Item 1354 - Notes for a speech by President Nelson Mandela at a Meeting with Religious Leaders

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ZA COM MR-S-1354


Notes for a speech by President Nelson Mandela at a Meeting with Religious Leaders


  • 2010-06-24 (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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  • English

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Friends and fellow South Africans;

From liberation to transformation Major sections of the religious community were deeply involved in the struggle which brought us political liberation three years ago.

Your prayers, your resources, your leadership of communities and the country were indispensable to the victory that we all shared as a nation.

That sense of communal solidarity is as important today as ever it was during the liberation struggle.

For now we are faced with what is in reality an even greater challenge, to bring social transformation through the reconstruction and development of our country.

It is a subject that lies close to my heart, and it is why I have invited you to this discussion today.

Government alone cannot bring about this change.

Yet at this very moment when we need every sector of our society to work together to achieve this goal, some seem to be withdrawing into considering only their own affairs.

And I think you will agree that this is in part also true of the religious community.

The ANC has a wide support base; and a mandate to empower our people to transform our society.

Religions, collectively, have even wider support. They also have a vision and commitment to empower people to transform society.

When two groups have common objectives it is sensible to work together.

Yet in the area of religion and politics we sometimes discern a distance from both sides. Indeed, some seem to go so far as nurture antagonism as a political imperative or a divine duty!

But there is a deeper understanding.

The secular state

Our Constitution rightly ensures the separation of Religion and State within the secular state.

Religions must not control the government, and government must not run the religions.

But this does not imply antagonism between religion and state. It does not separate political integrity from spiritual integrity. Morals and truth are indivisible.

Politicians have spiritual responsibilities, and religions have political responsibilities - but each are concerned with our society and all who belong to it.

The transformation of our country requires the greatest possible co-operation between religious and political bodies, critically and wisely serving our people together.

Neither political nor religious objectives can be achieved in isolation. They are held in creative tension with common commitments. We are partners in the building of our society.

Our people belong to different political parties and religions, and others with strong ethical and moral values have no formal political or religious ties.

Yet all of us have strong beliefs. Some of these are points of serious contention.

There are different views on the death penalty, abortion, sexual orientation, and the-- role of women. Some find it difficult to accept that we are a single nation of diverse groups and many faiths, viewing things only from the point of view of their own group or religion.

But it is not to discuss such matters that I have invited you here this morning. My concern is at a different level.

Points of unity

Many of our strongest beliefs are points on which we do agree.

We all want to redress the legacy of our divided and unjust past.

We are all concerned for the pursuit of peace and happiness, and troubled by crime and violence.

We all seek the recovery of 'honesty, high moral standards and the growth of an ethical culture.

We desire an economy that enables all people to enjoy sufficient income to provide homes, schools, health care and a comfortable retirement.

We want our people to work their way from historical hostility to reconciliation and harmony, and establish neighbourhood communities to enjoy life together.

Without exception, we feel responsible for the recovery and strengthening of a rich family life.

These strong points of agreement are crucial matters.

Can we co-operate to achieve them? Is there a form of co-operation between religion and politics which does not compromise independence but combines our forces to the maximum to improve the quality of life of all our people, reinforcing our faith in ourselves and in a transformed future?

We are anxious to hear how the religious bodies feel these issues can be faced.

Most religious communities operate in all parts of the community. They have a presence in advantaged and dis-advantaged neighbourhoods. Religions have unique opportunities to cross barriers and enact transformation.

Long before other openings existed, religions had developed leadership opportunities and organisational experience. Such expertise is a crucial resource enabling religious bodies to provide society with skills even in areas where other training has never existed.

How does organised religion respond to the challenge of participatory nation-building? How can we build our strong points together?

Our appeal today

On previous occasions we have appealed for the religious community to be engaged in the building of our new nation, to tackle the spiritual transformation of our society and to participate in the programmes of reconstruction and development.

Many commendable initiatives have been taken, which we do not need to detail today.

But to a large extent this has been largely confined to their own ranks or to specific religious communities

This leads us to pose some questions.

First, is there a way in which the participation of organised religion in our programmes of reconstruction and development can be strengthened, whether at national or neighbourhood level, through co-operative endeavours with each other and with government and community?

Government and the ANC have created a framework: in the RDP; in Masakhane; in the campaign to restore a culture of teaching and learning and in the National Crime Prevention Strategy; in the strategy for growth, employment and redistribution.

These prioritise common concerns throughout the country which can only be achieved through co-operative endeavours in neighbourhoods as well as at national level.

My second question addresses a concern that underlies success in all these matters. It is the spiritual health and vitality of our people.

In our striving for political and economic development the ANC recognises that social transformation cannot be separated from spiritual transformation.

Our hopes and dreams at times seem to be overcome by cynicism, self-centredness and fear.

This spiritual malaise shows itself as a lack of good spirit, as pessimism or lack of hope and faith. It seeps through the media and into normal conversation, sapping- our energy and undermining our endeavours.

And from it emerge the problems of greed and cruelty, of laziness and egotism, of personal and family failure. It both helps fuel the problems of crime and corruption and hinders our efforts to deal with them.

We ought to be able to co-operate to transform the spiritual life of our country.

Within our own constituencies we seek to answer these problems - but we need to seek a more comprehensive answer.

Specifically, can we devise a way for the leadership of all religions to come together to analyse the cause of this spiritual malaise, and to find ways of tackling it?

And can this be done as a matter of urgency, say within the next two months?

For such an initiative to be effective, it would also require religions to come together at the local level, in our neighbourhoods to raise the same questions and establish a co-operative approach to solutions. And that would also need to have a practical timetable.

The ANC stands ready to assist in this. We seek closer colleagueship with religious communities. We have established a Commission for Religious Affairs in our Head



In the past we discovered that hope was a product of struggle.

The renewal of hope today is found in the struggle to transform society.

Political and religious activists need the skills of conflict resolution and peace making, of patient work to achieve reconciliation, of empowering those in need whether over-privileged or under-privileged, of striving for unity and success.

Such involvement plants the seeds of hope. The quest to transform society embraces the experience of us all.

There is an opportunity for us to empower and enact a greater humanity in Southern Africa.

Our people were committed to the liberation struggle and today we are free.

Let us join hands to win the transformation struggle too.

We must light many candles, but produce one light.

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Acquisition method: Hardcopy ; Source: ANC Archives, Office of the ANC President, Nelson Mandela Papers, University of Fort Hare. Accessioned on 28/01/2010 by Zintle Bambata




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