Closing address by Nelson Mandela at Cultural Conference by Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and opening of exhibition

September 2002

Ambassador Zidan
Your Excellencies
Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen

It is a great honour for us to be the closing speaker at this important conference you have just concluded and to launch the exhibition that is being opened here.

We understand that these events are under the sponsorship of two men whom we hold in the highest esteem, His Majesty the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and His Royal Highness the Crown Prince. It is therefore an added honour and privilege for us to be associated with this event.

We also understand that each of the previous five conferences had been held in different places around the world. South Africa is honoured to have been chosen as the venue for the sixth occasion. We see that as another indication of the warm relations between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and South Africa.

We are a country and society with a significant Muslim community and the Islamic tradition is an integral part of what constitutes the diversity of our society. Muslims have played an important part in the history of our country and Islam is one of the great religions of our society.

We therefore have a direct interest in and feel a responsibility towards fostering greater understanding of the Islamic tradition.

For our country it is important that we develop and consolidate such mutual understanding and tolerance because diversity and tolerant co-existence are amongst the cornerstones on which democratic South Africa is built. We could overcome the deep divides of our history to negotiate a peaceful settlement; we are honour bound in the spirit of that settlement to continuously negotiate amongst ourselves a path of tolerance, understanding and a respect for difference.

That this conference and exhibition on the Islamic tradition took place in our country is an important contribution to that process of South African nation-building, and we thank you for that.

The present moment in world affairs reminds us more than anything else about the imperative and urgency of such mutual understanding and respect for difference on a global scale. This moment in world affairs reminds us that world peace depends upon such global understanding and respect.

After the events of 11 September last year we had occasion to warn that the so-called war against terrorism should never be allowed to develop even the faintest suggestion of being a campaign against Muslims, Muslim countries or Arab states.

Although it seems that by and large the world managed to avoid such division, we need to remain constantly vigilant that it does not happen. In situations of conflict human beings have an even greater tendency to nurture and develop group antagonisms and prejudices. It is for that reason too that we should seek by all means to prevent and eliminate destructive conflict amongst nations and peoples.

It is in that respect that we maintain that the United Nations as the world body representing the interests of us all must play the central role in dealing with conflicts and in fostering understanding amongst the people of the world.

We have in the last few weeks been making exactly that call with reference to the threatening crisis around Iraq. We have called on the United States and Britain to work strictly through the organs of the United Nations if they thought and had proof that Iraq was a threat to world peace. And similarly we have called upon Iraq to respect the resolutions of the United Nations and to allow the United Nations to give effect to those resolutions.

What you have been doing here at this conference and with this exhibition is to contribute to that wider quest for understanding, tolerance and peace. Ignorance about others is a fertile ground for prejudice and conflict. Knowledge and understanding advance the chances for peace and co-operation to the benefit of all.

We thank you for having made those contributions and we have pleasure in declaring the exhibition open.

I thank you

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation