Address by President Nelson Mandela to Joint Houses of Parliament of United Kingdom, London

11 July 1996

My lords, ladies and gentlemen

It is with a deep sense of humility that we stand here today to address the historic Houses of Parliament of the United Kingdom.

This rare honour you have extended to a foreigner speaks to the great age, the extent, and the warmth of the relations between our two peoples. It speaks of the prospect of us further deepening these excellent relations.

Perhaps the fact of our presence here today might serve to close a circle which is two hundred years old.

I say two hundred years because the first time this country entered ours as a colonising power was the year 1795.

There are some parts of our country which to this day, have many towns and localities which bear the names of British places and personalities, some of whom played an important role in the process of British colonisation which started in 1795.

To take only one of these - the Eastern Cape - it has such names as Port Elizabeth, East London, Grahamstown, King Williamstown, Alice, Albany, Somerset East, Fort Beaufort, Fort Glamorgan and simply, Queenstown.

Here, too, is to be found what is called the 1820 Settlers' Monument, built in tribute to British colonists who came to occupy land seized from our forebears and to help guarantee the safety of the spoils, for the benefit of Country and Empire.

Had those forebears had the advantage of education and access to your outstanding cultural heritage, they would have found the words of one of the citizens in Shakespeare's "Coriolanus" most apposite to describe their attitude towards the Great Britain of the day.

Let us here the disenfranchised and dispossessed citizen of that day:

"We are accounted poor citizens, the patricians good; What authority surfeits on, would relieve us... The leanness that afflicts us, the object of our misery, Is as an inventory to particularise their abundance; Our sufferance is a gain to them. Let us revenge this with our pikes, ere we become rakes: For the gods know. I speak this in hunger for bread, And not in thirst for revenge." (Coriolanus: Act 1, Scene 1.)

For a century after that cry of despair would first have been heard, what defined the relations between our peoples. Was a continuous clangour of arms, one of whose military highlights was the famous Battle of Isandhlwana when the Zulu armies won the day.

Eight decades ago, my predecessors in the leadership of the African National Congress came to these venerable Houses to say to the government and the legislators of the time that they, the patricians, should come to the aid of the poor citizens.

With no pikes to accompany them, because the British armies had defeated and disarmed them, they spoke eloquently and passionately of the need for the colonial power to treat them as human beings equal to the 1820 Settlers, and others who wafted down from Europe before and after 1820.

As eloquently and passionately, the British rulers of the day spoke in these Houses to say they could not and would not amend their agenda with regard to South Africa, to address the interests of that section of our population which was not white.

Despite that rebuff and the terrible cost we had to bear as a consequence, we return to this honoured place neither with pikes, nor a desire for revenge, nor, even, a plea to your distinguished selves to assuage our hunger for bread.

We come to you as friends.

We have returned to the land of William Wilberforce who dared to stand up to demand that the slaves in our country should be freed.

We have come to the land of Fenner Brockway who, through his Movement for Colonial Freedom, was as concerned about our liberty as he was about the independence of India.

We are in the Houses in which Harold Macmillan worked - he who spoke in our own Houses of Parliament in Cape Town in 1960, shortly before the infamous Sharpeville Massacre, and warned a stubborn and race-blinded white oligarchy in our country that "the wind of change is blowing through this continent.." to whom a South African cartoonists paid tribute by having him recite other Shakespearean words - "Oh pardon me thou bleeding piece of earth, that I am meek and gentle with these butchers!"

We have come as friends to all the people of the native land of the Archbishop Trevor Huddleston, who in his gentle compassion for the victim resolved to give no quarter to any butcher.

His sacrifices for our freedom told us that the true relation- ship between our people was not one between poor citizens, on the one hand, and good patricians, on the other, but one underwritten by our common humanity and our human capacity to touch one another's hearts across the oceans.

We come to you as friends, bearing with us, to you and the nations you represent, warm greetings from the hearts of millions of our citizens.

Even in the most lifeless of historical seasons, two hundred years would be too long a period for the force of change not to break free.

Change has come to our country too, perhaps at last, but bringing with it joy, the promise of a better future and a protracted festival of hope across the globe.

Racism is a blight on the human conscience. The idea that any people can be inferior to another, to the point where those who consider themselves superior define and treat the rest as sub-human, denies the humanity even of those who elevate themselves to the status of gods.

The millions of graves strewn across Europe which are the result of the tyranny of Nazism, the decimation of the native peoples of the Americas and Australia, the destructive trail of the apartheid crime against humanity - all these are like a haunting question that floats in the wind: why did we allow these to happen!

It seems to us that, as the ordinary people of the world came to understand the real nature of the system of apartheid, they decided that they would not permit that their response to that question should be to hang their heads in shame.

We take this opportunity once more to pay tribute to the millions of Britons who, through the years, and like others everywhere else in the world, stood up to say - no to apartheid!

Our emancipation is their reward. We know that the freedom we enjoy is a richly-textured gift handcrafted by ordinary folk who would not allow that their own dignity as human beings should be insulted.

In the acceptance of that gift is contained an undertaking by our people that we shall never again allow our country to play host to racism. Nor shall our voices be stilled if we see that another, elsewhere in the world, is victim to racial tyranny.

But above all else, we believe that our charge is to fulfill the wishes of all humanity, including our own people, to ensure that the enormous and sustained universal effort which translated into the defeat of the system of apartheid, achieves its related purpose of transforming South Africa into a democratic, non-racial, non-sexist, peaceful and prosperous country.

