Opening address by President Nelson Mandela at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin - Germany

23 May 1996

Senator Radunzky;
Mr Bertram;
Officials and staff of the House of Cultures of the World;
Dear guests, Ladies and gentlemen;

I am honoured to be in Berlin, this cross-roads of Germany, of Europe and the world, which has been an index of the changing course of world history and interaction of nations.

For South Africans, in the dawn of our freedom, Berlin has special meaning.

If, just over a century ago, the great powers of Europe gathered here to confer on their plunder of Africa, it was in Berlin two years ago that the European Union and the Southern Africa Development Community pledged their partnership in development as a contribution to Africa's rebirth.

If in the past racially oppressed South Africans found in Berlin a home from home; today we stand before you as proud citizens of a Rainbow Nation. The society we are creating is one in which Colours are a beauty of nature and not a determinant of a person's value.

It is because of the extraordinary history of Berlin and because of our own humble efforts in South Africa, that I say I am honoured to be here, and it is with great pleasure that I share in this official launch of the House of World Cultures' "Rainbow Nation" programme on South Africa.

As the diversity of the God-given talents, intellect, beauty and dimensions of our people unfolds on your walls, your stages, and your theatres, you will understand why South Africa had to be liberated.

I would like, on behalf of all the people of South Africa, to thank the House of World Cultures and all those who have made this event possible. We thank you for this opportunity to present ourselves as we are, and as we aspire to be, to the citizens of Berlin, to Germany and to the world.

Ladies and gentlemen;

The very notion of a House of Cultures of the World speaks to us of our own South Africa, for history has brought into our land the blessings of the creative genius of Asia, Africa and Europe.

We are exhilarated by this institution whose primary purpose is to celebrate the entire world's aesthetic achievements and expressions. In its conscious search around the world for the beautiful threads of culture that make for a wholesome humanity, it represents a permanent repudiation of chauvinism.

We deeply appreciate your recognition of South Africa's contribution to the normalisation of human relations, and that you lost no time in making it possible for us to come to Berlin and thank the people of Germany through our gifts of art.

We also thank the House of World Cultures for the decades of commitment to our cause. The House of Cultures has in the past presented South African artists with invaluable opportunities to promote their culture, against all odds; to share their experiences; to be part of the world; and to show that the culture of people, their spirit and their hunger for liberty, cannot be contained by iron bars or concrete walls.

Allow me, Mr Chairman, also to use this opportunity to extend my deep appreciation of the work of the former Anti-Apartheid activists in Germany in promoting South African culture and resistance. Through your numerous activities you promoted the truth about the human condition created by apartheid, beyond the power of mere speech. Your work helped the world hear the voice of the resistance of our people.

Inevitably, in the early years contact between the House of World Cultures and South Africa grew from individual initiatives by human rights activists, independent artists and free thinkers. However, the development of this current programme involved partnership between our two countries, and it has also laid a firm basis for the cultural agreement soon to be signed by our governments.

The people of South Africa at last have their basic rights enshrined in the new constitution. they now have the right to live each according to his or her own culture - and no person may suffer discrimination on the grounds of culture, gender or creed. Even though these most basic human right should never have been denied, we celebrate their achievement as a victory, because it is your victory too.

Dear Guests, Dear people of Berlin,

In just a few hours I will be leaving your city and your country to return to South Africa. I will take with me fond memories of my encounters with the people of this great country. I will cherish the warmth I experienced wherever I went.

In the discussions and meetings we have held and in all our encounters with the people of this land we have been left in no doubt of the commitment in Government; in the private sector; amongst cultural workers; indeed in every walk of life, to build firm relations between our two nations.

When, at the beginning of this visit, I addressed the German people through their elected representatives in the Bundestag, I used the profound words from Goethe's Faus which evoke our own experience of freedom, as a goal ever to be re-won through vigilance and struggle. His vision of a free land is one:

Where there is room for millions to build a new life, with hard work but free from paying tribute. A paradise for People, with herds, living to the best of their ability.

I will be able to tell my people that in Germany we have true friends, friends in need and friends indeed, who are partners in making a reality of this vision of a free people in a free land building a better life.

It is an honour for me, on behalf of our Government and our Rainbow Nation, to wish the Colours Exhibition and the Cultural Programme every success in its important task of bringing us together.

I duly declare "South Africa: the Rainbow Nation" and the Colours Exhibition open.

Thank you.

Issued by: Office of the President

Source: South African Government Information Website