Address to United Nations General Assembly by Nelson Mandela, President of South Africa, New York - United States

3 October 1994

Your Excellency, Mr Amara Essy, President of the General Assembly;
Your Excellency, Dr Boutros Boutros Ghali, Secretary General of the United Nations;
Honourable Ministers;
Your Excellencies, Ambassadors and members of the diplomatic corps;
Ladies and Gentlemen:

It surely must be one of the great ironies of our age that this august Assembly is addressed, for the first time in its 49 years, by a South African head of state drawn from among the African majority of what is an African country.

Future generations will find it strange in the extreme that it was only so late in the 20th century that it was possible for our delegation to take its seat in the Assembly, recognized both by our people and the nations of the world as the legitimate representative of the people of our country.

It is indeed a most welcome thing that this august Organization will mark its 50th anniversary next year with the apartheid system having been vanquished and consigned to the past.

That historic change has come about not least because of the great efforts in which the UN engaged to ensure the suppression of the apartheid crime against humanity.

Even as it was still in the process of establishing its institutions, the United Nations was confronted by the challenge of the accession to power of the party of apartheid domination in our country.

Everything this system stood for represented the very opposite of all the noble purposes for which this organization was established.

Because apartheid reduced and undermined the credibility of the UN as an effective international instrument to end racism and secure the fundamental human rights of all people, its establishment and consolidation constituted a brazen challenge to the very existence of this organization.

The United Nations was born out of the titanic struggle against nazism and fascism with their pernicious doctrines and practices of racial superiority and genocide. It therefore could not stand by while, in South Africa, a similar system was being established by a government which also had the temerity to claim representation within the UN.

We believe that it was indeed of great importance to the universal efficacy of and respect for the Declaration on Human Rights and the UN Charter, that the United Nations should have spurned the peas of the apartheid regime that the gross violation of human rights in Southy Africa was a domestic matter of no legal or legitimate concern to the world body.

We stand here today to salute the United Nations Organization and its member states, both singly and collectively, for joining forces with the masses of our people in a common struggle that has brought about our emancipation and pushed back the frontiers of racism.

The millions of our people say thank you and thank you again that the respect for your own dignity as human beings inspired you to act to ensure the restoration of your own dignity as human beings inspired you to act to ensure the restoration of our dignity as well.

We have together traversed a course which we are convinced has strengthened human solidarity in general and reinforced the bonds of friendship between our people and the nations of the world. This dates back to the early days when India put the question of racism in Soth Africa on your agenda, to the moment when the world community, as represented here, could adopt consensus resolutions against apartheid, with none dissenting.

It was therefore with great joy that, at our inauguration to the Presidency of our Republic, we received, among others, such high and distinguished officials of this Organization as the Secretary General the President of the General Assemmbly and the Chairman of the Special Committee against Apartheid.

Their presence reaffirmed the incontrovertible truth that the victory over apartheid, the success of the cause of democracy, non-racial and non-sexism in our country belongs as much to our people as it does the United Nations.

And so we have embarked on the road to the remaking of our country, basing ourselves both on the democratic Constitution which came into force on April 27th this year and the Reconstruction and Development Programme which has become the property of all our people.

Clearly, these documents would have no life unless the people give them life. The word printed in them must inspire common ownership by, and common allegiance of, all our people to the process and the results which these documents intend.

For this toe happen, as we propagate the vision these documents contain, we must, at the same time, engage in an historic effort of redefinition of ourselves as a new nation.

Our watch-words must be justice, peace, reconciliation and nation-building in the pursuit of a democratic, non-racial and non-sexist country.

In all we do, we have to ensure the healing of the wounds inflicted on all our people across the great dividing line imposed on our society by centuries of colonialism and apartheid. We must ensure that colour, race and gender become only a God-given gift to each one of us and not a indelible mark or attribute that accords a special status to any.

We must work for the day when we, as South Africans, see one another and interact with one another as equal human beings and a part of one nation united, rather than torn asunder, by its diversity.

The road we shall have to travel to reach this destination will by no means be easy. All of us know how stubbornly racism can cling to the mind and how deeply it can infect the human soul.

