Nelson Mandela: ‘I stand before you as the elected representative of the South African people’

The president of South Africa’s address to Parliament in 1998

by Aaron Wherry

The list of those who have addressed a joint session of Parliament is already short and to have done so twice is to join rarefied company. That latter list includes just four names: former US president Ronald Reagan, former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, Queen Elizabeth II and Nelson Mandela. Eight years after his first speech to Parliament, Mandela returned, this time as the president of the Republic of South Africa. In his remarks of September 24, 1998, Mandela explained the progress his country had made and looked forward to the future.

Mr Speaker

Honourable Prime Minister

Your Excellencies

Ladies and Gentlemen

I know that it is a rare privilege for anyone from another country to be invited to address this hallowed institution of Canadian democracy which includes in its roll of honour leaders of world renown.

That I should be granted that distinction twice in eight years is something that can only be understood as a tribute to the people of South Africa by the Canadian people, to whom we owe so much, and an expression of the partnership between us.

When I stood before you in 1990, it was as a freedom fighter still denied citizenship in my own country, seeking your support to ensure an irreversible transition to democracy.

Today, I stand before you as the elected representative of the South African people, to thank you once again, for helping us end our oppression; for assisting us through our transition; and now for your partnership in the building of a better life for all South Africans. We will forever be indebted to you.

Although we still have a long way to go before we have realised our vision of a better life for all, there has been a great transformation in South Africa since 1990, and solid foundations have been laid.

The experience of all peoples has taught that our democracy would remain secure and stable only if we could unite those who were once locked in conflict, and if our new freedoms brought material improvement in the lives of our people.

On this day, 24 September, South Africa marks one of our most important national days. Heritage Day is dedicated to the celebration of the rich diversity of our people. As I speak, representatives of all the language, cultural and linguistic communities are gathered at a conference discussing how to give institutional form to the commitment in our constitution to the promotion and respect of the rights of communities.

In order that the memory of historical injustice and violations of human rights should not remain as continuing obstacles to national unity, our Truth and Reconciliation Commission has helped us confront our terrible past. Painful and imperfect as the process has been, it has taken us further than anyone expected towards a common understanding of our history.

If we lay stress on uniting the different sections of our society, it is because unity and the partnership of all the structures of our society are critical to the reconstruction and development of our society in order to eradicate apartheid’s legacy of poverty and inequality

Though there are differences amongst us, as is natural in any democratic society, in particular one in transition from a past such us ours, they play themselves out within an allegiance to our new democracy and within a broad support for the government’s policies.

We have therefore been able to make a good start in bringing basic amenities to millions of people for the first time in their lives: electricity, clean water; health care facilities; housing and schooling.

Our economic policies have turned years of stagnation into sustained growth since 1994, along with improved productivity and exports as we gear our economy for success in a competitive global environment.

We do face major challenges and problems. What is important is that we are confronting them and we are confident that we will overcome them.

For example, though our policies are creating new jobs, the number falls short of what we need. In response government, labour and business are joining forces in preparation for a Presidential Jobs Summit next month, in order to work out together a strategy for sustained job certain.

The institutions of the new democratic order are dealing with corruption in our society. We have also appointed a powerful commission headed by a judge to expose and root out corruption in the public service and recover the proceeds.

Crime is still at an unacceptably high level, but we have turned the tide through the adoption of a comprehensive national strategy that includes the reshaping of a police force whose former function was merely the protection of minority interests and the suppression of resistance.

And though we have made mistakes in government due to lack of experience, it is also true that we have achieved much more for our people than was ever done under the previous government.

We are all too aware of the great deal that remains to be done. What is important is that we are united as a nation as never before and determined to succeed, and that we have friends like Canada who are working with us as partners.

Canada is an important presence in much of what we have achieved, and in what we are building.

Since our democratic elections, our relationship with Canada has entered a new and vibrant phase, one that is growing from strength to strength.

In drawing up our new democratic constitution we drew deeply on Canadian experience

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Government of Canada for the technical assistance provided through the Canadian International Development Agency and the International Development Research Centre. Critical areas affecting transformation have benefited, including science and technology; places of learning; our labour laws and our courts. We look forward to the continuation of this assistance.

