Address by President Nelson Mandela at ceremony for awarding National Orders to Prince Bandar and Professor Gerwel, Cape Town

11 May 1999

Your Royal Highness;
Your Excellencies;
Distinguished Guests,

We are very happy to welcome so many of you here this afternoon to join us in this award ceremony. It is not often that we convene such a special ceremony for the award of national orders. But what we are celebrating has special significance.

Not only are we honouring rare and exceptional achievement by two accomplished individuals.

We are also celebrating the vindication of an approach to solving problems that is based on the common humanity of all people everywhere. We take joy in the strengthening of our hopes that the peaceful resolution of conflict can become the normal approach.

We are also, thankfully, recording an event that confirms the efficacy and enhances the authority of the United Nations as the world body responsible for collective action in pursuit of world peace.

These may sound large claims to be making, especially if they appear to be the achievements merely of two individuals.

There is no doubt that but for the efforts and the qualities of the two persons we are honouring as best we can, we would not today be in a situation in which two Libyan men would be awaiting trial in a Scottish Court in the Netherlands, with the hope of a fair hearing; in which the families of victims of the Lockerbie disaster could take some comfort from the fact that the judicial process is under way; and in which the Libyan people would be freed from the suffering inflicted on them by years of sanctions and the insecurity engendered by the memory of armed attack on their capital.

It is right that we should honour the two envoys. Their exceptional achievement required an exceptional combination of skills and virtues: discretion; modesty; patience; a commitment to justice; and an intellectual and moral depth that both extends trust and engenders it in a situation marked by years of conflict and tension.

But we also know that what they did was made difficult but at the same time possible by the international environment within which they worked. That environment is defined on the one hand by institutions and norms that promote justice and peace, and on the other by entrenched and long-standing divisions.

If we praise their discretion, it is in the knowledge that this was an issue engaging the most powerful interests and bringing into play emotions and attitudes that have been divisively deployed in world affairs. Intense international media attention constantly solicited them to occupy a public place on the world stage. "Lockerbie " and "Libya" had become landmarks in the media landscape of a world divided between good and evil, the reasonable and the irrational, saints and demons.

Indeed should we not as an international community now step back, in the wake of the resolution of the Lockerbie issue, to ask ourselves how well we, and the means of communication which we have created, are serving world peace in the portrayal of others, in particular religions of the world different to those we may share in!

Should we perhaps ask whether the portrayal in much of the world's media of Islam in particular may not be assisting in the creation of new generic divides in the post-Cold War world?

As we witness the inhuman acts of ethnic cleansing in Yugoslavia, we may be reminded of how the way we speak about one another can influence behaviour. And as we watch the destructive bombing of the capital of a sovereign country, may we not ask whether the communications media are not now lending themselves to the prolongation of a conflict whose resolution should urgently be sought in negotiations and through the United Nations?

We inhibit the peaceful and negotiated resolution of conflicts not only by the extent to which we demonise one another. We do so also by the degree to which we separate on the one hand the processes of politics and international affairs and, on the other hand, the moral relations between ourselves as human beings.

Our envoys succeeded because they acted upon certain fundamental moral premises: that men and women must be presumed to be of good intention unless proven otherwise; that there is in all of us a common humanity guided by the same fears and hopes, the same sensibilities and aspirations. That being so, talking to one another and discussion must be the prelude to the resolution of conflicts.

South Africa and her people suffered for generations because those with power refused to talk on this basis to those whom they oppressed.

When we dehumanise and demonise our opponents we abandon the possibility of peacefully resolving our differences, and seek to justify violence against them.

In the achievement of our two envoys, African and Arab, is embodied also the fact that peoples who were prevented by superior force from determining their own destiny, have reclaimed that dignity, and are once again exerting a profound influence upon world affairs and the course of human history. It is a significant contribution to the Renaissance of the inter-linked African continent and Arab world.

In particular it accords with the perspective of those who, having achieved their liberation with the collective support of others, are all the firmer in their conviction that the challenges facing the world require collective solutions and a consistently multilateral approach. What we are recognising today includes the fact that what was done, was done in loyal and disciplined service of the United Nations Secretary-General.

As we honour two individuals for their accomplishment, we also acknowledge three heads of state or government who were prepared to take that extra step to resolve a matter that has occupied the world for far too long, even though the common sense of compromise was always clearly available.

Current developments on our continent and elsewhere in the world may often seem discouraging. But the actions of these statesmen in this matter signal the hope that the leaders who take us into the next millennium will be men and women who put the well-being of humankind in its entirety above sectarian and narrow national considerations.

Our tribute to them must be coupled to a salute to the Secretary-General of our world body. He has demonstrated in his comparatively short period in office a remarkable ability to mobilise the goodwill and capacity of others in peace-making efforts. In this demonstration that we are people through other people, he has brought his African heritage to the centre of international affairs.

This is a day to celebrate the award of South African national orders.

Let us celebrate, through these orders, our unity as a nation at peace with itself and the international solidarity of peace-loving nations.

I ask that the official ceremony commence.

Issued by the Office of the President

Source: South African Government Information Website