Speech

Prime Minister Poul Nyrup Rasmussens speech to President Nelson Mandela March 16 1999

Approximately as delivered

 

Mr. President, Mrs. Graça Machel,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Mr. President.

You have said that you have come here to thank your true friends. May I say: We are also here to thank you.

You guided South Africa’s dramatic transformation into a democratic rainbow nation.

Measured with the yardstick of history, this peaceful revolution took place a millisecond ago, on April 27 1994.

No one has described that day better than you, Mr. President: 'The images of South Africans going to the polls that day are burned in my memory. Great lines of patient people snaking through the dirty roads and streets of towns and cities; old women who had waited half a century to cast their first vote saying that they felt like human beings for the first time in their lives; white men and women saying they were proud to live in a free country at last.'

We are all deeply honored that you are here today. I am sure all Danes are.

Thank you for being here.

Thank you indeed for being.

You have shown that ideals do matter. You have taught the world what tolerance is really about. No bloodshed, always hope - no humiliation of old enemies, no matter how cruel - always appealing for peace and pointing to the common destiny.

Mr. President,

During the dark decades of the 70s and 80s, Denmark provided substantial humanitarian and educational assistance to the victims of apartheid and to the ANC’s fight for freedom. Times, when ANC members were here in Denmark, staying in secret with Danish friends and families. Some of those Danes are here today, to be counted among your true friends.

And there were times when Denmark and the other Nordic countries stood alone. When others said we should stop - that we could not change the apartheid-regime. That there was nothing to do about it. There were times when multinational companies and great economic powers asked us to stop.

But we did not give up on our assistance and support.

Since you never lost faith, we decided not to doubt - even in the hardest of times.

Your vision of a democratic rainbow nation touched upon something fundamental in our own society: That you have to take account of everybody - no matter the color, no matter whether rich or poor - that prosperity and happiness cannot be accomplished by suppression, only by cooperation.

In short, I believe the Danes and you share a notion of what ‘society’ is all about: dignity, cooperation, tolerance, and generosity - ensuring each and everybody a fair chance in life.

Mr. President,

You and your personal history have come to symbolize not only the history of South Africa, but the universal struggle for democracy and tolerance.

History cannot be fully summarized in the lives of a few men. But the lives of a few men and women may symbolize the life and history of a country.

* * *

In 1994, when dawn finally came, I was honored to be in South Africa attending your inauguration.

I still remember your words: 'The time for healing of the wounds has come. The moment to bridge the chasms that divide us has come. The time to build is upon us.'

* * *

And then you created the 'Truth and Reconciliation Commission.' The world had never seen such a thing. It is a unique construction - combining evidence and reconciliation - reality and spirit.

It was painful when the Commission began its work in the spring of 1996. When hundreds of ordinary people walked to the Commission localities. When it went from town to town. It became nearly a holy place these hearings. So moving and nearly impossible to bear, listening to all these voices from the real world.

Offering the people a voice was the proudest hours of the Commission. Because: to obtain a voice - to feel, that the public is listening to you in respect - is to obtain and rediscover one’s own dignity. When Bishop Desmond Tutu could end a mother’s testimony by saying to her: 'We thank you for having born him'.

We now understand what human dignity really is about.

* * *

Last year my wife, Lone and I, had the opportunity to visit your country again. What struck me most was how far you had come in creating a nation for all.

You have delivered more that one could expect. In the peace-process and in the development process. We have seen how violence again and again has threatened that process. But you continued and never allowed the peace process to be stopped.

Now, people do meet across racial divisions. Since the election in 1994 blacks and whites meet at work, in politics, in schools. It has occurred at incredible speed. The changes from the apartheid period to the present are overwhelming.

* * *

I know, there is still a long way to go.

The difficult political task confronting South Africa is how to balance the expectations of the poor and what is possible - how quickly you can create results and fulfill the hopes of your people.

We know that the greatest news for the rainbow-people at the end of this Millennium and the greatest news for the world have been the creation of the free democratic South Africa. On the other hand we hear the daily news about violence, about the expectations of the poor: Why haven’t you yet created the jobs, yet provided the housing, yet ensured our education.

Our answer is: Danish assistance will continue to focus on education, employment and developing a black private sector. In our view, this is of paramount importance in order to sustain the positive developments under way in South Africa.

* * *

Mr. President,

This year our democracy is 150 years old.

Your democracy - this year - is 5 year old.

Yes, we can still inspire and advise you on democratic development in your country. And we will continue to do so.

And yet - we can also learn from you: Learn about tolerance, learn about what dignity really is about. Learn about hope and optimism even in the most difficult of circumstances.

Last year, Lone and I visited a township - poor, without a spot of green grass. And I asked an old woman: 'How do you foresee the future? How can you survive? How do you look at your and your family’s possibilities?'

Then she said to me: 'Let’s go to the other side of the house and I’ll show you something.' And here she showed me two tomato plants and said: 'Next year, there will be four - so there’s a good future ahead. If we work and stand together!'

Let me say to you, Mrs. Graça Machel, the President has taught us about your Foundation in Mozambique. We will certainly do what we can to give our assistance to this very important work benefiting the poor. And to you, Mr. President, Nelson Mandela, I can say: We will find ways to support your Foundation benefiting South Africa’s poor children. You told us about the children - blind, with lost hopes, without parents. You told us about their question to you: 'Why do you love us?' I know why! And we would also like to help you help these children to the future they deserve.

* * *

Mr. President.

You said in your book 'Long walk to freedom:'

'I have walked that long walk to freedom... But I can rest only for a moment, for with freedom comes responsibility, and I dare not linger, for my walk is not yet ended.'

Let us walk the next mile together - solve the social and economic problems, which could not be solved overnight. We understand the need to follow up on our assistance to your nation.

* * *

Although you have decided to retire this year, Mr. President, I am reluctant to turn these words into a farewell.

You have led your country through a peaceful transition. South Africa stands as a symbol that peace can prevail; that negotiations can substitute violence; that peaceful transition can overcome confrontation.

Mr. President,

You have made a miracle. It cannot be repeated: But we can build on its foundation.

Your dignity is our dignity.

And for that, we are all grateful, Mr. President.

I speak on behalf of all Danes - young and old - when I wish you and your dearest, Mrs. Graça Machel, all the best in all the years to come. Peaceful years to come, where you do not have to work as hard as you have done throughout your entire life. You deserve it - more than anyone else!

May I ask you to raise your glasses in respect of the personal contribution of the President of South Africa, Mr. Nelson Mandela, to ensure justice, peace and prosperity to the people of South Africa as well as for providing the world an admirable example of true leadership, courage, and vision.

Thank you.