No society emerging out of the grand disaster represented by the apartheid system could avoid to carry the blemishes of its past.

Had the new South Africa emerged out of nothing, it would not exist. The being it has assumed, dictated by its origins, consti- tutes a veritable school of learning about what needs to be done, still, to end the system of apartheid.

The Jeremiah's who lie in wait, ready to blame the present for its past and, seeing the ghosts of the past that still stalk our land, believe these ghosts to represent the failure of the new reality. These Jeremiah's represent a breed that has convinced itself that we cannot succeed to build the beautiful South Africa that we and millions of others, including yourselves, have dared dream of.

Yet, had we not had that capacity for success, South Africa would not be where it is today.

The first founding stone of our new country is national reconciliation and national unity. The fact that it has settled in its mortar needs no advertising.

If it were not so, the blood in the streets would trumpet it loudly that we had failed to achieve acceptance of the need for all our people, black and white, to live together in peace, as equals and as citizens bound together by a common destiny.

Our second founding stone is the establishment of a democratic system which ensures that all citizens have an equal right and an equal possibility to determine their future. It prohibits the option of tyranny and dictatorship and it guarantees the fundamental human rights of all our people.

Within that broad framework, like other nations, we continue the struggle to find ways and means by which to involve the citizen as intimately as possible in the system of governance, cognisant of the historical process which is redefining the role of the politician, taking away from these professions the powers conferred by the notion that they, exclusively, have a special ability to govern.

Furthermore, recognising the diversity of our society, our new Constitution provides for the establishment of a Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities.

This will ensure that our people as a whole have an additional instrument in their hands to enable them to avoid the emergence of any situation in which ethnic and other tensions might drive us back to apartheid solutions or to an imitation of the cruel example of Bosnia.

Our third founding stone must surely be that we end the enormous race and gender disparities in wealth, income and opportunity we have inherited from our past and whose continued impact on our society necessarily subtracts from the achievement of the goals of national unity and reconciliation.

Here we are confronted with a protracted struggle which is intimately bound up with our fourth founding stone, this being the rebuilding and modernisation of our economy and setting it on a high, sustainable growth path to end poverty, unemployment and backwardness.

None of us can underestimate the complexity of the challenge that faces us with regard to the laying of these latter two founding stones. At the same time, relying on our own resources and people and as part of the world community of nations, we have every reason to be certain that we will succeed.

In the context, we must refer to the mood of the masses of our people who correctly expect that freedom must be attended by a better life for all.

But because they are poor, these millions understand the effort and time it will take to graduate from walking barefoot to the comforts of a truly decent existence.

What they expect is not a great leap forward, but a steady and visible advance in the improvement of the quality of their lives, with them participating actively in the process of determining the pace and direction of that advance, and not merely waiting passively to be recipients of benefits that will be delivered by an authority from which they are otherwise alienated.

It may be difficult to understand the enormous creative force released among the people by the fact that for the first time in centuries, they have a government which they can correctly claim as their own and whose very reason for existence is to serve the interests of these millions; and that they are builders of a society in which the individual is by law protected against any possible tyranny from the state.

It is from this well of hope, engagement and confidence in the future that the ordinary citizens of our country are appropriating the concept we have laid before them of "Masakhane" - a Nguni word which means "let us build one another together".

As important a founding stone as the rest, is the fact that we are an African country. With all our colours and races combined in one nation, we are an African people.

The successes we seek and must achieve in politics, the economy and social development are African successes which must be part of an African renaissance.

They are integrated within a process which must lift and banish the clouds of despair that continue to cast a dark shadow over our continent.

Had we the peremptory powers, long would we have proclaimed - lux fiat!

It is perhaps in this regard that our presence here today might, as we have said, symbolise the closing of a circle which, for us, has been two centuries in the drawing.

For centuries, an ancient continent has bled from many gaping sword wounds.

At an earlier time, it lost millions of its most able sons and daughters to a trade in slaves which defined these Africans as fit for slavery because they were African.

To this day we continue to lose some of the best among ourselves because the lights in the developed world shine brighter.

An ancient continent disgorged into the hands of foreigners what lay in its bowels and in the fertility of its soils, seemingly so profusely that it had to send scouts here to ascertain whether it was true that the streets of London are paved with gold!

The continent bleeds, still, struggling to service a foreign debt it can neither afford nor afford to repudiate.

The louder and more piercing the cries of despair - even when that despair results in half-a-million dead in Rwanda - the more these cries seem to encourage an instinctive reaction to raise our hands so as to close our eyes and ears.

Both of us have been part of this unfolding tragedy, watching, waiting, troubled, not knowing what beast born of this superhuman suffering, slouches towards Bethlehem to be born, to borrow the words of an Irish poet.

But this we must know, that none of us can insulate ourselves from so catastrophic a scale of human suffering.

In the end, the cries of the infant who dies because of hunger or because a machete has slit open its stomach, will penetrate the noises of the modern city and its sealed windows to say: am I not human too!

To close the circle, let our peoples, the ones formerly poor citizens and the others good patricians - politicians, business people, educators, health workers, scientists, engineers and tech- nicians, sports people and entertainers, activists for charitable relief - join hands to build on what we have achieved together and help construct a humane African world, whose emergence will say a new universal order is born in which we are each our brother's keeper.

And so let that outcome, as we close a chapter of two centuries and open a millennium, herald the advent of a glorious summer of a partnership for freedom, peace, prosperity and friendship.

Thank you

Issued by: Office of the President

Source: South African Government Information Website