Address by President Nelson Mandela at the diplomatic corps banquet

5 February 1999

Minister Nzo;
Deputy Minister Pahad;
Dean of the Diplomatic Corps;
Your Excellencies, Heads of Foreign Missions;
Distinguished Guests,

As we remarked this morning in Parliament, the time for farewells is yet to come. There is much work still to do before we can shake hands and finally relieve public life of the burden of having to put up with an octogenarian. We do also wish to avoid setting off a train of farewell functions. That could mean that we do no work between now and our actual retirement. And then we would lose any credibility we may have left, because people tend to remember you for what happened in the last part of your life.

This is, however, probably my last opportunity to meet with such an assembly of the heads of foreign missions in our country. It was my great honour to receive each of your with the presentation of credentials.

We also developed the practice of according a farewell audience to departing diplomats, where schedules allowed it. The pressures of the few months remaining will probably make this practice impossible - hence my special pleasure at this opportunity to pay collective respects to those who have served this country so well, by promoting bilateral relations between their respective countries and ours.

One very evident difference between democratic South Africa and its apartheid predecessor is the enormous expansion in our international relations.

It was because we understood the depth of the international community's commitment to justice, and the strength of its wish that we should succeed in rebuilding our society that we could say at our inauguration: "Never, never and never again, shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another, and suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world."

It is a matter of great pride that our Constitution enshrines the negotiated expression of the will of all the people of this land. It therefore ensures that the law protects all our people against abuse of power, against the indignity of discrimination and against oppression of one citizen by another.

The Constitution of which we are all proud, whatever our political differences, is guarded over by independent bodies and protected by entrenched clauses which cannot be changed at the whim of any party.

The Constitution and the culture of respect and tolerance which it embodies, are amongst the reasons we do know, that South Africa is today a respected and respectable member of the community of nations. Your presence in our country, and at this function, bears witness to that.

We are aware that sometimes ambassadors even get into trouble with their capitals for presenting South Africa's case so well that doubts grow as to whether they are the ambassadors of their own country or of their hosts. We owe your, our visitors who have become such loyal advocates, a great debt of gratitude.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank your governments and peoples for having supported the struggle to end the nightmare of apartheid and for helping us to usher in the era of a free and democratic South Africa.

We thank you for now engaging with us, as partners, in the arduous task of building a new and united nation, by overcoming the legacy of the past and creating a more equitable society that meets the basic needs of all our people and that promotes sustainable development in our own country as well as the African continent.

We have achieved much since 1994. Of course, the task of reconstruction and development is not over and most of us would have liked to make more progress by now in bettering the lives of our people. We inherited not only the social deprivation of millions but social structures designed to perpetuate the old order and attitudes nurtured by minority power and privilege. It is when the mammoth task of transformation is seen in this broader view that a realistic assessment can be made as to what has been achieved and what remains to be done.

I will not dwell on this subject but I do need to say to each and every diplomatic representative this evening that whilst our achievements - like our hope for the future - would not be possible without the patience, sacrifice, commitment and determination of all our people, our task has been made easier because we have been blessed and sustained by the goodwill and support of our sub-region, our continent and the global community. For this we are very grateful to you all.

We have also tried, in our international relations, to be a good and responsible citizen of the world, giving high priority to promoting democracy and human rights, sustainable development and peace in the world. At times we have faced very high expectations and we have tried to respond to them as major challenges and opportunities, rather than burdens to be avoided. Naturally we have not been able to meet all the expectations, but that has not been due to any lack of political will.

I have noticed, recently, that several of the new 1994 High Commissioners and Ambassadors have completed their tour of duty and left whilst others are in the process of preparing to leave, just as I too prepare to leave office.

As I look around I am conscious that we have not only developed relations with states but also with unique human beings. It is as individual and special friends of a democratic South Africa that I also wish to thank you all personally, for your friendship, which we know will be a lasting one.

I will now conclude so that we can all enjoy the rest of the evening.

I thank you.

Issued by: Office of the President

Source: South African Government Information Website