Address by President Nelson Mandela on accepting Honorary Doctorate of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow - Russia

30 April 1999

Master of ceremonies;
Distinguished members of the Russian Academy of Sciences and Moscow State University;
Your excellencies;
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is indeed a very special honour to receive not one Honorary Doctorate but two, and not from one prestigious institution of learning but two!.

I will always cherish this association with the great intellectuals of a renowned tradition of scientific endeavour.

I will do so knowing that it is no personal achievement that you are recognising. Rather it is a tribute to a people who never doubted the simple truths of human existence even though all the resources of colonial and apartheid rule would have them believe the dogma of racist doctrine.

I would interpret your action also as a tribute to the intellectuals of our country, of all colours and backgrounds, who have followed their calling to fashion the complex experience and aspirations of our diverse society into a single, realisable vision of a society at peace with itself.

And I would interpret it as encouragement to all those who are today seeking to put knowledge at the service of development and the enlargement of freedom.

It is in this spirit that I accept this double honour in the name of our people.

These two awards, one made when I and many others were still in jail, in exile or engaged in underground and mass struggle for freedom; the other conferred on the first elected President of a democratic South Africa, together convey a powerful message. It is that your solidarity with a people fighting for liberation has become a partnership with a free nation engaged in reconstruction and development.

Our people have reached out to one another across the imposed divisions of centuries to live out together the consequences of the profound but simple fact that, complex as history may have made our society, we are one people with one destiny.

In doing so they are opening the way to knowledge in many spheres.

The history of South Africa, like the history of Africa as a whole, is being recovered, as the weight of colonial myth is lifted.

Science and technology are being mobilised towards challenging and stimulating national goals rather than the debilitating defence of narrow interests.

Our Academy of Science, now a formal partner of the Russian Academy, is itself a product of democratisation in South Africa, born of the need to unify science in the service of all our people.

Dealing with the legacy of generations of oppression and discrimination is no quick or easy task. Although the lives of millions of South Africans have begun to improve, we face still greater challenges than those we have already overcome.

To house those who are still homeless and bring clean water to those who still lack it, beyond those who have gained access to the these basic needs in our first five years of freedom; to ensure that all our children study in conditions that are conducive to learning; to defeat the scourges of AIDS, crime and unemployment that we face in common with much of the world, to overcome attitudes ingrained over centuries: these things will require all our strength and ingenuity, as well as that of our friends.

That is true of science and science education, as it is of every other sphere of social life. Indeed, amongst the most devastating consequences of apartheid's neglect of the education of most South Africans, is a desperate shortage of scientific and technical personnel precisely when reconstruction demands such skills in abundance.

Our country has drawn great benefit from the hundreds of young South Africans studied in your higher education institutions. We dare to think that having them amongst you also deepened the understanding your youth had of the world which we share.

Now that we have achieved freedom, that interaction has become also a direct one between the institutions of learning and research of our two countries.

For any country a fundamental question of policy is to achieve the right balance, for that society, between the production of knowledge which has no foreseeable application for decades and that which can be readily exploited and applied to immediate social and economic purpose. The fact that our co-operation in science, science education and research is being located firmly within the context of our common heritage of exceptional mineral resources and our common drive for sustained growth, promotes that balance in South Africa.

It challenges us not only to help equip one another to turn those resources into products that meet our people's needs and that can be sold within the world market, but also to deepen our understanding of the process of economic globalisation. We can assist one another not only to ward off the negative aspects of this process, but also to take advantage of the opportunities. We can work together for an international economic system in which the benefits do not go disproportionately to the more powerful nations and the costs to the weaker.

In such ways this relationship for the mutual advancement and application of knowledge will improve the lives of our people and take us closer to a world that better reflects the needs of the large part of humanity that still lives in poverty and insecurity.

It is these affinities between the ideals to which your institutions are dedicated and the courageous struggle of my people which make me proud to receive the honorary degree which you have bestowed on me today.

I thank you once more for this great honour.

May our bonds with Russia long continue to help freedom and knowledge strengthen one another.

I thank you!

Issued by the Office of the President

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation