November 2004




What a great honour to have been invited to give this year’s Nelson

Mandela Lecture following on the inaugural lecture by President Bill

Clinton. I must make a confession, I really am a snob. I make out that I

am modest but in fact I am an inveterate name-dropper – quite seemingly

casually remarking, "You know when I was lunching with Madiba, etc." Did

you hear the story of the Englishman who was very good at name-dropping.

A friend of his asked once, "John, why are you so fond of

name-dropping?" and without batting an eyelid he responded, "That’s

strange, yesterday, when I was in Buckingham Palace the Queen asked the

same question."

I fondly thought that Madiba was my friend and so, like a good friend, I

told him I wasn’t impressed with his sartorial taste and his penchant

for these gaudy shirts. Do you know how he treated this friendly advice,

well, he retorted, "That’s pretty thick coming from a man who wears a

dress in public?" Now can you beat it? No, I am glad to have been asked

and I think he probably, on his better days, probably acknowledges that

he just might like me a little bit.

We are celebrating ten years, a whole decade of freedom and it is an

opportunity for us to look back to assess our achievements and note our

failures as we stride purposefully into the glorious future opening

before us. That is why I have chosen as my title words from the prophet

Isaiah, "Look to the rock from which you have been hewn."

What have we achieved?

You know that I am repetitive if anything at all. You heard the story of

the brilliant physics professor who went around delivering a superb and

erudite lecture mercifully not at the same venue. One day he told his

driver that he knew that he was giving a splendid address but he was

getting bored repeating himself so much. His driver then surprised him

by saying he had heard the lecture so frequently he now knew it off by

heart. When the professor tested the driver sure enough he was word

perfect. So they decide to swop places – the professor became the driver

and the driver was to be the professor. They agreed that he would speak

for only so long and there would be no questions afterwards. The driver

turned professor gave an outstanding address. Unfortunately, he had left

some time over for questions and there will always be those awkward

persons who want to trip up the speaker and so this person got up and

asked the most convoluted question. The driver turned professor said in

reply, "Is that all – even my driver at the back can answer that question."

Yes, I am repetitive. I have been saying that we South Africans tend to

sell ourselves short. We seem to be embarrassed with our successes. We

have grown quickly blasé, taking for granted some quite remarkable

achievements and not giving ourselves enough credit. The result is that

we have tended to be despondent, to seem to say behind every ray of

sunshine there must be an invisible cloud – just you wait long enough

and it will soon appear. Of course we have problems, serious, indeed

devastating problems; but can you please point to any one country in the

world today that has no problems. No, I think we should change our

perspective. If we are forever looking at our shortcomings and our

faults then the mood will be pervasive and pessimistic and in a way we

will provide the environment that encourages further failure. Don’t they

say give a dog a bad name and hang him? If you have low expectations of

someone then don’t be surprised if they don’t rise above those low

expectations. Many people have excelled almost only because someone had

faith in them, believed in them and so inspired them with a new

self-belief, a new self-confidence, a new self-esteem. The same is

surely true of a nation, which is an aggregate of individuals.

Hey, the world has still not got over the fact that we had the

reasonably peaceful transition from repression to democracy that we

experienced. Have you forgotten so soon how we were on the brink of

comprehensive disaster, when most people believed we were going to be

overwhelmed by a ghastly racial blood bath? Have you forgotten so soon

what used to happen on our trains when no one could guarantee that if

they went off to work in the morning they were going to return alive in

the evening, when we had indiscriminate killings on the trains, in the

taxis and buses? Do you recall how when they announced the statistics of

the previous 24 hours and they said 6 or 7 or 8 people had been killed,

do you recall that we would often sigh with relief and say well only 7

or 8 have been killed? Things were in such a desperate state – do you

recall the attacks that happened in the hostels; just think of the

massacres that were taking place at regular intervals – Sebokeng,

Thokoza, Bisho, Boipatong and the killing fields of KwaZulu Natal

because of the bloody rivalry between Inkatha and the ANC? Have we

forgotten the AWB raid into Bophuthatswana and the Wold Trade Centre?

There are so very many occasions when it did seem it was touch and go

and none more terrible than the assassination of Chris Hani. That was

one of the scariest moments in our lives for most of us. We were a

whisker’s breadth away from total catastrophe. I said, "If we survived

that we could survive anything." Yes, we did appear to be on the verge

of bloody conflagration and disaster. But it did not happen. Instead the

world marvelled, indeed was awed, by the spectacle of the long, long

lines of South Africans of every race snaking their way slowly to the

polling booths on that unforgettable, that magical, day April 27th 1994.

We really do have much to celebrate and much for which to be thankful.

Hey, just look at us, which other country has a moral colossus to match

Nelson Mandela? We are the envy of every single nation on earth. He has

become an icon of forgiveness, compassion and magnanimity and

reconciliation for the entire globe. How blessed we are that he was at

the helm to guide our ship of state through the choppy waters of

transition. We should also salute F W de Klerk who exhibited outstanding

moral courage when he announced his breathtaking initiatives on February

2, 1990 that set in motion the process of negotiating a revolution.

We, especially white South Africans, have tended to be dismissive of the

TRC. Almost everywhere else in the world you go it is held in the

highest possible regard and considered to be the bench mark against

which other such endeavours will now be judged. Yes, it was flawed – so

are almost all human enterprises. But it was a remarkable institution

for many had thought that the advent of a black led government would be

the signal for an orgy of revenge and retribution against whites for all

that black people had suffered through all the injustices and oppression

from colonial times to the exquisite repression of the apartheid years.

Instead of that the world stood open mouthed at the revelation of such

nobility of spirit, such magnanimity as victims of often the most

gruesome atrocities forgave their tormentors and even on occasion

embraced them. We were all traumatised, wounded, by the awfulness of

apartheid and the TRC helped to open wounds that were festering,

cleansed them and poured balm on them to help in the healing of us, the

wounded people of this beautiful land. We often take it all for granted

– but just look at Northern Ireland and, more horrendously, the Middle

East where revenge and retaliation are leading to a ghastly cul de sac,

an inexorable cycle of reprisal provoking a counter reprisal ad

infinitum. We have been spared the horrors of genocide as in Rwanda and

the endless conflict in Sri Lanka, in Burundi, in the Sudan, the Ivory

Coast, etc. Truly, there is no future without forgiveness. Given where

we come from, given our antecedents, it is amazing that we should have

the stability we enjoy. Russia made the transition from repression to

democracy at almost the same time as we did. The Berlin Wall fell in

November 1989. Nelson Mandela was released in February 1990. But what is

happening in Russia today? The level of mafia controlled crime, the

conflict with Chechnya giving such awful examples of carnage as the

theatre hostage disaster and more recently the Beslan School hostage

catastrophe makes what occurs in South Africa look like a Sunday school


I often stop to look at the children in the high school near our home in

Milnerton. It used to be an all white school. Today at break you see our

demography reflected. Just a few years ago it was a criminal offence to

have that happen. All sorts of dire things, they said, were going to

happen if schools were mixed. So far as I can make out the sky is still

firmly in place. You would think that it would be in South Africa where

children would have to be escorted by heavily armed police and soldiers

to be able to go to school. But, no, it isn’t in South Africa that that

has had to happen. It is in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Do you recall how police would climb trees in order to peep into

bedrooms, hoping to catch out couples who might be contravening the

Immorality Act, rushing to feel the temperature of the sheets, making

sordid what should have been beautiful, love between two persons, and

how many careers and lives were destroyed when people faced charges

under this abominable legislation? And now I think I am about the only

person who still goggles – look at all those mixed couples who saunter

around hand in hand with hardly a care in the world, pushing a pram with

a baby of indeterminate hue inside. I still seem to fear that a

policeman will come crashing into them for breaking the law. And oh the

humiliation and awfulness of race classification with its crude tests –

sticking a pin suddenly into one and depending on whether you yelped,

"Aina" or "Aitsho" you were classified "coloured or "Bantu" and the

havoc it all played with family life when siblings could be assigned to

different race groups because some were more swarthy than others and do

you remember that people committed suicide because of race

classification; others played white and would avoid members of their

families who were less Caucasian-looking. Recall the awfulness of the

iniquitous pass laws and the migratory labour system and its single sex

hostels and what havoc it caused to black family life in a country that

without any sense of irony celebrated Family Day as a public holiday.

Isn’t it bizarre in the extreme that Nelson Mandela had to wait until he

was 76 before casting a vote for the very first time in the land of his

birth, when a white could do so when they turned 18? When I became

Archbishop in 1986 it was a criminal offence for me to live in the

Archbishop’s official residence in Bishopscourt because of the Group

Areas Act. I told the government I was Archbishop and would live in my

official residence and they could do what they liked and I wasn’t asking

for their permission. Fortunately they did nothing. But that’s where we

come from – nearly 3 million people forcibly removed as from Sophiatown

which was replaced by the very subtly named Triomf. To rub salt into our

wound Triomf retained many of the street names of the old Sophiatown –

Kofifi. How wonderful that the iniquity has been reversed – Triomf is

Sophiatown again.

