Rajiv Gandhi Foundation Lecture by President Nelson Mandela

25 January 1995

Madame Chairperson
Distinguished Guests;
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Just over four years ago, when I landed on these shores, I was greatly humbled by the sense of occasion and the great symbolism of the event.

For me, it was an opportunity, at least, to retrace the footsteps of Gandhiji between our two countries and continents. It was an opportunity to pay tribute to Pandit Nehru, first Prime Minister of independent India, and one of the great world leaders whose ideas and force of example profoundly influenced my own political outlook.

Among the memories indelibly etched in my heart are the touching welcoming words of then Congress Party leader, Rajiv Gandhi:

'The freedom of India started in South Africa; and our freedom will not be complete till South Africa is free'.

Profound in their simplicity, moving in their sincerity and immortal in their accuracy, these sentiments came flashing back when I was informed of the invitation to address this august gathering. Grief, consolation and fulfillment, wrapped in one is what enveloped me:

grief in remembering the tragic fact of a young life out down in its prime;

consolation in knowing that it is his strength and the frailty of the assassins which will live on for generations; and

fulfillment in the realisation that those welcoming words can today come to life in their full bloom.

On behalf the people of South Africa, I have come on this occasion to say to Rajiv, Pandit and Mahatma - indeed to the people of India: Your freedom can now reach its zenith because the people of South Africa are free!

Over the years, our peoples have extolled the many issues that bind us; the cold facts of geography and history; the shared passion in pursuit of justice and happiness; and the golden trail of principled actions in aid of the struggling people of our country. All this, and much more, are the solid foundation upon which our new relations are taking shape. They are at the root of our emotion when we say: to come to India is for us a home-coming; a pilgrimage to the shrines of great leaders and a great people we shall always admire.

I bring you greetings from the people of South Africa. In their multitudes and diversity they extend their hands across the miles and oceans to profoundly thank the people of India for helping set them free. They are deeply conscious of the sentiments Rajiv Gandhi expressed; that you did so knowing that you were, by your actions, also helping to set yourselves free. For you saw our tears as reason enough for your own sorrow; the blood that we shed as a loss to your own selves.

Today we come with a new confidence that both our nations have met their tryst with destiny. Tomorrow, as we join you to celebrate the independence of India, we shall in a sense be celebrating our own victory. For without India's victory, ours would have been that much more difficult to attain.

This is the spirit that infused our earlier engagements today; the joyous welcome by President Sharma and the signing of agreements with Prime Minister Narasimha Rao.

What these agreements represent is the beginning of a new epoch in relations between India and South Africa. But they also signify a challenge whose meeting we can no longer postpone. For as the dust of the rhythm of celebration settles and the beat of drums and cymbals die down, standing starkly before us are the tasks bequesthed us by Mahatma and Pandhitji.

If we have reached an exalted summit in our joint march to freedom, the wider view that this affords us in South Africa is littered with the destruction of apartheid that we never fully appreciated; the collapse of the social fabric and infrastructure; the immorality and wastefulness in the corridors of apartheid power, and the warping of the collective mind of slave and slave-master alike.

And as we awaken to the profundity of these realities, our appreciation of the daunting tasks ahead of us becomes clearer.

We in South Africa are convinced that it is both possible and practicable to reach our goal of a better life for all in the shortest possible time. We derive our confidence from the knowledge that this is a vision shared by the overwhelming majority of South Africans across the colour and political devides.

And we fully appreciate the role of the international community in making this happen - not only in the form of material support. If we are able today to speak proudly of a rainbow nation, united in its diversity of culture, religion, race, language and ethnicity, it is in part because the world set us a moral example which we dared to follow.

This achievement is bound to last because it is founded on the realisation that reconcilliation and nation-building mean, among other things, that we should set out to know the truth about the terrible past and ensure it does not recur. Ours must therefore not be merely a respite before the bitterness of the past once more reasserts itself.

We recognise too, that reconcilliation and nation-building would remain pious words if they were not premised on a concerted effort to remove the real roots of past conflict and injustice. Our national security and the survival of our young democracy depend, above everything else on the programme to meet the basic needs of the people. Reconstruction and development will ensure that all South Africans have a stake in life; that they share an interest in the well-being of the country as a whole.