One of the critical measures of the growing relationship between our countries is the threefold increase since 1994 in trade to a level close to one billion Canadian dollars per year. We expect this expansion to continue. We have brought on this trip people from private sector and government concurred with the economy, we look forward to a reciprocal Canadian team in South Africa soon.

Also with me are government representatives and officials concerned with Safety and Security, come to seek support for the implementation of our crime prevention strategy, as well as others concerned with health care.

In all these ways we are benefiting both from financial assistance and from your expertise and experience, as well as the affinities and shared aspirations which join us.

Mr Speaker,

On my way here today, I had the honour of unveiling, at your Human Rights Monument, a plaque dedicated to John Humphrey, author of the first draft of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

I would like, if I may, to pay tribute to his contribution to the central philosophy of your country and his dedication to the cause of human rights worldwide.

This is an area in which, Mr. Speaker, your country and mine march hand in hand in practical action to make a living reality of the rights to which we subscribe.

In this regard we think of Canada’s hard work together with other countries, to bring to fruition the anti-landmine convention. We were very proud, in December last year, to be the third country, after Canada and Norway, to sign that Convention, here in Ottawa.

Canada and South Africa also together played a part in the recent establishment of the International Criminal Court.

South Africa is increasingly being called upon to play a role in peace-keeping, in Southern Africa and in Africa as a whole. Our approach is that we will play whatever part we can within our limited means, and within a multilateral framework, whether it be the United Nations, the Commonwealth, the Non-Aligned Movement, the Organisation of African Unity, and the Southern African Development Community

Essential to our vision of a new and more humane international order is the belief that inevitable as differences may be, they need not and should not be, resolved by the force of arms. We look to peaceful resolution of differences because this is the only way in which humanity can prosper.

It is in this context that South Africa has in recent days found itself called upon to contribute its forces to a joint regional security initiative aimed at assisting, at its own request, the democratically elected government of a neighbour, by securing a measure of peace and stability.

Here too, we look to Canada as a partner. We recognise Lester Pearson as the founder of modern peace-keeping, because of his innovative intervention in the Suez crisis.

By the same token, we salute Canada’s distinguished service over many years in Cyprus, Bosnia, and Somalia, and more recently in the disarmament process in Northern Ireland.

Mr Speaker,

Canada’s internationalist record gives us confidence know that you understand and share our vision of an African Renaissance. If history has decreed that our continent, at the end of the twentieth century, should be marginalised in world affairs, we know that our destiny lies in our own hands.

Yet we also know that we cannot bring about our Renaissance solely by our own efforts, since the problems we face are rooted in conditions beyond the power of any one nation to determine.

Indeed, the turmoil in far off economies that we have had to weather has, we know, affected Canada too. In the interdependent world in which we now live, rich and poor, strong and weak are bound in a common destiny that decrees that none shall enjoy lasting prosperity and stability unless others do too.

These harsh lessons of our global economy were the focus of attention at the summit of the Non-Aligned Movement held in Durban earlier this month. They have forced themselves upon the attention of the whole international community. A debate about the global trade and financial system that has been too long in the making has now been joined.

We urge you to join with us in seeking to redirect the system and its institutions so as to cater for the needs of development and the interests of the poor.

In so doing we would be affirming a fundamental principle of all human society namely that the existence and the well-being of each us is dependent on that of our fellows. In a globalised world, that is as true of nations as it is of individual men and women.

Mr Speaker, Ladies and Gentlemen,

This occasion marks something of a farewell. I am deeply grateful that it has been possible, before my retirement from public life, to make this second visit to a people that has made our aspirations their own, who have insisted that the rights which the world declares to be universal should also be the rights of all South Africans.

But though it is a personal farewell and in some sense an ending, I do know that it is also the beginning of a new and more profound relationship between our peoples.

I thank you




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Nelson Mandela: ‘I stand before you as the elected representative of the South African people’

  1. Now THERE was a man…..

  2. RIP Nelson Mandela. We don’t often get t see your like. What a rare and truly remarkable man!
    I’ll always remember you as the leader who danced for his people and for the world.

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