Item 285 - Speech by President Nelson Mandela on receiving the Pretoria Press Club's 1994 Newsmaker of the Year Award

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Speech by President Nelson Mandela on receiving the Pretoria Press Club's 1994 Newsmaker of the Year Award


  • 1995-07-20 (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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Receiving the Pretoria Press Club's 1994 Newsmaker of the Year Award

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  • English

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Chairperson of the Pretoria Press Club;
Members of the Press;
Distinguished Guests;
Ladies and Gentlemen.

The Pretoria Press Club does me a great honour in singling me out with its 1994 Newsmaker of the Year Award. In accepting the Award with heartfelt gratitude, I do so in all humility on behalf of our South African nation. Indeed, the truth that it is not kings, generals and other leaders who make history, has never been more forcefully illustrated than it was in 1994.

The news events of 1994 were milestones in South Africa's history.

In particular, the April elections as well as the inauguration of the country's first democratically elected government were giant steps in the twentieth century history of Africa and the world. Seasoned observers were taken by surprise. Knowledgeable sceptics and prophets of doom were confounded.

Our people proved to be in advance of even the most optimistic analysts. Their yearning for freedom, and their understanding that the time had come to be done with apartheid, were too powerful to be deflected.

They wanted, quite simply, to work together for a better life for all South Africans. And nothing could stop them.

And now, more than a year later, the people of South Africa continue to surpass expectations.

The events around the Rugby World Cup revealed how firmly the desire for unity and reconciliation has found root in the hearts of all South Africans. And this was not a one-off event. It was rather a high watermark in a swelling tide towards a shared genuine patriotism.

If these events tend to surprise some of us, is it because we have not fully appreciated the real dynamic beneath the mood-swings of day-to-day news headlines? Indeed, when expectations of failure and diagnoses of crisis are so repeatedly and so emphatically proved wrong, should we not pause for thought!

A more balanced perspective, based on a better understanding of what is happening in our country, would equip us well for the challenges that lie ahead. It would allow each of us, politicians and the media, to fulfil our tasks all the better.

In the first place, it should be recognised that the drive for national unity and reconciliation is not imposed by leaders or political parties. It comes rather from a persistent and determined people.

In countless organised and unorganised ways, they are busy shaping a new society based on respect for one another and on a partnership among various social structures. The are seeking ways to engage in formulating the polices and managing the institutions which govern their lives. This is the basis of the stability which our new democracy has so quickly found; a sure guarantee that South Africa's new civilisation will flourish.

Chairperson, Ladies and Gentlemen;

The successful outcome of negotiations over the Labour Relations Act showed just how durable is the national compact in pursuit of the country's interest. A forum like the National Economic, Development and Labour Council brings together what are arguably the most powerful organised forces in our society.

In this forum, it should be expected, the most fundamental differences within our society will play themselves out. To manage such differences is precisely one of the functions of Nedlac. What matters is the overriding commitment of all the parties ultimately to seek sustainable consensus.

If that is understood, then there will be no sense of each dispute signalling a national crisis. And government will play its part in resolving difficulties. This the Minister of Labour did in an exemplary way in the case of the Labour Relations Bill.

An understanding of the processes at work in our society will help us, too, to see the immense importance of the local government elections. Any administrative and political delay in the holding of the elections puts off the day when communities will take into their hands the instruments of changing their own lives and healing the divisions imposed on our localities.

We are, so to speak, not abstract people with abstract national feelings and needs. Rather, we experience the divisions of the past and the efforts at national reconstruction and reconciliation in our day-to-day life where we live and work. The sooner the structures to manage this day-to-day interaction are put in place, the better for our nation-building.

Honourable Chairperson;

Yesterday we signed the Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act; and we shall soon put in place the procedures for the appointment of the Commissioners. The challenge of achieving a shared understanding of our past is a complex practice.

It will need historians, artists and writers, amongst others, to forge a common knowledge of our history, to give each South African an insight into the life-experience of others.

Revelations in the press and electronic media over recent weeks make clear that the truth will not wait to be known. There is no choice as to whether or not the secrets of the past are to be unravelled.

The methods which were used to try to delay freedom and democracy are becoming known because the vast apparatus of censorship and control of information has fallen away. More importantly they are becoming known because those who were required to act upon them are measuring their deeds against the new values of a humane and equal society in the making.

The choice we do have is how to manage this process. This, precisely, is the task of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Expediting its establishment, we believe, is in the interest of victim and perpetrator alike; it is in the interest of the nation as a whole.

This Commission will provide a means to make known the fearful aspects of the darkest time in our history. It will bring a light which will ensure that our security forces free themselves, once and for all, of the legacy of a past on which our society has turned its back.

However, the commission will, objectively, not be the only vehicle for this process. Various institutions have a role to play, including the media. And, political and other leaders ignore this reality at their own peril.

Whatever creates in the public mind a suspicion that there are important matters known to leaders still to be revealed, can undermine national confidence. Those in public office therefore have a responsibility as leaders to declare their own knowledge of the past. To wait for others to reveal such information or to sit tight in the hope that some human rights violations will not come out, certainly is not in anyone's interest.

The people of South Africa have demonstrated unmistakably their desire for reconciliation and to build a nation at ease with itself. The success of our Parliament in achieving consensus on this deeply sensitive matter is an important triumph for our democracy. Political leaders, of whatever party, should act so as to build on this giant first step.

In that way we can help ensure that the search for the truth becomes a corporate national effort; not an exercise in mutual recrimination.

It is my fervent wish, that our success in managing this process, as well as the efforts of communities to change their lives for the better, will be the newsmaker of 1995.

For that will be a milestone towards realising the vision which inspired the historic events of 1994.

Thank you

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Acquisition method: From website ; Source: ANC Website. Accessioned on 16/11/06 by Helen Joannides




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