Address by Nelson Mandela at reception dinner before AIG Board Meeting

24 March 2004

It is a great honour to once more return to this country and city that was the venue for our, South Africa’s, admission to the Organisation of African Unity. It was my great privilege then to come to this ancient site of Carthage and to reflect upon the Roman desire to destroy this African city and on our subsequent quest, centuries later, to work towards the regeneration of the African continent.

When we spoke here then, shortly after the democratic transition in our own country, the talk of the regeneration of Africa was greeted with some scepticism and a great measure of cynicism.

We reminded the cynics and sceptics that not so long before then they were equally sceptical and cynical about South Africa ever being able to solve its seemingly inextricable problems and conflicts. They were all predicting with great certainty and confidence that we had no alternative other than sliding further down into the abyss of racial war and the ultimate destruction.

We have a long way to go in our country before we can proclaim that we have achieved our objectives. Poverty and its attendant phenomena of suffering and deprivation are still too much with us before we can claim victories over the legacies of oppression and discrimination.

Yet, it would be denying the achievements of our people and of their heroic struggles if we were not to acknowledge how marvellously they and their country have managed in the short space of a decade to lay the foundations of a fundamentally different country, society and polity.

We now live in a constitutional state based on the protection and promotion of basic human rights, a state in which the protection of human dignity stands supreme, and in which the constitution guards over such fundamental values as equality, non-racialism, non-sexism and the rights of all citizens.

The same, we believe, can be said of our continent with regard to the progress it has made in this decade towards advancing democracy, rule of law and respect for human rights. Much, much more needs to be done; but the road from autocracy towards democracy has irrevocably been taken by the nations of our continent.

The leaders of the continent have decisively taken responsibility for the future of the continent and its peoples. Nothing signals it more clearly than the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD). Africa understands its dependence on others in this essentially inter-dependent new global world. It is, however, no longer a mere begging dependant; it insists upon taking primary responsibility for its regeneration.

Our talk then here on the ruins of Carthage of a rebirth of Africa, is proving to be bearing fruit. Hence my special delight to be returning here. And to welcome all to this dinner preceding the AIG Africa Infrastructure Board meeting.

The regeneration of Africa is real. It is to be seen in conflict resolution initiatives on the continent. It is to be seen in the spread of democratic states on the continent. It is to be seen in the steady recovery of economies on the continent.

It needs to be matched ever more and more by investment into the continent and the increase of trade with the continent. Africa needs to see, more and more, the fruits of a globalised world of free trade and commerce.

I have no doubt that those present here tonight will be ambassadors for such investment and trade, all of it in service of the equal development of a world that recognizes its interdependence.

I have spoken to my family and advisors, signaling my desire to scale down on my activities, in fact to retire from them as far as that is possible. I have the gift of exceptional good health at the age of 85, approaching 86. They have persuaded me that I owe it to myself, my family and my friends to use the years of remaining good health to enjoy some of the leisure and pleasures of association that I promised them and myself.

I shall therefore seek to disengage while I am still in a position to follow affairs in the world and to offer such advice and assistance as I can.

That is a long-winded way to ask this organization to grant an old man leave to retire while he is still able to do so in good health and good spirit. And do so as one who will always remain a friend, and one who was honoured to serve you.

Best wishes, and may you and our continent prosper and go from strength to strength.

I thank you.

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation