatory practises of apartheid and sexism. Affirmative action is not a threat to either standards or to individuals. "It is an internationally recognised method of redressing past wrongs. To reject this mechanism is to accept an unjust status quo and to ensure that the fruits of war, colonialism, racism, sexism and oppression continue to be nurtured in our society.

In addition to the substantive provisions of a bill of rights, the ANC has proposed that other mechanisms be created to develop and increase confidence in our society. These include a human rights commission empowered to bring before the courts any violations of the rights of individuals, as well as an Ombud, or Defender of Citizens, with comprehensive powers.

International human rights standards have provided the legal and moral inspiration for our struggle against apartheid. By characterising apartheid as a crime against humanity the international community has vindicated our struggle. One result is that the apartheid is that the apartheid government has treated such developments with contempt and disdain. South Africa has been cut off from full membership of the internal community because of the White minority's refusal to adhere to the basic international texts governing human rights.

Let me say unequivocally, that a democratic government, led by the ANC, will see as its urgent task the ratification of treaties dealing with children, workers, women, the environment and a host of other instruments, so that South Africa regains its patrimony as a proud and respected member of the community of nations. At the same time we shall provide for all our people a floor of minimum entitlements which can be expanded as more resources become available.

This is the vision we have placed before the people of South Africa in the negotiations process. We have come to the table not as conquerors intent on prescribing to the conquered. We come as fellow citizens to heal the wounds of the past and to construct a new political order based on justice for all. It is a noble challenge in which there is a place not only for my South African compatriots but also for all of you who have sustained us through your support.

Once again my heartfelt thanks for this honour you have bestowed on me.

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation