Item 1384 - Opening address at the conference "Values, Education and Democracy in the 21st Century", February 2001

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ZA COM MR-S-1384


Opening address at the conference "Values, Education and Democracy in the 21st Century", February 2001


  • 2001-02-22 (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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It is a very great privilege and honour to be present here this evening.

This conference in so many ways exemplifies the spirit of the movement and the struggle that gave birth to our emancipation as a nation and people, and to our democracy.

What distinguished the struggle against apartheid was the almost universal support it received - from virtually all political persuasions and parties from almost every country in the world.

Ours was regarded as one of the great moral struggles of the twentieth century. The fight against racial discrimination and tyranny was seen by the world as a struggle for all of us to assert our common humanity. The anti-apartheid struggle transcended party or sectarian politics in the world; it was a universal struggle over and for humane values.

The manner in which we resolved our historical differences and overcame the political divisions of our past, vindicated that belief that ours was a moral struggle over values of human beings living together in society.

The attainment of national democracy was not the end of the struggle over humane values. The eradication of poverty, for example, remains as the major challenge before we can even start to claim victories. Our Constitution speaks before anything else about the value of human dignity. While people still languish in the abject conditions of material and social deprivation, we continue that struggle for the realisation of humane values.

Our history also enjoins us to find ways of living together and working together to create the conditions for realising those ideals of equality and dignity for all.

Since 1994 South Africa has been involved in a nation-building project. This is because the divisions of our past, racial in character, had to be bridged and healed. It was very clear to us that to be successful, to prosper and grow, we had to be able to work together as one, whatever our differences.

Our capacity to rise above differences, discuss and settle conflicts of interests, and peacefully establish a democratic system on the fragile reed of the well-known and extraordinary inequality between our people, captured the imagination of the world. We were admired for having social qualities that took us out of and beyond apartheid.

This approach to nation building was not only reflected in the conduct of individuals and national leadership, but also in the institutions we created. The Constitution is the highest expression of the values of nation building, and is made to work in practice by Parliament, the Constitutional Court and the many bodies supportive of democratic consolidation.

These bodies are expressions of democratic intent and peaceful co-operation between our people. They are the embodiment of values and ethical commitments to how we wish to live our lives. Core social values such as justice, rule by constitution, peaceful resolution of conflict and inter-racial harmony are at the heart of these bodies and arrangements.

Much as we may cherish the past and the traditions out of which these social and political arrangements came, we cannot take these values for granted. We cannot assume that because we conducted our struggle on the foundations of those values, continued adherence to them are automatic in the changed circumstances.

Adults have to be reminded of their importance and children must acquire them in our homes, schools and churches. Socialisation is the primary vehicle of human learning; in simple terms it is about our younger generation making values a part of themselves and their innermost being.

It is for these reasons that I welcome this conference on Values, Education and Democracy. It is a milestone in our national evolution, for judging from the program, it focuses the mind on how to convert in practical ways our core social values into educational practice.

The very extensive and quite remarkable program draws together many people from a diversity of backgrounds and taps into our talent for dialogue about the educational aspects of nation-building.
It continues the traditions on which our struggle was fought, the groundwork we laid with our political negotiations and the nation-building project we embarked upon from 1994. We cannot commend you strongly enough for the initiative and the effort, because the challenge of nation building remains with us.

One of the most powerful ways of children and young adults acquiring values is to see individuals they admire and respect exemplify those values in their own being and conduct.

Parents or educators or politicians or priests who say one thing and do another send mixed messages to those in their charge who then learn not to trust them.

The question of leadership, generally, and in the educational sphere particularly, is therefore of vital importance.

There is a passage in the Values, Education and Democracy Report that reads as follows:

"Teachers and administrators must be leaders and set the example. Children learn by example, consciously or unconsciously. What parents or teachers do is much more important than what they say they do. If teachers do not want learners to be absent they must not be absent. If teachers expect homework to be completed, they must complete their homework. As the dedicated teacher well knows, a relationship of trust and fellowship develops when educators and learners become partners in the vocation of schooling."

I would like to see the various participants in the educational sector take this powerful moral injunction seriously. The development of the leadership potential of our education community having these values in all spheres – primary, secondary and tertiary – is one of the greatest challenges and opportunities of our time.

I have in my own way tried to be of some help in education by finding businesses and donors to build schools. But, as you well know, schools are living communities of people young and old and not buildings and infrastructure, important as the latter may be. We all are partners therefore, with everyone having something worthwhile to contribute.

I return in conclusion to the broader challenge of nation building. There is no question in my mind that education is one of the primary means by which the inequality in our country, between rich and poor, black and white, is to be tackled. Education is liberation. We are both encouraged by and rely on you to see that this happens.

Our struggle is not over. We all now have, as one nation and people, the historic task to promote and consolidate those humane values that have brought us to where we are. This is the major task of education, formal and informal.

I thank you.

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Acquisition method: From hard drive ; Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation Prof J Gerwel. Accessioned on 01/02/2010 by Zintle Bambata




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