Address by President Nelson Mandela on receiving an honorary degree from the University of Mauritius, Mauritius

11 September 1998

Prime Minister;
Pro-Chancellor of the University of Mauritius;
Members of the University;
Distinguished guests

When Europe used slaves from Africa to meet its own needs from the natural resources of Mauritius, it would not have imagined that one day a free Mauritian nation would pay tribute to the people of the last African nation to gain its freedom, through this ceremony today.

When Europe drew indentured labour from Asia to Mauritius it could not have known that this island - and its university - would in time play a pivotal role in the forging of a larger community of developing nations in Asia and Africa.

These threads in our common history and our shared future make it a special privilege to receive the honour which you are bestowing on me.

I know that in doing so you are not recognising any personal achievement, but rather paying homage to the whole South African nation and the principles which have guided them. It is in that spirit that I humbly accept this honorary degree.

The people of South Africa achieved what a sceptical world thought was impossible, by turning centuries of division, conflict and tension into their opposites. Your recognition has special value for us because we know it is the act of a people who take pride in their diversity, inspiring us in our own efforts to forge a rainbow nation.

The award moves us deeply because it evokes the solidarity of the international community, including the people of Mauritius, with our struggle for freedom and for the realisation of those aspirations which we share as peoples.

There is no need to affirm here the critical importance of education to the development of our countries; to the reconstruction of our Southern Africa; and to the rebirth of our continent.

Nor do we need to assert the value we attach to nurturing our own home-grown institutions as centres of academic excellence.

If we are to tackle the socio-economic problems of our respective countries and the SADC region as a whole, if we are to succeed in the highly competitive and increasingly integrated world market, then we must give the highest priority to investing in our people, through education and training.

We must build our capacity to identify and to absorb from the world's fund of knowledge those developments and innovations which will advance our central purpose; sustained growth that will produce the resources to abolish the disease; the hunger; the illiteracy and insecurity that still blights the lives of millions.

Inasmuch as disparities in skills and educational resources are part of the wider imbalances between the nations of the South and those of the North, education is a vital field for contributing to the building of South-South relationships as well as a partnership for development with nations of the North.

Expanding the co-operation in education and training that already exists between South Africa and Mauritius will bring benefit to both our countries and to the SADC region as a whole.

By bestowing an honorary degree on the representative of a people whose pre-occupation is to eradicate the poverty and inequity that derives from our common past, I believe your university is conveying a clear message to those with whose learning it is entrusted. It is that they are called upon to use their talents in the development of their country and in the African Renaissance whose time has come.

May I thank you again, on behalf of the people of South Africa, for this moving tribute.

I thank you.

Issued by: Office of the President

Source: South African Government Information Website