Address by President Nelson Mandela at the Conference of Young Presidents Organisation

27 February 1995

Mr Doug Smollan, President of the Young Presidents' Organisation
Distinguished guests;
Ladies and gentlemen.

As a President who, among other things, can boast of a ripe age, I do not qualify for membership of your organisation. I am therefore most honoured, indeed flattered, to be invited to address you.

Gathered here you represent qualities which we as a nation prize highly. They are qualities which our country needs in abundance as we set about building a new society.

All too often, societies deny themselves much of the talent and resourcefulness of their people, because of an unthinking adherence to practices which reserve positions of authority only to older people. One effect is that young people often do not recognise in themselves the capacities to take on such roles. The youth of our country played a signal role in the struggle for freedom and we expect much of them in the reconstruction of our country.

But it is not only the youth whose potential may be overlooked. We are emerging from a social system which systematically denied the great majority of South Africans - particularly African, Indian and Coloured people, and women of all groups the opportunity to develop their skills or even to use to the full the skills they had.

For us, therefore, the Young President's Organisation represents the vast potential which our society, like many others, has left unused or undeveloped. It evokes our pledge to release and develop those resources through our programmes of education and training and the opening of opportunities. This is the meaning of our affirmative action policy.

You are an organisation without frontiers, dedicated to development through mutual exchange of ideas and knowledge. History has concentrated wealth, technical knowledge and training in half the world and left the rest in a state of dependence. Initiatives such as yours are vital if this unacceptable balance is to be addressed.

Your decision to hold this year's conference in our country, and in our continent of Africa, is especially welcome. We are proud, as an African country, of our success in turning from the division and conflict engendered by oppression, into a country united in determination to address the legacy of poverty and deprivation. Our rebirth as a nation, we are convinced, is part of an African renaissance.

As a network which commands significant investment resources and trade opportunities spread throughout the world, you represent the international business community into which our country has only recently been accepted. You are a crucial resource which we are determined to tap. For, our programme of reconstruction and development depends on sustained economic growth.

I am confident that your visit to our country will have revealed to you many opportunities for mutually beneficial investment, trade and ventures in tourism. I know that your South African counterparts did not miss an opportunity to show you the best in scenery that South Africa can offer.

No doubt, even in the short time you have been here, you have sensed the unity which underlies both the confidence of South Africans in their future and their enthusiasm to build it. This is no passing mood. It is rooted in a partnership of social structures which has a momentum which will not be deflected by what particular individuals or political parties may decide.

I would like to leave you with a challenge, to act with the boldness and initiative which is so powerfully represented in your organisation. Be true to your commitment to rely on experience rather than merely on received wisdom. Turn the plans and the possibilities regarding trade and investment, particularly investment in productive ventures, into action.

We welcome you as partners in the reconstruction and development of our country.

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation