Address by President Nelson Mandela on receiving an honorary doctorate by Ben Gurion University of the Negev

19 September 1997

Master of Ceremonies;
President of the Ben Gurion University;
President of the South African Associates of the University;
Chief Rabbi Harris;
Distinguished Guests;
Ladies and Gentlemen

Although I have on a number of occasions had the privilege of receiving honorary academic degrees, because of my position, each award is unique in its meaning. And it is always a humbling experience.

Such occasions, in both the giving and the receiving, affirm shared aspirations and hopes. They pledge a common commitment to the values that define particular institutions, peoples or struggles.

In Ben-Gurion University of the Negev we have a centre of excellence which represents the best in the traditions of the Jewish people: a sense of mission; internationalism; inventiveness. It is an institution that gives inspiration through its chosen mission, summed up in the words of the prophecy: "The desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose."

This bold confidence in the capacity of humans to transform barren and hostile conditions into their opposite, is bearing welcome fruit across the world through the university's support for development programmes in countries challenged by arid conditions.

South Africa's reconstruction and development programme is high on the list of the beneficiaries of Ben-Gurion University's expertise, thanks to the efforts of the University's South African Associates. In this they are carrying on a long tradition of contribution to our national life by South African Jewry.

Ladies and gentlemen;

Although you are bestowing an honorary Doctorate on me, I do know that it is not any personal achievement that is being given recognition. Rather it is the triumph of the whole South African nation. They have turned apartheid's desert of division and conflict into a society where all can work together to make the people of our Rainbow Nation blossom.

I humbly accept the award on their behalf, in the fervent hope that what we have achieved will serve as a symbol of peace and reconciliation, and of hope, wherever communities and societies are in the grip of conflict.

South Africa does not believe it can solve the problems of others. But we do believe that our own humble experience has shown that negotiated solutions can be found even to conflicts that have come to seem intractable; and that such solutions emerge when those who have been divided reach out to find the common ground.

That experience confirmed for us that in situations of conflict such actions are the special responsibility of leaders; and that when they act in this way they lessen tensions and create the conditions for the good men and women who exist amongst all peoples, communities and parties to work together in the interests of all.

That is why amongst our fondest memories is the meeting, so filled with promise for the Middle East, of President Ezer Weizmann and then-Chairman Yasser Arafat, during the inauguration of South Africa's first democratic government in 1994.

That was why the tragic assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was at once so shocking and yet still unable to extinguish the hope which had been engendered by the peace process.

And that was why we were so honoured last year to receive Shimon Peres in South Africa, as a man whose courageous contribution to the peace process remains an inspiration.

Today, we cannot but share the anxiety of all who are concerned for peace, at the loss of momentum; at the erosion of trust; at the halting of the implementation of the accord; and at the rising level of tensions in which extremism on either side thrives.

Today, at the end of a century which has seen such a desert of devastation caused by horrific wars, a century which at last has gained much experience in the peaceful resolution of conflicts, we must ask: is this a time for war; is this a time for sending young men to their death!

As we have done before, we appeal to all those concerned to follow the path laid out in the Oslo Agreement towards its goals of peace and security for all.

We admire the efforts that are being made by Palestinian and Israeli citizens to transcend the historical divide and thereby lessen the tensions endangering the process. May their courageous message of peace and partnership be heard throughout the communities they are seeking to unite, across the Middle East and further afield, including here in our own country of South Africa. May their noble actions serve as a force of example, for us, whoever and wherever we are, to make our voices heard in support of reason, rationality and integrity in dealing with this complex situation.

Ladies and gentlemen;

For South Africa, peace, democracy and freedom brought the opportunity at last to address the basic needs of our people, and to bring the improvements to their lives without which our peace would be fragile and our freedom hollow.

The ending of apartheid has brought peace to our whole region and allowed the countries of Southern Africa to work together to realise the potential of development through co-operation. It has allowed us to join the international community of nations in striving for world peace and prosperity.

We are proud to welcome so many distinguished visitors to our country, so that you can sense for yourselves the pride of a nation that is united in working to overcome the legacy of our divided past, through reconstruction and development.

We have only just begun this task, whose difficulties we do not underestimate and which will take us years to achieve. But we face the future with confidence, knowing that those who are ready to join hands can overcome the greatest challenges.

Our welcome to you is made all the warmer by your association with an institution which has embraced a mission of international partnership for development.

We welcome you too for your links with a community which has made a unique and indispensable contribution to our nation.

The award which you bestow on me today, and through me on the people of South Africa, is treasured for the same reasons. May I thank you once more for this great honour, from the bottom of my heart.

And may we always be partners in turning deserts into gardens of peace and prosperity.

I thank you.

Source: South African Government Information Website