Response by President Nelson Mandela on being welcomed to the University of Oxford by the Chancellor

11 July 1997

Distinguished guests;
Members of the University;
Ladies and Gentlemen.

Your kind welcome has quite overwhelmed me. I wish that it were possible for all the people of South Africa to be present here. For it is they who have earned your accolades. It is they who should be received by one of the most ancient and distinguished centres of learning. It is they who should bear the title of champion of law.

South Africans have placed education and law at the very heart of their quest for freedom, justice and a better life. That is despite their long experience of both in perverted forms.

When the law of the land codified dehumanising doctrines; when it became an instrument of discrimination and a license for torture - it would have been natural to regard the law as nothing but an instrument of the powerful, as anathema to justice.

However, our people kept faith with the ideal of just law. When conditions allowed, they elected to pursue social and political transformation within a framework of law and human rights.

The consummation of that choice was a constitution that enshrines our deepest aspirations as the supreme law of the land. None are above that law, not parliament and not the head of state - as we both were firmly told by the Constitutional Court when two years ago I issued proclamations under an Act which Parliament ought not to have passed.

It is for that reason - and not just because of my own personal engagement with the law as student and professional - that your conferral of an honorary degree in law was so apt.

In the same measure, education has been recognised as indispensable to the achievement of our goals - to a vibrant democracy; to sustained growth and development in a comptitive world; to good governance; to the eradication of poverty.

Our association with Oxford is therefore of the greatest importance to us. It is one of the ironies of our history that many of those who were forced into exile found doors of learning opened to them that they could only dream of in their own country.

That has brought an invaluable infusion into our thinking and helped equip us for the challenges of transformation. Many individuals and our nation as a whole remain indepted to Oxford and its colleges for their generous and practical solidarity.

One of the fruits of our freedom is that this relationship can now flourish unfettered.

We warmly welcome the plans for a new Oxford Higher Education Programme for Southern Africa. As your earlier support advanced the struggle to free South and Southern Africa from apartheid and destabilisation, so would such a programme strengthen our efforts as a nation and a region to build anew.

I am confident that with time we will increasingly make our own humble contribution to the intellectual efforts of the world.

Democratic South Africa has drawn great benefits from its relationship with Oxford. And we are only at the beginning of our association. I believe that my visit today and your warm welcome will serve not only as a commemoration of past achievements, but as a pledge of an enduring partnership for learning, justice and prosperity.

I thank you!

Issued by: Office of the President

Source: South African Government Information Website