Item 1240 - Notes for a Speech by President Nelson Mandela at the Honorary Degree Award, Howard University

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ZA COM MR-S-1240


Notes for a Speech by President Nelson Mandela at the Honorary Degree Award, Howard University


  • 1994-10-07 (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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Honorary Degree Awarded at Howard University

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  • English

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It is with humble gratitude that I receive this honorary doctoral degree today. My sense of elation is multiplied a million-fold by the fact that this august occasion affords us the opportunity to celebrate the freedom which the people of South Africa have at last won.

I accept this honour fully aware that it is not for an individual. The accolade that you give us belongs, in fact, to that collective of wonderful people called South Africans.

It is a recognition of the achievements that they have made in bringing about freedom to our land, in wisely steering our delicate transition, in reconciling the nation, and in starting with the difficult task of reconstruction and development.

But, precisely because you have been part of these efforts over the years: for you to honour us is at the same time to rightfully honour yourselves. For what has been attained in South Africa today is an achievement of black people of the world; it's a victory for humanity as a whole.

We are wont to value this achievement because it has been long and hard in coming. To quote the words of Martin Luther King, Jnr:

Freedom has always been an expensive thing.

South Africa is today free of the shackles of apartheid because of countless individuals who, through sacrifice, passionate self- denial and persistent effort, paid a price. This honorary doctoral degree is theirs too: Albert Luthuli, Oliver Tambo, Chris Hani, Hector Peterson, Steve Biko and many more.

However this new-found and long-awaited freedom would be hollow if it did not entail fundamental socio-economic changes. The old order cannot be allowed to live on in the form of mass unemployment, disparities in income and opportunities, lack of housing, inadequate health care and poor education. Despite the goodwill which unites our nation and the profound changes in attitude which are taking place, there are still some areas of life in which discriminatory habits are slow to die out.

The African National Congress and the rest of the democratic movement in our country have won elements of political power.

Great effort and persistent determination is needed to transform South Africa; to turn our country into a real non-racial and non-sexist society based on social justice and equity.

These are the challenges which our Government of National Unity has set out to tackle head on, and with determination. Our Reconstruction and Development Programme is an all- encompassing process to transform our society to ensure a better life for all South Africans. In this process the development of our human resources is fundamental.

The importance of education needs no argument before members of Howard University, which played so important a role in uplifting the sons and daughters of former slaves. Its former graduates have made a distinguished contribution to national life in the fields of medicine, politics, business and the arts, helping to open the way for black people to play their rightful role in the national life of the United States.

Among graduates of this university are also to be found young South Africans who are a real asset in our efforts to transform our society.

In our Reconstruction and Development Programme we have set ourselves the target of providing access for every child to ten years of free and equal school education. Although it will take us many years to achieve this objective, we are starting by catering next year for our country's six-year old children.

For those who missed out on schooling due to apartheid policies, there will be a programme of Adult Basic Education. A commitment to life-long learning, which is crucial for improving productivity in industry, informs our approach.

We are very serious about education, because we know of the wealth of talent in our people, talent which has never been allowed to make the contribution of which it is capable. We are determined to provide the opportunities that have been denied.

This educational effort forms part of our campaign to nurture our children and society as a whole into healthy and vigorous citizens. It is for this reason that among the first programmes that we have put in place are free medical care for children under six and pregnant mothers, as well as a feeding scheme in primary schools. We are determined that this should be combined with the introduction of primary health care, efficient surveillance to effectively reduce tuberculosis and childhood diseases, an intensive immunisation programme, and sustainable environmental programmes.

Success in all these endeavours is beyond the reach of government on its own. It requires a partnership among all social structures. It demands that each and every part of our society should nurture the culture of teaching and learning which Howard University exemplifies. Indeed, it cries out for technical and other assistance from the international community

South Africans possess the will and the determination to succeed in meeting these challenges. We know we can count on your support.

It is with gratitude that we remember the way in which Howard University embraced and supported the liberation struggle in South Africa. Our cause became your cause and so shall it remain, for us to work together to improve the quality of life of especially black people and other disadvantaged communities, in South Africa, in Africa, in the United States, and other parts of the world.

I therefore accept this honorary doctorate aware of the contribution Howard University has made to academic excellence in this country. I am humbled by the realisation that in honouring me in this way, you are placing me among eminent graduandi of Howard who have achieved prominence in politics, government, business and the arts.

I, therefore, thank you from the bottom of my heart, and pledge, on behalf of all South Africans, that your confidence in us will find fulfilment as we do our utmost to make South Africa and the world a better place for all of us: black and white, men and women, young and old.

Thank you.

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Acquisition method: Hardcopy ; Source: ANC Archives, Office of the ANC President, Nelson Mandela Papers, University of Fort Hare. Accessioned on 21/01/2010 by Zintle Bambata




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