Yes, we come from far – when you had public notices that read, "Natives

and dogs not allowed". And those others, "Drive carefully, Natives cross

here" which people like Kathrada changed to read hair-raisingly "Drive

carefully, Natives very cross here"; when they used at election time to

show pictures of an unkempt black and to stampede whites to vote for

them ask, "Do you want your daughter to marry this man?" Blacks asked,

"Show us your daughter first!"

With such antecedents you would have thought these headlines must surely

apply to South Africa, "Vicious race riots in…." But remarkably it was

not in South Africa that vicious race riots happened but fairly recently

in Manchester, England.

We were the world’s most despised pariah. South Africans had to skulk

abroad hiding their nationality. Now we are, I think, still the flavour

of the week. Our country through President Thabo Mbeki has been in the

forefront of the creation of the African Union and in the conception and

promotion of NEPAD and the African Renaissance. We will be home to the

African Parliament. That is a remarkable turn around. The ugly

caterpillar has metamorphosed into a beautiful butterfly. South Africans

proclaim their national identity proudly. Many wear the new flag on

their lapels and emblazoned on their luggage. They want everyone to know

they come from Madibaland. Our Constitution is widely acclaimed as one

of the most liberal and most advanced. Look at the remarkable role our

land is playing in peace-making in Africa, most recently in the Ivory

Coast – as earlier in Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo

and elsewhere.

The prestigious publication, The Economist, in London seriously proposed

that President Mbeki should have been this year’s Nobel Peace Prize

Laureate because of his great efforts to broker peace in so many of

Africa’s troublespots. That’s a huge feather in his cap and in our

national cap! And by the way there are not too many countries that can

say they have had four Nobel Peace Laureates as we can. We have two

Nobel Literature Laureates, certainly if Coetzee wants to say he now

belongs down under. It was in South Africa that the first heart

transplant happened.

Our sporting exploits have not been something to sniff at. We have been

Rugby World Champions and hosted the 1995 Rugby World Championship

splendidly. We are currently Tri-Nation Champs, having risen virtually

from the dead though we are not exactly covering ourselves in glory on

this Grand Slam tour.. We have hosted with panache the World Cricket Cup

and the World Golf Cup which we won. Look at the magnificent exploits of

Retief Goosen and Ernie Els. We have won the Africa Soccer Cup once and

we can do so yet again. Our AbaKrokro have had a fabulous run. We have

had in Hestri Cloete the World High Jump Women’s champion and just

recently Hendrik Ramaala won the New York Marathon. We won Olympic gold

in swimming. And we will be hosting the World’s greatest sporting

extravaganza, the 2010 World Soccer Cup. Over 7 million people have

access now to clean water which they were denied before. And 1.4

millions now have electricity available. We have an independent and

vociferous Press and an outstanding Judiciary. These are accomplishments

we should celebrate and trumpet abroad far more than we do.

Yes, we do have problems. The most serious is the devastation caused by

the ravages of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Over 4 million of our people are

infected. It is estimated that nearly 400,000 people will die this year

from AIDS. That is shattering news. And yet I want to say that there is

something to celebrate even in this awful situation and it is this. Most

of the victims are blacks and you would have thought given where we come

from that whites would say, "Good riddance to bad rubbish." Quite the

contrary, many of the most dedicated, most committed workers in the

Anti-HIV/AIDS campaign are whites. That is something to celebrate;

something to trumpet and I want to pay a very warm tribute to you, our

white compatriots, for your remarkable generosity and dedication.

That is not all. There are many white fellow South Africans out there

doing fantastic work. I think of the white ballet dancers who decided

they wanted to teach black township kids ballet. They started out ten

years ago and formed something called Dance for All. One of their

students went to UCT and ended up with a degree in African Dance and she

is now on the staff of Dance for All. Another dances professionally in

the UK, or Angela Rackstraw, a young white woman who is an Art Therapist

and started a project, the Community Art Therapy Programme to work with

traumatised, isolated and abused township youth to help rehabilitate

them. I am sure there are many, many others out there and we salute you

for your enthusiasm and dedication.

What are the failures and challenges?

One of the undoubted gifts we bring to the world is our diversity and

our capacity to affirm and celebrate our diversity so that today we have

eleven official languages. We have a polyglot four language anthem. We

say each one of us matters and we need each other in the spirit of

ubuntu, that we can be human only in relationship, that a person is a

person only through other persons. Our diversity which we must affirm

and celebrate is diversity of race, of language, of culture, of religion

and of points of view. We want our society to be characterised by

vigorous debate and dissent where to disagree is part and parcel of a

vibrant community, that we should play the ball not the person and not

think that those who disagree, who express dissent, are ipso facto

disloyal or unpatriotic. An unthinking, uncritical, kowtowing party

line-toeing is fatal to a vibrant democracy. I am concerned to see how

many have so easily been seemingly cowed and apparently intimidated to

comply. I am sure proportional representation has been a very good thing

but it should have been linked to constituency representation. I fear

that the party lists have had a deleterious impact on people even if

that was not the intention. It is lucrative to be on a party list. The

rewards are substantial and if calling in question party positions

jeopardises one’s chances to get on the list then not too many are

foolhardy and opt for silence to become voting cattle for the party.