Where it is sustained by the racial ordering of the material world, as is the case in our country, that stubbornness can multiply a hundred-fold.

And yet however hard the battle will be, we will not surrender. Whatever the time it will take, we will not tire. The very fact that racism degrades both the perpetrator and the victim commands that, if we are true to our commitment to protect human dignity, we fight on until victory is achieved.

We firmly believe that we, who have paticular experience of the destructive and anti-human force of racism owe it to ourselves to centre our transformation on the creation of a truly non-racial society. Because we know racism so intimately, we must stand a good chance to develop and nurture its opposite.

It will perhaps come to be that we who have harboured in our country the worst example of racism since the defeat of nazism, will make and contribution to human civilisation by ordering our affairs in such a manner that we strike an effective and lasting blow against racism everywhere.

Some of the steps that we have taken already, including the establishment of a Government of National Unity, the orderly transformation of the institutions of state and the cultivation of a national consensus on the major issues of the day, have started us off on a correct footing, with regard to continuing the processes leading to the creation of the just society we have been speaking of.

Our political emancipation has also brought into sharp focus the urgent need to engage in struggle to secure our people's freedom from want, from hunger and from ignorance.

We have written this on our banners that the society we seek to create must be a people-centred society. All its institutions and its resources must be dedicated to the pursuit of a better life for all our citizens.

That better life must mean an end to poverty, to joblessness, homelessness and the despair that comes of deprivation. This is an end in itself because the happiness of the human being must, in any society, be an end in itself.

At the same time, we are intensely conscious of the fact that the stability of the democratic settlement itself and the possibility actually to create a non-racial and non-sexist society, depend on our ability to change the material conditions of life or our people so that they not only have the vote, but they have bread and work as well.

We therefore return to the United Nations to make the commitment that as we undertook never to rest until the system of apartheid was defeated, so do we now undertake that we cannot rest while millions of our people suffer the pain and indignity of poverty in all its forms.

At the same time, we turn once more to this world body to say we are going to need your continued support to achieve the goal of the betterment of the conditions of life of the people.

We are pleased and inspired that both the Secretary General and the specialised agencies of the UN have taken up the development challenge in South Africa with the enthusiasm that they have.

We believe that it is in the common interest that we sustain the common victory that we have scored in South Africa; and take it further by achieving success not only in politics but also in the socio-economic sphere.

It is perhaps common cause among us that everywhere on our globe there is an unmistakable process leading to the entrenchment of democratic systems of government.

The empowerment of the ordinary people of our world freely to determine their destiny, unhindered by tyrants and dictators, is at the very heart of the reason for the existence of this Organisation.

But it is equally true that hundreds of millions of these politically empowered masses are caught in the deathly trap of poverty, unable to live life in its fullness.

Out of all this are born social conflicts which produce insecurity and instability, civil and other wars that claim many lives, millions of desperate refugees and the destruction of the little wealth that poor countries are able to accumulate.

Out of this cauldron are also born tyrants, dictators and demagogues who not only take away or restrict the rights of the people but also make it impossible to do the things that must be done to bring lasting prosperity to the people.

At the same time, the reality can no longer be ignored that we live in an interdependent world which is bound together to a common destiny.

The very response of the international community to the challenge of apartheid confirmed this very point that we all understood, that as long as apartheid existed in South Africa, so long would the whole of humanity feel demeaned and degraded.

The United Nations understood this very well that racism in our country could not but feed racism in other parts of the world as well. The universal struggle against apartheid was therefore not an act of charity arising out of pity for our people, but an affirmation of our common humanity.

We believe that that act of affirmation requires that this Organisation should once more turn its focused and sustained attention to the basics of everything that makes for a better world for all humanity.

The elaboration of a new world order must, of necessity, centre on this world body. In it we should find the appropriate forum in which we can all participate to help determine the shape of the new world.

The four elements that will need to be knit together in fashioning that new universal reality are the issues of democracy, peace, prosperity and interdependence.

The great challenge of our age to the United Nations Organisation is to answer the question - given the interdependence of the nations of the world, what is it that we can and must do to ensure that democracy, peace and prosperity prevail everywhere!

