Address by President Nelson Mandela on receiving an honorary doctorate from the University of Leiden, Leiden

12 March 1999

Your Majesty;
Your Royal Highness;
Your Highnesses;
Rector Magnificus;
Distinguished Guests and Friends,

It is indeed a very special honour to receive an Honorary Doctorate from this old and famous university. But I am also aware that such an award brings responsibilities as well as honour.

For the rest of my life I will treasure, with humility, the memory of being associated with the great learned people for whom this was their intellectual home.

And indeed it has not even been expected of me to present the written proof of my competence!

But then, I do know that it is no personal achievement that you are recognising, but the achievement of a people who remained faithful to the ideals of just law and reconciliation even when the law was subverted to injustice and division was imposed on our nation.

It is a tribute to all those who emerged from underground, from prison, from exile and from the shattered towns and villages of our country, resolute in their determination to build a future of justice and the rule of law on the smoking ruins of hatred and racial doctrine.

In the honour you bestow on us, and in our receiving it, is the expression of an affinity between the courageous struggle of my people and the ideals of your great historian Huizinga, who never ceased to insist that the responsibility of every sensible person - and that of the university - must be to care for the whole society: to care for the well being of the people, to enrich our minds and to constantly renew our spirit.

Rector Magnificus,

South Africans will in the coming years have to solve problems that you have faced before us. We have to build many new houses and schools, extend healthcare still further, deal with crime and corruption.

These challenges are even greater than those we have already overcome, and we will need all the strength that we have, and that of our friends. As much as anything, that is true also of the South Africa's universities and the scientific work we are doing.

I interpret your intention to bestow this honour on me today as also indicating your readiness to assist our students and their lecturers in their striving for stronger international links and a deepening of cultural exchange between our countries.

Fortunately we live in an age where the ivory towers that universities once were, are being transformed into vantage posts for looking into the future. Science and technology are critical to development and industrialisation. South Africa is fortunate in having a number of excellent universities where young people are equipping themselves with the capacity to make the best use of knowledge to meet the needs of our people.

There is a long tradition of South African students studying in the Netherlands, and also here at the University of Leiden. Though once it included those who used their newly-gained knowledge in the service of apartheid, that era is behind us. Those who must build the new South Africa, and who were previously excluded from the pastures of knowledge, have begun to draw from the well of learning vested in the universities of the Netherlands.

But we would like to see a great expansion in this process. And we warmly welcome the initiative in this direction, Rector Magnificus, which you have announced today.

A greater exchange of students will be enriching for both our nations. On the one hand it will contribute to the development of our country and the rebirth of our continent. And on the other, we do believe, contact with the young people of my country will enrich and enlarge the insight that your youth has of your history and I dare say the multi-cultural character of your society.

Africa has often been called the cradle of humanity, because some of the oldest traces of human existence have been found there. But more importantly, the long and difficult history of our continent has never succeeded in destroying our humanity.

We do believe that our shared victory over a system whose inhumanity united the world in support of our freedom, has been an inspiration to all who dream of a better and more humane world. We believe that our own humble search for reconciliation has renewed faith in the possibility of finding solutions to even the most intractable problems.

It is not only given to economists to think in terms of globalisation. Those ideas to which human beings give expression in our various cultures and artistic and intellectual interactions are also global realities.

I cherish the hope, ladies and gentlemen, that this insight in the unity of the world and the need to support and educate one other is an important part of the reason why this son of Africa has received an honorary doctorate from your university.

I thank you once again for this special honour, and I undertake - in line with what I have shared with you now - to execute the related responsibilities to the best of my ability.

I thank you.

Issued by the Office of the President

Source: South African Government Information Website