Address by President Nelson Mandela at banquet in honour of President Clinton of the United States of America

27 March 1998

President Clinton and Mrs. Clinton;
Deputy President Mbeki;
Your Majesty,
Your Excellencies;
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a proud moment to welcome the first President of the United States to visit South Africa.

Our pride is that of a free nation welcoming the representative of a people who identified with our struggle, because they too have known what it is to fight for independence and for justice; they are keenly aware that the essence of the American dream is one that South Africans, Africans and the rest of humanity share.

You will be able to report to your people Mr President, that we are using the freedom they helped us win, to build a nation that is united in seeking a better life for all its citizens.

You will be able to confirm that relations between our two countries are growing by the day. These relations make it possible for us to create more resources to meet our people's basic needs: jobs, skills and schooling; a roof over their heads, health-care.

Such was the motivation in setting up the Bi-National Commission; such is the reason for its existence; and such should be the prize. Your visit, we are convinced, will add impetus to the Commission's work and strengthen the momentum for the expansion of all-round relations.

Above all, your historic visit to our continent places the United States in the forefront of supporters in Africa's struggle to bring about her renaissance. Indeed we should not expect otherwise of the United States, a country in which resides a part of Africa's soul.

Although this may be misplaced amongst partners and friends, we still feel obliged to say. Thank you to the American people for ensuring, as part of humanity, that South Africa is free at last.

Mr President;

You will understand that at my age I can afford to be honest. I will be so brutally frank as to prejudice your case, because I know that you, like myself, are not saddled with the misfortune of having to campaign for another term.

And this is to say that, in addition to my profound thankfulness for the hospitality and empathy of the American people which I was blessed to experience during my visits there. I have greatly appreciated your own personal, deep sense of concern and solidarity with our cause.

Often, as Heads of State, we are called upon to interact with ordinary people as a duty and as part of the political trade. But in you, I have discerned an attachment to the aspirations of the most vulnerable sectors of society that comes from deep within your heart and soul.

We have therefore followed with keen interest your programme over the past seven years and more, to try and turn around old paradigms and seek a better life for all your people.

We in South Africa have been beneficiaries of this, your identification with the weak and the poor. I wish to say thank you for the contribution you made to our difficult march to freedom. May the award we grant you toady, the Order of Good Hope, represent a small token of our warm recognition of your efforts.

It is appreciated, Mr President, that friends are such not because they agree on everything. And our own partnership is no exception. What is critical though is that we should understand why, from time to time, we might disagree and agree to disagree.

What we do treasure though is that on the most fundamental question facing humanity, we have a partner in you and the American people in general.

As we enter the new millennium, we, as a country, as part of a continent in rebirth and as part of the developing world, will stridently continue to call for the democratisation of the United Nations and its agencies, for a more humane consideration of the poorest and most heavily indebted countries, and for the introduction of some order into what is at times a disorderly and predatory global financial system.

We raise these issues because we know that, in the current US administration, we shall have a sympathetic hearing. Indeed, we believe it is in the interest of the most powerful country in the world, at the turn of this century, to give such leadership as would propel all of humanity forward into a life without hunger poverty, illiteracy and ignorance.

We raise these issues, Mr President, also because we know that they are engaging your mind, and that you will seek solutions that are in the interest of all humanity.

Our enthusiasm for the special relations with the USA derives also from our commitment to Southern Africa, which we believe can become one of the power-houses of the continental renaissance. Thus we encourage an approach on the part of investors which recognises the inter-linkages in Southern Africa, including joint major projects which are a basis for our common efforts towards regional prosperity.

Mr President;

We face still greater challenges than those we have overcome, for our country, our continent and the entire world. The United States is an especially valued partner as we seek to make the world a better place for all who live in it.

Ladies and gentlemen;

Would you please join me in a toast to President Clinton and the people of the United States of America!

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation