Address by President Nelson Mandela on receiving honorary doctorate from Sorbonne University

15 July 1996

Prime Minister;
Minister of Education;
Madame Le Recteur;
President of the University;
Ladies and Gentlemen.

We have come, from the southern tip of Africa to the heart of Europe, to affirm with you the universality of the ideals for which our peoples have given so much.

We have come to report to the legion of anti-apartheid fighters, of revolutionary change in South Africa; and the nobility of the efforts of a people in political motion to build a better life.

Such is the meaning of today's ceremony; following as its does, hard on the heels of the celebration of the anniversary of the world-famous French Revolution. It is a ceremony that touches the bottom of my heart and uplifts my spirit precisely because it unites an ancient intellectual tradition with the consummation of Africa's quest for her dignity in the liberation of South Africa. On 27 April 1994, we too, in our own special way, stormed our Bastille.e us all as long as any part of humanity lacks freedom and security, and remains in want.

We have come as South Africans to pay homage to a nation which blazedn which for two centuries has inspired those seeking freedom. We are grateful that we could join you in commemorating your National Day, to celebrate the role of ordinary people in changing the course of world history.

Today's ceremony is therefore a tribute to the people of South Africa who are working together to give concrete meaning to the ideals proclaimed by the revolutionaries of 1789.

It is in that spirit that I accept the high honour which you bestow on me, with gratitude and humility. For I know that, in the final analysis, I am the people's humble servant a mere symbol among these collective makers of history.

In accepting your kind words and accolades, I also wish to acknowledge the support of countless ordinary French citizens, extraordinary men and women from every walk of life, who helped make it possible for me to stand before you today as a representative of our rainbow nation, at last honouring its tryst with destiny,

That this award concerns law is most appropriate. This is not so much because of my own passionate engagement with the law, academic and professional. Rather it is because of the centrality of law to South Africa's own unique revolution.

Despite the long identification of law in our own country with denial of humanity; with repression; with the codification, entrenchment and perpetuation of inequality, they kept the ideal of justice in law burning in their hearts. And they finally settled on a path of change which rests on constitutionality and humane jurisprudence as the framework for political and social transformation.

It was with such goals in mind that our elected representatives discharged their mandate to fashion a new constitution reflecting the democratic consensus of a people for whom freedom, human rights and social justice have become inseparable. If on 27 April 1994 we stormed our Bastille, on 8 May 1996 we put the final seal on the constitutional framework for fundamental change.

As latecomers to democracy we could stand upon the shoulders of others. Amongst the foremost of these were French democrats and constitutional thinkers from Montesquieu and the authors of the Declaration of Human Rights, to those of the modern day.

We should not let this occasion pass without mention of Robert Badinter, President of France's Constitutional Court. His keen interest in our constitutional development was much appreciated. It opened us to France's experience in the shaping of our own Constitutional Court. That Court is presently certifying the text adopted by our representatives, against the principles negotiated to carry us across the threshold from conflict and division to peace, reconstruction and reconciliation.

We are proud that our constitution pledges democratic majority rule and secures democratic opposition; that it balances innumerable rights within our society; that it entrenches the culture of human rights that has taken root in our country. We boast of its overarching injunction to our nation to address the legacy of past inequalities and to work together to improve the quality of life of all our people in the spirit of nation-building and reconciliation.

By proceeding with our revolution in this manner, we do believe that we are sensitive to the experience that has confronted revolutionary democrats of all ages, including those of 1789: that the rights to freedom and equality remain but empty shells, and democracy fragile, unless they bring real improvement in the lives of people; and that lasting improvements depend on reconciling the forces once locked in combat on the basis of humane values.

In short, we accept as our foremost challenge that of giving concrete expression to the profound but simple goals of Liberty, Equality And Fraternity. It is in this context that we regard the economy as no less vital than our constitution to the future of our democracy and our freedom.

And so it was that the adoption of our new constitution was swiftly followed by the announcement of government's macroeconomic strategy. It establishes a framework for all the major social forces within our society to work together, building on the sound foundation laid in the first two years of democratic government and lifting our economy beyond the constraints inherited from apartheid.

We do not pretend that our objectives will be easily reached. But we draw confidence from their readiness to join hands and to put long-term interest above short-term considerations.

This is where our strength lies, whether it be in implementing a strategy for growth, job-creation and shifting of resources towards the poor; in dealing with crime; in developing new labour relations and labour market policies; or in finding ways of coming to terms with the harm that we did to each other in the apartheid era.

Our confidence is strengthened by the goodwill and co-operation of the French government and people, including the investors, and the judgment they have made on our future.

We were honoured that President Mitterand was the first head of state to make an official visit to our new democracy. We keenly appreciate the status which the French government has accorded to co-operaons of French business in establishing operations in South Africa and making major investments in South African enterprises, testify to that positive judgment of our future.

French investment, increasing our productive capacity, boosting exports in a competitive world-market and transferring technology and skills, will, on the one hand, bring real gains to the investors and, on the other, help secure the long-term future of our democracy,

Thus we know that, in this our uique South African Democratic Revolution, we have a friend and partner in France.

As we strive to rise to the challenge posed by the condition of hunger, poverty and ignorance, which are the lot of millions, we know that the French people, passionately at our side in the struggle for freedom, will today not be found wanting. They will not be found wanting in the development of relations between Southern Africa and the European Union. They will not be found wanting in ensuring that our country attains the market access that the years of isolation had denied.

Ladies and Gentlemen;

Reflecting on the ancient origins and unbroken traditions of Sorbonne University, we are reminded of the law schools which existed on African soil even before law faculties were founded on the European continent.

These centres of culture and learning established, even then, the principle of linking law to social progress. The tradition of jurisprudence which they maintained, was disrupted by colonial invasion, but the humane conception of law which they taught is one which we share and seek to develop today.

In the giving and receiving of the honour which you have bestowed on me today, may we pledge ourselves to join hands, France and South Africa, Africa and Europe, and work together to bring about the rebirth of societies devastated by colonial history.

Let us enter the new millennium as partners in an enterprise to match political ideals with prosperity and equity everywhere. Thus can the ideals of the visionaries of the 18th century find resonance in a new and just world order.

I thank you.

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation