Address by Nelson Mandela at Rhodes Scholarship Centenary Celebration, Cape Town

1 February 2003

Lord Waldegrave
Esteemed Rhodes Scholars
Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen

Allow me in the first place to convey to the Rhodes Trust and to all of the Rhodes scholars gathered here, our sincere and warm congratulations on the celebration of the centenary of the Trust.

We are proud to see so many Rhodes scholars from various parts of the world coming together here in South Africa to start the centenary celebrations.

We are honoured at being able to share in the celebrations, joining as we do with a band of men and women who have distinguished themselves in various fields of life and in various places across the globe.

Thank you for the honour of being invited to this event.

This is our first substantial dinner in South Africa after having spent the last six weeks in Maputo, and just having returned. We could not have chosen a more august occasion, a grander setting or any better company to launch us into the new South African year.

Your choice of venue is also very appropriate for the commemoration of this historic point in the life of a Trust founded by a man who himself walked very large on the stage of the history of this country. This farm Vergelegen, as I am sure our very informed and knowledgeable visitors know, is one equally steeped in history.

We are meeting here with the memories, if not the ghosts, of Willem Adriaan van der Stel and Cecil John Rhodes tangibly present. The first President of democratic South Africa is fortunately not a ghost yet, although many claim that he is now only a faint memory. But it is reassuring for him to know that after all these centuries there are moments and occasions when men like Van der Stel and Rhodes are remembered by posterity.

Van der Stel - who was Governor of the Cape from 1699 to 1707 - and Rhodes - who was Premier of the Cape Colony from 1890 to 1895 - both had some rather controversial chapters to their political lives; and their economic activities in South Africa are not always remembered without controversy either.

Given that, we are hopeful that history may be gentle also to us in spite of having been a jailbird for 27 years and thereafter making a habit of extorting philanthropy from business tycoons!

On a more serious note, though: this evening does help to remind us of the dramatic changes as well as the themes of continuity in the course of the history of our beloved country.

That rogue governor from the early Dutch settlement of the Cape; the imperialist so-called "robber baron" from the British colonial period; the political prisoner turned President of democratic South Africa. We represent radically different eras in the history and development of our country - epochs and approaches in fundamental historical opposition and contradiction to each other.

At the same time, as we stand here at the start of the twenty-first century, contemplating the daunting challenges of our future, we can look back and point to ways in which those two men and what they represented, were part of shaping what present day South Africa turned out to be.

We have on more than one occasion pointed to those two phrases in the Preamble of our Constitution placed next to one another in order to remind us of change and continuity as we take from our past to build a better future. Allow me to quote more fully from the Preamble including those two phrases.

"We recognise the injustices of our past;

Honour those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land;

Respect those who have worked to build and develop our country; and

Believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity".

The Preamble then enjoins us to "heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights" and to "improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person."

It is in that spirit of our Constitution that we tonight pay tribute to the work done in the memory of Cecil John Rhodes through the Rhodes Trust. And that we take such pride in the establishment of the new Mandela-Rhodes Foundation.

South Africa is a great country with even greater potential. It has amongst other things sound economic infrastructure. Significant part of that is to be found in our agricultural and mineral sectors. Our two VIP ghosts of the evening, Willem Adriaan van der Stel and Cecil John Rhodes, were pioneers in establishing those industries.

We are sure that our two ghosts will be smiling tonight at the prospect that so many of you are committing yourselves to a partnership to further build and develop the country for which they had so much passion, even if they did exploit the resources of the land and enriched themselves at the expense and exclusion of others.

We are confident that in another hundred years others will gather here to triumphantly celebrate a centenary of work done by the Mandela-Rhodes Foundation. And do so in a South Africa that is prospering, in significant degree due to the work of this Foundation.

What jokes and disparaging remarks shall then be made about the ghost of the first President of democratic South Africa, we must leave to posterity or conjecture. It was an honour to dwell for this evening in your delightful company, but - and without offence to any of you - even more so in the company of those two prominent South African ghosts.

Good night, Willem Adriaan and Cecil John.

And thank you, ladies and gentlemen

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation