Address by President Nelson Mandela at the United Nations World Summit for Social Development

12 March 1995

Your excellencies, Heads-of-State and Government
Distinguished delegates;
Honoured Guests.

We are gathered here to answer one question: how does humanity co-operate to build a better life for all.

If this question sounds trite in its simplicity and too familiar in its rhyme, it is because this challenge has been with us for millennia.

More often, however, the need to pursue the good of all has been subsumed under the narrow interest of the self or the corporate unit. The endless cycle then becomes: better circumstances for a few, precarious ones for many, and indeed, worse for the majority.

That age-old question confronts us today under conditions which require of us an abiding consensus.

Technological advance has narrowed the plains and oceans dividing nations. The era, in inter-state relations, in which military considerations were placed above pertinent socio-economic imperatives, has come to an end. Our common habitat is in danger.

We either rise together as humanity, or together fall.

It is appropriate that a major effort to re-order world affairs should take golden place as we celebrate the United Nations golden jubilee. We therefore join others in congratulating the Secretary-General and the UN's specialised agencies for this epoch-making initiative.

Above all, ours is a challenge issuing from the voices of the peoples, who are uniting across artificial boundaries for real and lasting security. They are asserting themselves more and more, particularly in structures of civil society.

The choice before us, who call ourselves their leaders, is either to bend to that will or continue to flounder in the morass of circumlocution.

We in South Africa have learnt through bitter experience that security for a few is in fact insecurity for all.

To the extent that the world taught us to understand and to challenge discrimination; to that extent we are apt to observe that to be born in the South, to be born a woman, disabled or amongst the poor - all these circumstances often define one's life possibilities as part of the wretched majority.

The simple facts reflect the present untenable division of power and wealth, within and among nations.

The core challenges facing this Summit undoubtedly require international solidarity. But they also demand from each one of us, national responsibility.

The South is justified in citing history and current international practices as the cause of our woes.

However, our efforts to build open democracies and respect human rights, to improve efficiency and implement sustainable policies, will be a resounding voice which compels the North to listen.

On the other hand, it is to perpetuate difficulties of the South, for the North to relate to us as consumers of arms and finished goods, as passive recipients of project assistance without transfer of skills and technology, as hapless victims to dictate to regarding loans and employment of aid.

Certainly, protectionism cannot survive. Certainly, basic rights, including a social clause in international arrangements, are desirable. We therefore need to co-operate in making the transformation easier for countries lagging behind.

South Africa is fortunate to emerge into the world in such interesting times. If our recent successes in building an inclusive democracy and knitting together a deeply divided nation is broadly appreciated, this is because we did what humanity taught us to do.

But from the exalted heights of that success, we now enjoy a better view of the mass we have inherited.

This has spurred us even more to pursue integrated and sustainable objectives of economic growth and equity, fiscal discipline, human resource development, open and transparent government and popular involvement in our Reconstruction and Development Programme. The central strategy of our whole nation is a developmental one, aimed at creating full employment and ending poverty. National consensus around major policies, among both political parties and sectoral formations, is central to our approach.

We are thankful that the donor community is receptive to our view that aid should be in line with our priorities and budgetary plans.

In particular, we believe that we must commit ourselves to finding a way of ending the marginalisation of Africa. The measures that are required to do this must be addressed urgently by all of us in very concrete terms.

The irony of democratic South Africa's late entry into international affairs is that we can reap the fruits of a world redefining itself.

And in our naiveté we are perhaps better-placed, and every duty-bound, to ask the question: how do we emerge from here inspired not merely to attend future Summits, but, under aegis of the UN, to implement programmes that the world and its inhabitants demand and deserve.

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation