Address by President Nelson Mandela at the presentation of the Bharatiya Jnanpith Literary Award, Delhi - India

28 March 1997

Mr Prime Minister;
President and Officers of Bharatiya, Jnanpith;
Shrimati Mahasveta Devi, Jnanpith Laureate;
Distinguished guests;
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is an honour and a great pleasure to be with you today to take part in the presentation of India's most prestigious literary award.

Despite the intense pressures on my schedule, I felt that I had to be here, as a representative of a people whose march to freedom has been shared by the Indian people.

I wanted to be here, because it is in the communion of ideas that nations express their deepest affinities.

In seeking the best of India's literature amongst all the languages of India, this award boldly affirms the unity in India's diversity.

If South Africa can rejoice today in becoming a rainbow nation, if we can speak with pride of a constitution that protects and affirms our rich diversity of cultures and religions, it is in part because of what we have drawn from India. The values of tolerance, mutual respect and unity as expressed in the pronouncements and writings of Gandhi and Nehru, had a profound and lasting influence on our liberation movement, and on my own thinking.

I had to be here because in my previous visits to India there was no opportunity to meet with writers and intellectuals concerned with literature.

Essential to the health of any society is a vigorous body of writers: pathfinders who help us to think what has hitherto been unthinkable; critics why by daring to be unpopular help a nation know the truth about itself; unifiers who, by communicating the lives of different sectors of society in all their particularity, affirm the universality of human experience.

For all these reasons it is a special privilege to have been invited to present the Jnanpith Award to a writer renowned for her portrayal of the lives and struggles of the poor and the disadvantaged.

In throwing a light on the experience of the most downtrodden, Mahasveta Devi holds a mirror to the condition of the world as we enter the new millennium.

It is a reminder, should we need one, that our joint march to self-determination will come to naught if we do not make a concerted effort to eliminate the legacy of an international order based on unequal power and exploitation of nation by nation. Our mission, as peoples who have triumphed together over colonialism and oppression, is to work together to eradicate the poverty, insecurity and material constraints on freedom which still darken the lives of millions across the globe.

Ladies and gentlemen;

A part of India is in South Africa, a vivid thread in the tapestry of our nation and a vital pulse in the political culture of our democracy. It is my fervent wish that by being here today we will promote greater interchange between our countries in the field of literature. That could only advance the entrenchment of our shared ideals.

Our congratulations to Ms. Devi, and our thanks for the honour of being here today.

Hindustan-Dakshin Africa ki dosti amar rahe! (Long live India-South Africa ties!)

Dhanyavaad. (Thank You)

Issued by: Office of the President

Source: South African Government Information Website