We are aware of the United Nations is addressing these questions in many ways. And yet there can be no gainsaying the fact that such progress as we have made has been more by stealth rather than in the bold and determined fashion which the world crisis demands.

Perhaps a new and forceful initiative is required. Such an initiative should inspire all of humanity because of the seriousness of its intent.

It should also have a chance to succeed because it will have been underwritten by the commitment of the masses of the people in each member country to join hands with other nations, to address together the related issues of democracy, peace and prosperity in an interdependent world.

We are aware of the fact that the dictates of realpolitic militate against the speedy realisation of such an initiative. But we do believe that the reality of life and the realism of policy will, at some point, bring to the fore the fact that the delay we impose on ourselves today will only serve to increase the pressure on all of us to incorporate within what we consider possible, a sustainable vision of a common world that will rise or fall together.

Undoubtedly, to inspire greater confidence in itself among all the member nations and to reflect better the impulse towards the democratization of international relations, the UN will have to continue looking at itself to determine what restructuring of itself it should effect.

This process must, naturally, impact, among others, on the structure and functioning of the Security Council and the peace-making and peace-keeping issues raised by the Secretary General in his Agenda for Peace.

Democratic South Africa rejoins the world community of nations determined to play its role in helping to strengthen the United Nations and to contribute what it can to the furtherance of its purposes.

Among other things, we have this morning acceded to the Covenants and Conventions adopted by this Organisation, which address various matters such as Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Civil and Political Rights, and the irrevocable commitment to the realisation of the objectives contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

We are determined to play our full part in all processes that address the important question of the non-proliferation and destruction of weapons of mass destruction. Our Government has also decided to become a signatory to the Convention of Prohibition and Restrictions of the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons.

In a similar vein, we shall not be found wanting in the quest for sustainable development that is in keeping with the Rio Declaration on the Environment and Development as well as Agenda 21.

Equally, our own national interest dictates that we join forces with the UN and all its member states in the common struggle to contain and end the traffic in narcotics.

Even in constitutional terms we are committed to the advancement of the objective of the emancipation of women, through the creation of a non-sexist society. Apart from anything else, we are therefore actively engaged in the preparations for what we are convinced will be a successful Bijing Conference.

We are part of the region of Southern Africa and the continent of Africa. As members of the Southern African Development Community and the OAU, and an equal partner with other member states, we will play our role in the struggles of these organisations to build a continent and a region that will help to create for themselves and all humanity a common world of peace and prosperity.

Ours must surely become a continent free of such tragedies as those that have afflicted our own country, Rwanda, Somalia, Angola, Mozambique, Sudan and Liberia. Happily, the OAU is actively addressing this issue of peace and stability on our continent.

We are greatly encouraged that the countries of our region, faced with a crisis in Lesotho, acted together speedily and, with the co-operation of the Government and people of that country, succeeded to demonstrate that together we have the will to defend democracy, peace and national reconciliation.

Furthermore, as members of the Non-Aligned Movement and the Group of 77, we are committed especially to the promotion of South-South co-operation and the strengthening of the voice of the poor and disadvantaged in the ordering of world affairs.

We would like to take this opportunity to express our appreciation to the members of the General Assembly for the speed and readiness with which they accepted the credentials of democratic South Africa, enabling us to participate in the work of the last General Assembly.

We are pleased to note that this same spirit characterised the approach of other international organisations towards our new democracy, including the Commonwealth and the European Union.

We would like to close by congratulating you, Mr President, on your election to your high post and express our confidence that you will guide the work of the Assembly with the wisdom and sense of purpose for which we admire you.

The millions across our globe who stand expectant at the gates of hope look to this Organisation to bring them peace, to bring them life, to bring them a life worth living.

We pray that the new South Africa which you helped to bring into being and which you have so warmly welcomed among the community of nations will, in its own and in the wider interest, make its own contribution, however small, to the realisation of those hopes.

Our common humanity and the urgency of the knock on the door of this great edifice, demand that we must attempt even the impossible.


Source: South African Government Information Website