In the struggle days it was exhilarating because they spoke of a mandate

– you had to justify your position in vigorous exchanges. That seems no

longer to be the case. It seems sycophancy is coming into its own. I

would have wished to see far more open debate for instance of the

HIV/AIDS views of the President in the ANC. Truth cannot suffer from

being challenged and examined. There surely can’t have been unanimity

from the outset. I did not agree with the President but that did not

make me his enemy. He knows that I hold him in high regard but none of

us is infallible and that is why we are a democracy and not a

dictatorship. The government is accountable, as are all public figures,

to the people. I would have hoped for far more debate and discussion.

Let us look to the rock from which we are hewn. We should lower the

temperature in our public discourse and hopefully thus increase the

light. We should not impugn the motives of others but accept the bona

fides of all. If we believe in something then surely we will be ready to

defend it rationally, hoping to persuade those opposed to change their

point of view. We should not too quickly want to pull rank and to demand

an uncritical, sycophantic, obsequious conformity. We need to find ways

in which we engage the hoi polloi, the so-called masses, the people, in

public discourse through indabas, town hall forums, so that no one feels

marginalised and that their point of view matters, it counts. Then we

will develop a national consensus. We should debate more openly, not

using emotive language, issues such as affirmative action,

transformation in sport, racism, xenophobia, security, crime, violence

against women and children. What do we want our government to do in

Zimbabwe? Are we satisfied with quiet diplomacy there? Surely human

rights violations must be condemned as such whatever the struggle

credentials of the perpetrator. It should be possible to talk as adults

about these issues without engaging in slanging matches. My father used

to say, "Don’t raise your voice; improve your argument."

What is black empowerment when it seems to benefit not the vast majority

but a small elite that tends to be recycled? Are we not building up much

resentment that we may rue later? It will not do to say people did not

complain when whites were enriched. When were the old regime our

standards? And remember some of the most influential values spoke about,

"The people shall share". We were involved in the struggle because we

believed we would evolve a new kind of society. A caring, a

compassionate society. At the moment many, too many, of our people live

in gruelling demeaning, dehumanising poverty. We are sitting on a powder

keg. We really must work like mad to eradicate poverty. We should talk

about whether spending all that money on arms is morally justifiable in

the face of the poverty which poses the most immediate threat to our

safety and security. We should discuss as a nation whether BIG is not

really a viable way forward. We should not be browbeaten by

pontificating decrees from on high. We cannot glibly on full stomachs

speak about handouts to those who often go to bed hungry. It is cynical

in the extreme to speak about handouts when people can become very rich

at the stroke of a pen. If those are not massive handouts that what are?

We can, many of us, make a difference by adopting a family to which we

give a monthly gift of R100 or R200 – very few poor people want a

handout; they are proud but they also need a leg up. We can adopt a

child whose school fees we pay for, we know our government can’t be

expected to do everything We should be able to say whilst it has been

important to build over 1 million housing units that many of these are

just not acceptable. People call them Unos like the Italian car. They

are our next generation of slums. The public schemes have provided some

good models. Habitat for Humanity have shown what is possible. An Irish

millionaire every year brings out at their own cost 300 or so fellow

Irish and they build 50 beautiful houses in a week costing R48,000 each.

Why can’t South Africans do the same?

We want a new quality of society – compassionate, gentle and caring. The

kind of society where the President sits on the floor to talk to his

people in their modest house, where the President gives a lift in the

Presidential cavalcade to a woman so she can attend a presidential

reception for Charlize Theron to celebrate her Oscar – actions recently

carried out by our President which say he has a heart as well as a head.

It is the kind of society where a widow cups the president’s face in the

palms of her hands and looks into his eyes after he has spoken movingly

in Afrikaans at the funeral of her wonderful husband – Beyers Naudé –

the picture of the two of them speaks so eloquently of the kind of

nation we want to be. A nation where all belong and know they belong;

where all are insiders, none is an outsider, where all are members of

this remarkable, this crazy, country, they belong in the rainbow nation.


Yes, we are a scintillating success waiting to happen. We will succeed

because God wants us to succeed for the sake of God’s world. For we are

so utterly improbably a beacon hope for the rest of the world.