Jawaharlal Nehru taught us that the right to a roof over one's head and affordable services, a job and reasonable income, education and health facilities is more than just a bonus to democracy. It is the essence of democracy itself; the essence of human rights.

This requires economic growth and investment; rational utilisation of the resources at our disposal; human resources development; rural and urban renewal ... to quote but a few examples.

We state all these principles not because they are novel. Rather it is to underline the fact that we have keenly followed the experiences of India and other developing countries, and we seek to learn from you. It is also to emphasise that India has a crucial role to play in our endeavours, in as much as we have an important role to play in your efforts.

Our discussions this morning with President Sharma and Prime Minister Rao have laid a firm basis for this. The Joint Commission which has been established and the Principles of Inter-State Relations which have been signed are certain to lead to a rapid development of all-round bilateral relations. This is because we are rectifying an anomaly, so that our two nations, bound together by history, geography, politics and economic attributes, can develop the special relationship that these factors dictate.

This is crucial for us in South Africa because we know we shall benefit from the rich tapestry of your experience in areas of socio-economic development such as housing, education and health; from your indigenous technology conducive for developing nations; from the possibilities of training in many areas, including management of the state apparatus.

As South Africans, we are also examining the question, how we can follow India's example to become an important part of the international effort for peace, development and co-operation, especially now, in a world that is abandoning equations of the past. Certainly, this new reality has its own potentially negative effects. But to help change the world requires that we start from the point of view of the positive elements and possibilities that exist.

Firstly, international relations today can be conducted without the aberration of military and ideological blocs which tended to cloud the fundamental issues at hand, including human rights and political freedom.

Secondly, this has made it possible for the crucial questions that have plagued humanity for centuries, to come to the fore; the fact of the social disparity among and within nations and the need to raise the global quality of life.

Thirdly, international bodies, particularly the United Nations, are re-examining their role to take on board, as a central theme, the issues of socio-political rights on a global scale.

Lastly, social and political renaissance in many developing countries is helping set the tone for renewed confidence, mutual co-operation and a more effective voice.

The times might have been different and the setting somewhat skewed. But when the leaders of the previous epoch, of the calibre of Pandit Nehru, Abdul Nasser, Nkwarne Nkurumah, Sukarno, Albert Luthuli, Allende and others initiated and sought to build on the spirit of Bandung, their prime concern was not merely military non-alignment. They had as their prime objective political freedom and socio-economic development.

The conditions under which we operate today make it even more necessary and practicable for us to pursue this cause.

Thus in seeking to strengthen Indo-South African relations, we do so also motivated by the need to forge a partnership whose significance should outstrip the narrow confines of our own self-interest. While we should seek to exploit one another's lucrative markets; take maximum advantage of trade and investment opportunities; expand cultural, sporting and tourist relations; co-operate on security matters, including the combating of drug trafficking, we would be less than equal to the tasks at hand if we did not realise the broader canvass within which this has to take place.

The 'natural urge of the facts of history and geography' that Nehru spoke of, should broaden itself to include exploring the concept of an Indian Ocean Rim of socio-economic co-operation and other peaceful endeavours; of a special relationship that should help improve the lot of the developing nations in multilateral institutions such as the United Nations, Commonwealth and Non-Aligned Movement.

Therefore, if there is any central challenge that this occasion of the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation presents us with, it is to develop the tenacity required to pursue goals that are old and familiar, yet new and not fully explored in the current world milieu For that, we require creative, bold and innovative minds; the kind of mind which, in Rajiv's own words, is 'probing, restless' and 'takes nothing for granted ... a mind that refuses to acquiesce to anything shoddy ... that insists on bettering even the very best.'

I wish the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation all the best; and I am confident that in death, as in life, Rajiv will continue to cement the unity of the people of India and their various organisations, as well as the bonds of co-operation between India and South Africa.

May our relations grow from strength to strength and bring a better life to all our peoples!

Thank you.

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation