- 2001-05-02 (Creation)
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Master of the College
Fellows and Members
Ladies and Gentlemen
This is the last official function on a trip that has been memorable for a number of reasons.
We were here in the United Kingdom to participate in a series of events to celebrate South Africa.
We were here to celebrate not only in the manner of blowing our own horn, but more profoundly to remember and commemorate the special relationship between South Africa and Britain.
That relationship is characterised by the sometimes-contradictory complexities that are to be found in all genuinely significant relationships.
Britain was the main colonial power in our history, with all of the attendant problems and consequences of such a relationship.
Much of our traditional systems and institutions still carry the scars of the distortions inflicted by colonial rule.
At the same time, so much of what we have to build on in the competitive modern world is also the result of what we could gain from that interaction and engagement with Britain.
Today we interact with each other as two sovereign nations seeking to benefit mutually from the relationship history has forged between us.
Celebrating South Africa in Britain, as we have done this weekend coinciding with our national Freedom Day, is a forward looking event.
It is being done here to celebrate the potential that our past relationship has injected into our respective and joint futures.
It is in Britain, more than anywhere else outside of our country and continent, that South Africans of all backgrounds and persuasions feel most at home and can relate to.
It is to this tradition of democracy that we turn when we think of means of consolidating our own young democracy.
Our confidence in the strength of our democracy, young as it may be in a formal sense, derives also from our benefiting from this country about its understanding of the rule of law.
We are gratefully aware that our country had been blessed with an exceptional corps of leadership material.
I know that the world often refers to me as one such example of leadership. I can only accept those accolades in the knowledge that I am one of a collective my country and its history produced.
Amongst my generation there are many that could have taken my place if circumstance and history had determined differently. Where I gave leadership it was because of those that surrounded me and formed me. It was because we had the institutional and organisational framework within which individuals could operate and perform.
The current generation of leadership in South Africa is no different and no less talented or diverse. And the organisational and institutional underpinning of that kind of leadership had even grown stronger with time.
Our indigenous understanding of the rule of law, viz that not kings or chiefs but the institutions of law and democracy are supreme, was strengthened and enhanced by our reference to the British understanding of that concept.
Today we are confident of the institutional underpinnings of our constitutional democracy, also because of the tradition of our relationship with Britain.
When we confidently lay claim to being one of the most stable democratic systems in the world, it also because we have taken so much of your institutional understanding of how democracies work and perpetuate themselves.
And so many of those now in key leadership in our country have learnt so much of their political schooling in exile here in Britain.
That you accept me here today as an Honorary Fellow of this great College at this great University, humbles me and underlines the significance of that relationship I referred to.
If there were one single positive aspect that I had to identify from the history of colonial contact between our two countries, it would be that of the educational benefits our country derived from it.
Once more this relationship was complex and contradictory.
Much of the objectives of colonial education were to alienate Africans from their own traditions and understandings of themselves and their world. Colonial conquest depended upon colonial education almost as much as upon dispossession through arms and economic subjugation.
At the same time, though, our preparation to face the modern world derived from an exposure to that education.
The intensity with which the later apartheid rulers sought to undo and to undermine the education of Blacks was a perverse testimony to the efficacy of the education received from British institutions in South Africa.
The relative strength of our tertiary education system owes much to that British heritage.
We know that if we wish to remain competitive in the modern and globalised world, educational performance is going to be crucial.
We have to produce, as an absolute priority in our national life, men and women of the highest skills in all of those areas that the modern world demands.
We know that apartheid had deliberately set about the intellectual underdevelopment of the majority of the South African population.
Today we still battle that heritage of students at school being grossly under-prepared in such key areas as science and mathematics, and of teachers in those subjects being under-qualified.
As I have said, though, this celebration is forward looking. We have to take the future of our nation and its youth in our own hands.
Our Minister of Education, himself a person who has spent most of his exile life in Britain and in neighbouring Ireland, is systematically and energetically addressing those problems of our past, focussing on clear and realisable objectives for our future.
Partnerships for the future with those who were our allies in struggle form an important part also of that educational strategy.
The Cambridge Scholarships that had been set up in my name, allowing young South African post-graduates to study at the university in subjects relevant to our country, represent one such example of partnership.
I wish to take this opportunity of thanking Mr Chris von Christierson, the founding benefactor of the Magdalene College Scholarships for South Africa established in my name.
That he is a South African and an alumnus of Magdalene College vindicates my observations about that special relationship and its mutual benefits.
Our thanks go to the other benefactors who have joined him in this venture. I am particularly appreciative of the co-operation of the Cambridge Commonwealth Trust.
I can only repeat what I said in my letter of acceptance in 1995:
"I approve of the use of my name for the Scholarships to assist South African students. Our country is in dire need of skilled men and women to service our new democracy. We are deeply grateful that Magdalene College took the initiative to assist."
Echoing those sentiments, let me conclude by saying how honoured I am to be received into the ranks of Honorary Fellows of Magdalene College.
I cannot promise you many decades of membership of your alumni. You haven chosen to honour a man who is approaching a hundred, as I have kept on reminding audiences during this trip. What I can pledge is that I shall wear the badge of this honour with pride, attempting at all times to do my alma mater proud.
I thank you for the honour.
I thank you for what you are doing for the youth of my country, and for its future.
May the mutual benefits of a relationship between our two countries continue to grow as we build on the relationship history has bound us in.
I thank you.