Item 103 - Address of Nelson Mandela, President of the African National Congress, on receiving an Honorary LLD Degree at the University of Fort Hare

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Address of Nelson Mandela, President of the African National Congress, on receiving an Honorary LLD Degree at the University of Fort Hare


  • 1992-05-09 (Creation)

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Transcription of speech made by Mr Mandela

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(18 July 1918-5 December 2013)

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Migrated from the Nelson Mandela Speeches Database (Sep-2018).

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ANC Website

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On receiving an honorary LLD Degree

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  • English

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Mr. Chancellor,
Comrade OR Tambo, revered and long-standing leader of our people,
Mr. Vice-Chancellor and Rector, Professor S.M.E. Bengu,
Chairperson of the University Council, Professor Francis Wilson,
Members of the University Staff and Students, Friends.

It is a great honour that this University bestows on me and through me on the African National Congress and all democratic organisations dedicated to the creation of peace.

This happens at a time of transformation, a time of change or prospective change in South Africa as a whole as well as in this University, we all have a responsibility, wherever we are to contribute to the successful outcome of this process in the institutions where we are as well as in the country as a whole.

This ceremony takes place at a moment of decision for our country. Either we move forward to democracy and peace, or into ever-increasing violence the fruits of years of apartheid. Either the people govern, establish a truly democratic state and ensure that the violence ends and that there is no reason for fratricidal warfare or we consent to the continued rule of those responsible for apartheid those responsible for Bantu education, poverty, malnutrition, landlessness, homelessness and all the other crimes of apartheid.

Clearly there is only one future that we can contemplate and that is for us to take our place amongst the democratic nations of the world. That is the precondition for peace. Without democracy there cannot be peace.

It is a moment of decision. But who makes that decision? For all the talk of negotiations, our experiences with the government continue to leave the impression that they do not think that the decision is one for the people of South Africa.

We and other organisations put our positions. We have diverse perspectives and our views may represent that of a smaller or greater constituency.

These positions will be more or less carefully considered by the cabinet. The ultimate decision, they feel, will be made by themselves, and this is against the background of their quest to retain power in perpetuity.

That may be their thinking but those days are over! The intentions of the apartheid regime can no longer determine what happens. They are no longer the main actor on the South African political scene, they are in fact clinging to a role for which they have been cast by a small minority of our population - a role that millions will always reject.

They need to come to their senses and perhaps we need to help them come to their senses. They must understand that it is not in their gift to decide how much democracy we will be allowed, to offer us a 'share' of power. We want democracy as universally understood. We want no more uniquely white South African versions of democracy which are in fact denials of the rights of a people to choose who should rule and in what manner.

The ANC is not interested in pursuing narrow political interests. It is a national liberation movement charged with the task of building a new nation. We want that new national entity to incorporate all who live in South Africa and to evoke their loyalty. We are willing to make compromises to achieve this. We are willing to listen to other people or organisation8' suggestions as to structures and institutions of government. We know we don't have all the answers and we want the contribution of the widest range of people towards building a country of which we can justly feel proud.

It is in this context that the transformation of Fort Hare attains its full significance. The transformation of your university into a truly people's university is itself a contribution to building the new South African nation. It is also a return to the motivating factors for the establishment of Fort Hare,

The movement for the founding of an African institution of higher learning began in 1902, with famous leaders of the South African Native Congress as prime initiators - leaders of the calibre of Dr Walter Benson Rubusana and Alan Kirkland Soga, editor of Izwi Labantu newspaper. The initiative also involved prominent missionaries such as Dr Henderson of Lovedale.

Virtually every famous leader of the period became involved - Tengo Jabavu, Joel Goronyana, Thomas Mapikela, Rueben Twala, Sol Plaatje, Pixley Seme, Enoch Mamba, John Alfred Sishuba, Martin Luthuli, Abner Mtimkulu - leaders of the newly formed ANC.

Through their combined efforts the University College of Fort Hare was established in 1916. This response to the absence of a higher educational institution for African's, was a parallel development to the exclusion of Africans from the union of South Africa and the political unification of Africans through the formation of the ANC.

This parallel development is being continued today, as fort hare marches forward as one of the institutions that will, play a significant role in building a democratic education system, that serves all the people of South Africa.

