Item 1407 - Speech by Nelson Mandela at the official opening of the Nelson Mandela Gateway, Cape Town, December 2001

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ZA COM MR-S-1407


Speech by Nelson Mandela at the official opening of the Nelson Mandela Gateway, Cape Town, December 2001


  • 2001-12-01 (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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Official opening of the Nelson Mandela Gateway

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  • English

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The opening of this gateway takes place on a date, 1st of December, which is of great importance in the history of particularly this part of the country. This day marks the commemoration of the emancipation of slaves just more than a century and a half ago.

We come to this occasion just having returned from ceremonies this morning where we participated in what has now become established as World AIDS Day.

We find in the coincidence of these commemorations a very striking and evocative message; a message that reminds us that looking back is of significance to the extent that it helps us going forward in ways that will improve the lot of human beings.

It reminds us that the quest for freedom is one that is never ending. We have to go out every day to fight for freedom.

That we partake in World AIDS Day on this date signals that the threat to our social freedom continues even in more intensified forms. Nothing threatens us more today than HIV/AIDS.

We open this Gateway to remind us where we come from in our struggle for freedom. Gateways open up into the future, and we look back so that we can go forward to a better future.

When we as Rivonia trialists awaited judgement in the apartheid court in 1964, we expected death. Instead the sentence was life, not only in terms of its literal intent, but also as to what it would mean for us and the struggle for democracy. The Island that lies across from us this afternoon played a central role in giving birth and life to the democracy in which we live today.

It remains humbling for us to be honoured in the way the Robben Island Museum is doing today. Despite the many acclaims over the past decade, we as former political prisoners still are moved every time our role is acknowledged, as it was, for example, in the declaration by UNESCO of the Island as a World Heritage Site.

That this gateway is named after one individual cannot obscure the fact that what we are celebrating are the collective achievements of a great struggle and a people who would not let go of their dignity and determination to be free. It is a struggle for dignity and freedom that stretches back to the earliest times of contact between the indigenous inhabitants of the country and those that sought to colonise the land.

As we set about the task of consolidating our democracy and national unity, it is important to remember that long before our generation of freedom fighters there were those that laid the foundations.

We cannot speak of Robben Island without remembering Autshumato who was the first political prisoner banished to the Island for his resistance to Dutch occupation. We think of Makana who two centuries later received the same fate for leading the anti-colonial fight deeper in the country's interior. We think of generation after generation in our freedom struggle who found their leaders incarcerated here. This Island is therefore an important marker of our unity in struggle.

And as we stand here in Cape Town today and speak of unity in struggle, I cannot fail to remember Dr Abdurrahman who was one of the first leaders to recognise the importance of such unity and who reached out through his organisation, the APO, to other organisations and sectors of the oppressed.

It is that unity in purpose that we wish to recapture through this celebration of our past.

My comrade Ahmed Kathrada, chairperson of the Robben Island Museum Council, speaks about the triumph of the human spirit and victory over bigotry and small minds to define what Robben Island and prison meant to us. It is a very positive message.

Perhaps we should question whether we are not perhaps in retrospect underplaying the harsh aspects and negative impacts. The Island was very tough. People suffered terrible deprivations and abuse. We must not forget that.

At the same time, however, we are right to stress the positive. We in South Africa took the road people did not expect or predict, that of speaking to our enemy and adversary. Our country was saved from the bloodbath that was so widely predicted.

It should be a course followed as a rule rather than as exception in our world. As world events continue to unfold at great pace and flash points proliferate, this message - the message of South African democracy and of Robben Island - remains as salient as ever.

Our motto should be: let us make peace so that we can concentrate on the really important work that needs to be done. That is, alleviating the plight of the poor and the defenceless, for as long as most of humanity feels the pain of poverty we all remain prisoners.

Today, 1st of December, we lay a foundation stone, signifying the fact that we are builders.

As we have said, this day marks the emancipation of slaves. And it is World AIDS Day.

AIDS is a scourge threatening to undo all the gains we made in our generations of struggle. It is assaulting the fabric and health of our society. It is eating away at our economy that should be providing a better life for all.

In the past Robben Island was a leper colony. It was a place where those who were "infected" were sent away to. Let us not perpetuate this legacy of exclusion and banishment towards those infected by this new threat. Every museum should in fact have events or programmes dealing with AIDS awareness. Every South African should be helping in the fight against it.

Let us therefore remember. Let us therefore continue the struggle.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I am honoured to have the Nelson Mandela Gateway so named. I accept the honour on behalf of all former political prisoners throughout the generations of the struggle for freedom and dignity.

I hereby declare it open.

Thank you.

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




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