Address by President Nelson Mandela on receiving an honorary doctorate from Chulalongkok University, Bangkok - Thailand

17 July 1997

President of Chulalongkok University;
Members of the University,
Distinguished guests;
Ladies and gentlemen,

One of the greatest privileges of high office, and the most humbling, is to receive honours that commemorate the achievements of the people whom one represents. And it is truly inspiring when such a gesture comes from a people so far away. For in the shared aspirations of nations lie our greatest hope for a better world.

I can think of no accolade better deserved by the people of South Africa, nor one more gladly accepted by me on their behalf, than one which celebrates freedom and peace. They, the people of South Africa, have done what the world thought impossible. They turned oppression, division and conflict into their very opposites.

It is a special honour for me to stand before you in the campus of Thailand's oldest and most prestigious University. There is particular satisfaction in being associated with an institution that has made it its mission to serve the people and to pursue knowledge and excellence through international contact exchange.

For these are principles that are close to my heart, and they are cherished by my people. Education can bring enlightenment and understanding of others. It can realise the creative potential inherent in each person. It can equip nations with the knowledge and the skills required for development and economic success.

South Africa's own experience was very different. The education of most of our people was neglected. We saw a whole generation deprived of proper education because it was misused to divide and control people.

Mr Chairman, ladies and gentlemen;

South Africa is free at last and at peace with itself. Our victory is yours too, for it was worn with the support of the international community, including the government and people of Thailand. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your contribution to the attainment of our freedom.

Our freedom brought release from imprisonment for many of us, and to an end to decades of exile for many more. For millions it meant a lifting of the ever-present threat of coercive violence, the halting of arbitrary and demeaning limitations on their lives.

Beyond that, our whole society was liberated: from conflict, mistrust and insecurity. We were freed from a system which kept oppressed and oppressors alike in roles that demanded and diminished us all.

No longer are South Africans constrained by narrow labels derived from racist doctrines. Instead they are experiencing the freedom to be who they really are and who they choose to be. Now that all our cultures, religions and languages are protected in our constitution and respected by fellow citizens, our communities no longer regard themselves as minorities in opposition to the rest of the nation, but simply as part of the whole South African nation.

Our political freedom is being given material content by programmes to improve the lives of our people. We are guided by the knowledge that no part of a society can be secure in its rights while many of their fellow citizens live in conditions which prevent them exercising their rights.

Political liberation is therefore only the beginning of the new struggle. the struggle for reconstruction and development.

In the same way, although Thailand was never colonised, it has still been subject to the imperatives of a world in which the fate of nations and the quality of their people's lives, depend on their place in a system of unequal power. And so Thailand, never deprived of its sovereignty, identifies itself with those whose underdevelopment was the legacy of colonialism.

The recent history of our regions and continent, democracy and peace have gained great ground in the last half century.

And yet for most people in Africa, and many in Asia, poverty, homelessness, disease and illiteracy cast a shadow over the rights that have been won through struggle and sacrifice. The bright hopes that decolonisation would soon bring development, faded before the continuing imbalance in world economic power.

The challenge we all face is to close the gap between rich and poor. And we are urged to so in the knowledge that poverty and inequality remain the most enduring source of conflict, instability and insecurity.

This is a challenge which we must in the first instance address within our own countries. For that reason, at the heart of South Africa's programme of reconstruction and development is an economic strategy for growth, employment and redistribution. It is premised on our becoming competitive in the market-place.

In short, we are following the maxim that in order to succeed, nations must rely on their own resources. But in an integrated world, none can succeed on their own. Just as no part of a nation can prosper in security while others are deprived, so too, no nation can sustain itself as an island of prosperity while so much of the world is mired in poverty.

In this context, we attach the highest importance to efforts to ensure that world economic growth is translated into the benefits of development. It is therefore significant that South Africa, the country which currently holds the Presidency of UNCTAD, is today being honoured by the country which will host the next summit of UNCTAD, a body whose work is so critical to eliminating the economics of dependency and inequality.

In the same spirit, Thailand has been host to important meetings aimed at fostering co-operation between continents - the first summit of European and Asian leaders last year, and even more recently the second African-Asia forum.

International co-operation, balanced development, and equitable distribution of power in the global economy and international institutions are essential to the new and better world we are seeking, one based on mutual respect and benefit.

Ladies and gentlemen;
The goals to which we aspire are therefore dependant on each other. Our aspirations to peace and freedom will remain frustrated, as they have been for centuries, without development, equity and democracy. But freedom, peace and equitable distribution of power are also essential conditions for the advancement of the world's developing countries.

Your award today is therefore more than a tribute to the people of South Africa for their achievements. Though our countries are separated by geography, language, and culture, we are partners in humanity's quest for it's most noble ideals. Your award and our acceptance celebrates that unity and is a pledge that our two nations will work together for a better world.

Many centuries ago the Romans declared that - "Pax vincit omnia" - "Peace conquers all". It was a rule to which they did not pay a great deal of attention themselves. Nor has it yet become the guiding principle in world affairs, not least because the conditions for peace are still to be realised for much of the world. But it is in our power to make it true.

As we enter the new millennium let us join hands, South African and Thai, Asian and African, in a partnership for peace and prosperity!

Thank you very much.

Source: South African Government Information Website