Address by Nelson Mandela to the district assembly (9210) and conference of Rotary International on receiving "Greatest Son of Africa" award, Malawi

23 May 2003

Your Excellency President Muluzi
Chairman of Rotary Mr Nathanie
Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen

It is a great honour to share with you in this occasion of the district assembly and conference of Rotary International.

We are delighted at the opportunity of once again visiting your beautiful country. It has always held a special place in our hearts and we fondly remember all of our previous visits here. The warmth and hospitality of the Malawi government and people had always been overwhelming in its depth and sincerity.

Our brother, President Bakili Muluzi, holds a special place in our esteem and affections. He has led his country with wisdom and commitment and left his mark on Southern African and African affairs.

We have always admired the manner in which he acts as a dedicated member of the SADC team while retaining his independence of spirit and thought. It is for us a special honour to be his guests once more.

It is testimony to his generosity of spirit that he saw fit to extend such an invitation to a retired old pensioner who no longer holds office or wields power. I am sure the President in his caring wisdom realised that an old man sometimes needs such a break at a beautiful resort like this one, and we thank you most sincerely Mister President.

That generosity does, however, not surprise us in any way, because we know of the compassionate and caring manner in which the President interacted with his predecessor. President Muluzi embodies that African spirit of ubuntu of which we speak so often.

It is that same spirit, we believe, that has drawn us together here today in this conference of Rotary International. We wish to commend Rotary International for the choice of its conference theme: "Mankind is our business". There can be no more appropriate theme for our times than one of putting the concerns of the entire humanity at the centre of our activities and pursuits.

We are at a crucial conjuncture in mobilising the collective energies of humankind towards working together for a more humane, compassionate and just world. We are at a moment in history where the world can either be drawn into ever intensifying rounds of global conflict and increasing inequality, or from which it can emerge with a renewed commitment to peace and global co-operation.

To make humankind our business is one way of ensuring that we follow the latter route.

Human beings distinguish themselves from other species in that they are to a large extent the architects of their future. We have the capacity to rationally decide upon courses of action that can ensure a better future for all of humankind.

The phase we are currently going through and that appears to be so crisis-ridden, has within it the potential to make of the world that better place for all of the people of our planet.

We made such unprecedented advances in science and technology that we have the capacity to address most of the serious challenges facing us. Our productive capacity is such that we can feed, clothe and shelter all of the people of our globe. Communications technology has brought the world closer together than it has ever been in human history, with events in one part of the world being within reach of the most distant parts almost at the moment of occurrence.

International and multi-lateral bodies have the ability, if there is the political will, to solve and prevent conflicts and to introduce regimes of mutual co-operation throughout the world. National governments are increasingly becoming aware of the obligation to put the interests, needs and human rights of their citizens supreme in all their actions and decisions.

Players in commerce and industry, as those gathered here today, have a particularly important role to play. The ties that bind us through trade and commerce in today's globalised world, must also be used to bring us closer together in a caring and humane manner. The sense that business has for opportunities and risks must also be used for the pursuit of peace and prosperity for all.

Humankind is your business; its long-term survival in peace and prosperity is essential for your goods and products. Humankind is your resource; its well-being is essential for the production of your goods. In short, humankind is your business; look after and care for it well.

In sub-Saharan Africa particularly an essential part of that caring would be to involve yourself in the comprehensive partnership in the battle against HIV/AIDS. It presents the greatest threat to progress we have faced in centuries. Yet, once more it is a battle we can win if we work in comprehensive partnerships.

May your conference help map out a route that places humankind firmly on the high road to the kind of world we dream of.

I thank you.

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation