Address by President Nelson Mandela on receiving the honorary fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, Cape Town

27 March 1996

Professor Hennessy, President of the Council of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland;
Members of the Council;
Distinguished Guests.

It gives me great pleasure to welcome you to South Africa, to Cape Town and to the Tuynhuys. You have come a long way from Ireland to confer on me an Honorary Fellowship. I do understand that in doing so you are paying tribute to the people of South Africa, and it is in that spirit that I humbly accept the award on their behalf.

During the dark days of apartheid your College provided places for many South Africans who were excluded by racist laws from the medical schools of their own country. More than 300 of the South African doctors practising medicine in our country today graduated in Dublin between 1950 and 1990.

Through these doctors, you are making an inestimable contribution to the health-care needs of our people.

As a college that is more than 200 years old, you have produced surgeons and physicians who have gone to many parts of the world including South Africa. I would single out especially the Irish religious doctors and nurses who worked in the past, and continue to do so today, among disadvantaged communities. They understand that health care, if it is to serve all the people, must begin with primary health care; and that it should form part of broader socio-economic programmes.

This is a priority of South Africa's first democratic Government, so that ordinary people in villages and towns throughout South Africa can get not only health treatment, but also the wherewithal to prevent disease.

That is why our government's very first steps included the provision of free health care at our hospitals and clinics for pregnant mothers and young children, as well as a comprehensive primary school nutrition scheme. That is why our Bill of Rights affirms the right of every child to "basic nutrition and basic health and social services".

In conclusion, may I thank you sincerely for your offer of a scholarship to be held at your College by a South African wishing to study medicine. Like the educational assistance provided by the Irish Government, this scholarship indicates the desire of the Irish people to see South Africa succeed in its endeavour to build a better life for all.

We are indeed grateful.

Issued by: Office of the President

Source: South African Government Information Website