Let me say a little more about Fort Hare and the community. The people who are graduating today and the people who are still studying represent a very privileged sector of our community. You have acquired skills that can either be used purely to enrich yourselves, benefit yourselves, or they can be put at the service of our community.

I want to appeal to you to acknowledge that the community has a claim on your skills. I want to appeal to you to use those skills to help empower our people. Democracy is not fully established with a democratic government. That is just one step, albeit a crucial one.

One of the lessons of our times is that a transfer of power to a democratic organisation does not mean that ordinary people necessarily have the opportunity to exercise their democratic rights. One of the things that we have learnt is the necessity to encourage popular organs of civil society, that is institutions outside of the state that contribute to the overall democratic process, and the social and economic development of all our peoples.

Fort Hare is itself such a popular institution of civil society. The products of this university can play a crucial role in the professions and in society in general in developing popular organs in every sphere of existence. We cannot build a strong, vibrant, democratic culture merely from a government department. We need strong cultural organisations of the communities.

We cannot build a strong and democratic economy from a ministry in government buildings. It needs the participation of the trade unions and all other organs representing people in their various spheres of interests.

The list is endless but the realisation of this type of democracy is not easy. Our people have not only been denied the vote but been dis-empowered in numerous other ways. By virtue of your education, you have some of the skills that can empower these people, you have in your hands what a future government cannot do. I urge you not to fail our people. I urge you to act as true patriots and build our new nation, reach our people wherever they are and help them play a part in their own future.

In a more specifically educational manner, fort hare can make a very significant contribution to future developments in this country. Much of the research conducted in South African universities is not directed to solving the problems that are most pressing. The most serious problems are those relating to the social and economic disabilities of our people. We do not always have the data on which to develop adequate policies. Researchers can obtain this. We do not always know of all the alternative ways of tackling problems and those least interested in the betterment of our people have long researched these questions. Fort Hare can help us develop answers that truly address the questions most pressing to our people.

Let me also say something about the future relationship between a democratic government and this University. We hope that we are correct in assuming that the ANC will be a dominant factor in any future government. What does that mean in terms of our relationship with this University?

I am conscious and gratified by the honour that you have bestowed on me and our organisation today. But that does not lead me to regard Fort Hare as an ANC institution, we do not want ANC universities. We want independent institutions operating without dictation from us. Naturally we expect Fort Hare to operate within the overall goals of creating and developing democracy. But it is not for the ANC or any other organisation to prescribe to you.

We want all educational institutions to contribute to the creation of the new, democratic, non-racial and non-sexist South Africa. But that does not entail supporting every position of the ANC. We have made mistakes, and perhaps through constructive criticism, scholars at this university can save us from further mistakes. I urge you, therefore, to act as you think is correct and most useful in furthering the overall democratic goals that we share.

The fact that this ceremony takes place at all is a result of our centuries long struggle for freedom, this is a struggle for which many people have made the supreme sacrifice. This is a struggle for which some brave comrades, regrettably remain incarcerated. Contrary to agreements which we have negotiated.

This struggle has made possible a peaceful transition to democracy and we in the ANC have used this opportunity to the full. One of the fruits of this process has been Codesa. In a matter of days we enter Codesa 2. We in the ANC are determined that something meaningful should come out of this meeting. There is no reason for delay and we do not see why we cannot move swiftly towards interim arrangements and elections.

If this does not happen, those responsible for the blockage must feel the people's anger. They must feel it in a way that makes them understand that the price of resisting freedom is higher than that of conceding our rights.

We want to move swiftly to an environment where fort hare can truly thrive. But that is a process. Democracy is a process and democracy in a university is a process that we will have to work at every day. This is not the time for complacency. This is the time for hard thinking about difficult problems and clear and decisive action. I am confident that this university and the men and women who graduate today can be relied on to do what the community expects of them.

Thank you once again for the great honour you have bestowed on me.

Best wishes for the future.



Paragraph beginning: "It is a great honour that this university bestows on me and through me on the African National Congress and all democratic organisations dedicated to the creation of peace"
Changes made: All "university" changed to University"

Paragraph beginning: "It is in this context that the transformation of fort hare attains its full significance."
Changes made: All "fort hare" changed to "Fort Hare"

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Acquisition method: From website ; Source: ANC Website. Accessioned on 9 Nov 2006 by Helen Joannides




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