Address by President Nelson Mandela at the opening of the Anne Frank Exhibition at Museum Africa, Johannesburg

15 August 1994

Members of the Anne Frank Foundation,
Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
Distinguished Guests,

I thank you most profoundly for the invitation to open the Anne Frank Exhibition in Johannesburg. My colleagues in other parts of the country, where the exhibition was held, have said much that I concur with about the significance of this exhibition. I will only make a few remarks.

The Anne Frank Exhibition explores the past in order to heal, to reconcile and to build the future. In this sense, it is particularly relevant for the South Africa of today, as we emerge from the treacherous era of apartheid injustice.

I think we will all agree that it is not the most pleasant thing to revive bitter memories, to invoke the pain and suffering of the past. But, like the people of the Netherlands and others in Europe who experienced the harsh realities of Nazism and fascism, like the people in the developing world who lived under the brutality of colonialism, we, in South Africa know too well that we cannot move forward with confidence if we ignore the past.

It is therefore not surprising that in the four South African cities in which it has been held, some 50,000 people have seen the exhibition.

In our country, people were kept apart, and the majority of the population subjected to terrible privations, by design of the apartheid rulers. As we experience this new dawn, it is therefore important that all our people understand how different sectors of society experienced and reacted to the many events that make up our common past.

This applies also to those whose experiences include the Second World War: in the Netherlands, in Germany, in the former Soviet Union and other parts of the world. For us to understand the people of these countries, and particularly the Jewish people of today, we have to be aware of the history of the Holocaust which so profoundly affected them.

To know the past in its full measure, is to take the first important step towards learning from it. If Anne Frank - whose writing talent has brought us together tonight - had survived, she would be a young lady of sixty-five. We salute her. By honouring her memory as we do today, we are saying with one voice: Never and Never Again!

My own memories of the Second World War revolve around the hopes of black South Africans that the defeat of Nazism would not only bring about the liberation of Europe but also the liberation of the oppressed in our own country. This is what the ANC and its Youth League, the Communist Party of South Africa, the trade union movement and many other democrats sought to achieve. Instead, after the War, apartheid triumphed in our country.

Apartheid and Nazism shared the inherently evil belief in the superiority of some races over others. This drove adherents of these ideologies to perpetrate unspeakable crimes and to derive pleasure from the suffering of their fellow human-beings. But because these beliefs are patently false, and because they were, and will always be, challenged by the likes of Anne Frank, they are bound to fail.

The victory of the democratic forces in South Africa is a contribution to this world-wide effort to rid humanity of the evil of racism. It is Anne Frank's victory. It is an achievement of humanity as a whole.

During the many years my comrades and I spent in prison, we derived inspiration from the courage and tenacity of those who challenge injustice even under the most difficult circumstances. As my colleague, Govan Mbeki indicated at the Port Elizabeth exhibition, some of us read Anne Frank's Diary on Robben Island and derived much encouragement from it.

Combined with news of the heroic struggles of the people, led by the ANC, as well as the support of the international community, the tales of heroes and heroines of Anne's calibre kept our spirits high and reinforced our confidence in the invincibility of the cause of freedom and justice.

Today, as South Africans we have the opportunity to reconcile our nation and to reconstruct and develop our country. We are confident of success because we have not swept the past under the carpet. Rather, we see it as crucial that in dealing with the past, we should consider amnesty at the same time as we restore the dignity of the victims and ensure meaningful reparation.

The proposed Truth and Reconciliation Commission is meant to address these matters. We are confident that this Commission will receive the support of the majority of South Africans, so that we can build the future assured that mistakes of the past shall never be repeated.

The Anne Frank Foundation in Amsterdam deserves praise for the consistent stand it has always taken against fascism and apartheid. We are happy that it has now come to South Africa. This exhibition also serves to remind us that, while racism and other forms of discrimination in our country have been formally eradicated, they have certainly not completely disappeared. Changing legislation to bring it in line with the Interim Constitution is crucial. However, much work needs to be done by all of us to help change attitudes - be it in the work-place or any other area where people interact.

We express our special thanks to the Foundation, the Royal Netherlands Embassy and the South African Jewish Board of Deputies for affording people in various parts of our country the opportunity to see the exhibition.

We are confident that the exhibition will strengthen the partnership among all South Africa's people, including the Jewish community, in combating racism, improving the quality of life and healing the wounds of the past.

I now formally open the Johannesburg Exhibition of Anne Frank in the World.

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation