Response by President Nelson Mandela to the 1994 Peace Lecture of the WCRP (South African Chapter)

7 August 1994

Honourable Chairperson,
Distinguished guests,
Fellow South Africans,

It is not the easiest thing in the world to respond to any Peace Lecture. But to respond to one by as accomplished a peace warrior as the People’s Bishop is a daunting task.

I hope that I speak on behalf of all those assembled here in thanking Archbishop Desmond Tutu for his inspiring and thought-provoking remarks. The ideas were so clearly espoused, so simply and honestly articulated that there is effectively nothing to add. These are qualities which earned him the most passionate hatred by those who defend injustice, and at the same time, the loving embrace of the poor and down-trodden.

Nevertheless, we are called upon to partake in this discourse.

You have chosen the most relevant theme for the times in which we live: "Let us celebrate our diversity".

From the point of view of the shocking images that we see on our television screens, these are words not easily uttered. In a world in which there is a prevalent tendency to see diversity as a curse, an omen for self-destruction, yours were candid and encouraging remarks. For you reminded us once more, that diversity can be a source of common strength, the pool whence we should deepen our sense of humanity.

But, alas, we have seen intolerance of diversity precipitating implosions that have rent nations apart in Africa, Europe, the Americas and Asia.

Often, when we are struck by these images, we tend to rationalise about who might be right or wrong. However, there cannot be any conceivable instance where justice can be associated with progroms and genocide.

So we dare ask the questions:

Why is it that in this day and age, human beings still butcher one another simply because they dared to belong to different religions, to speak different tongues, or belong to different races?

Are human beings inherently evil?

What infuses individuals with the ego and ambition to so clamour for power that genocide assumes the mantle of means that justify coveted ends?

These are difficult questions, which, if wrongly examined can lead one to lose faith in fellow human beings. And there is where we would go wrong.

Firstly, because to lose faith in fellow humans is, as the Archbishop would correctly point out, to lose faith in God and in the purpose of life itself. Secondly, it is erroneous to attribute to the human character a universal trait it does not possess - that of being either inherently evil or inherently humane.

I would venture to say that there is something inherently good in all human beings, deriving from, among other things, the attribute of social consciousness that we all possess. And, yes, there is also something inherently bad in all of us, flesh and blood as we are, with the attendant desire to perpetuate and pamper the self.

From this premise arises the challenge to order our lives and mould our mores in such a way that the good in all of us takes precedence. In other words, we are not passive and hapless souls waiting for manna or the plague from on high. All of us have a role to play in shaping society.

We South Africans are fortunate in having had the leadership - political, religious and otherwise - that helped us approach our problems in a manner that obviated the worst possible scenarios. From the beginning of the century and before then, men and women of wisdom challenged our version of oppression and repression with an antidote of equality and non-racialism.

In this sense, the worst in human beings as represented by the ideology and practice of apartheid helped bring out the best in its opponents.

While we can justifiably say that the African National Congress has been at the head of this political movement, we all derive pride from the fact that these qualities owe their origins and guidance also from the teachings of all religious faiths. Mahatma Gandhi, Abdullah Abduraman, Reverend Rubusana and Father Trevor Huddleston - to quote a few religious leaders - all contributed to the school of thought that guided our liberation movement.

They helped us to see the struggle as one against a system and not a racial group. They helped instil resistance fighters with the morality to seek reconciliation even in the worst of times. Our religious establishment was able to do this because it was an active part of the struggle.

And so, we have turned back from the abyss because the pressure of principled struggle backed by the message of reconciliation finally prevailed. Even during our difficult transition, with its violence and other schemes of sabotage, reason finally carried the day. We dare call this a miracle, an achievement that we should protect with all the strength that we have.

Yet we would be wrong to assert that we are altogether out of the woods. Dealing with the legacy of apartheid will take years and even decades. The challenge is, how to consolidate this fledgling democracy and make it flourish!

The formality of a constitution and legislation is an important part of this: statutes that should protect diversity and tolerance - be it racial, ethnic, religious or political. This, however, needs to be deepened into a national culture encompassing all the people. Changes in attitudes - in communities, in the home, at the work-place and within ourselves as individuals - is crucial for our small miracle to fully come of its own.

Among the most crucial tasks in transforming society is to change the terrible conditions to which the majority are relegated. It requires concrete, realistic and realisable programmes to bring about social justice. Our Reconstruction and Development Programme is meant precisely to attain these goals. Economic growth and equity, urban and rural renewal, and rebuilding of the social fabric of all communities are among its central objectives.

We have already made progress in implementing some of the initial projects in this broader Programme: free health care for children under six years of age and pregnant mothers, starting the building of houses, intensifying the electrification project and so on. But there are many lessons to be learnt.

Among others, how to gear the whole state structure, including the civil service, for this mammoth task; how to actively involve communities and their political, social and religious organisations in the process of formulating projects and their implementation; the need to speed up formation of transitional local government structures; and many more. We will soon be making important announcements with regard to many of these issues.

I wish however to emphasise the role of the religious community in reconstruction and development. On the one hand, we view it as only natural that the partnership against apartheid should mature into one for the betterment of the life of all South Africans, especially the poor. On the other hand, your prophetic voice is crucial in reinforcing the moral fibre of the new democratic state - be it in the application of human rights statutes or the integrity of its financial and other practices.

In other words, the new democracy needs you: as an active participant in its consolidation, as a critical watchdog and as a crucial part of its spiritual guide. To us, the individual religious groups and the inter-faith movement that South Africa has forged over the years, will always be our source of strength.

This is how we should celebrate our diversity:

Allow our variety of cultures, races, religions and languages to inform the total richness that is our rainbow nation.

Ensure that this multiplicity is harnessed for our mutual benefit as South Africans.

This also requires maximum sensitivity on the part of both the government and civil society. For, unlike with many other issues, diversity in areas of culture does not lend itself to cold rational calculation and the equation of numbers. The correct balance has to be struck all the time.

We are confident that your prophecy will help lift our nation to greater and greater heights. And that together, as partners, we will continue to celebrate our diversity in joint efforts to accomplish the historic mission of South Africa today: reconciliation and reconstruction.

I thank you once more for the invitation to share these views with you.

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation