Item 1288 - Speech by President Nelson Mandela at the Ruiterwag Gathering of Young Afrikaner Leaders

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ZA COM MR-S-1288


Speech by President Nelson Mandela at the Ruiterwag Gathering of Young Afrikaner Leaders


  • 1996-01-13 (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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Ruiterwag Gathering of Young Afrikaner Leaders

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  • English

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Ladies and gentlemen

I thank you sincerely for inviting me to address this gathering of young Afrikaner leaders. Just a few years ago it would have been unthinkable that I should address the Ruiterwag! But such is the miracle of South Africa that we have achieved what once appeared impossible. Our country and its people are not yet fully healed - the wounds that apartheid inflicted on us all are still too deep for that. But already we have travelled far along the path of national reconciliation.

This healing process involves also a challenge to look beyond the interest of one's own cultural group in order to strive for the broader interests of South Africa as a whole. South Africa's future depends to a great extent on the creation of a broader South African consciousness in which the people of our country see themselves first of all not as Afrikaners, or Coloureds, or Indians or Xhosas and so on; but as South Africans whose conduct is shaped by this consciousness. Progress in this regard will determine the success of our programme of nation-building

Indeed, especially as leaders in your own right, you need to consciously avoid a malaise that afflicts most South Africans: that of approaching issues mainly from the point of view of the racial or ethnic group from which one comes. Rather, without necessarily abandoning our roots, we should always ask the question: what is in the best interest of South Africa and all its people!

My message to you and other South Africans is anchored in this context of our being South African, with the acknowledgement that you also have a right to the development of your own culture and language.

Our greatest strength and our hope for a prosperous, just and peaceful new South Africa lies precisely in this readiness amongst all our country's communities to talk to one another and to engage in constructive co-operation. I am thankful for the growing attitude of co-operation displayed by so many young Afrikaners

Unavoidably the burden of the past weighs heavily on us, the older generation. You, the youth, can meet the future and build it with more open minds. The Afrikaner youth therefore also has the historic task of once more playing a leadership role in your community in the process of nation-building.

Your leadership is at this moment of the utmost importance in finding the delicate balance between being a South African and being an Afrikaner. It will demand wisdom and great sensitivity from the new generation of Afrikaner leaders and an awareness that the impressions which you make on fellow South Africans have the utmost importance in creating or undermining trust.

In the spirit of open discussion I would wish to say to you this morning that some of the recent statements in the name of the Foundation for Equality before the Law and today's march to the Union Buildings which it has organised, are seen in an extremely negative light by the majority of people in South Africa. The involvement of leadership figures from the Apartheid regime of the past and the false statements about the aims of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Government of National Unity's language policy leave a bitter taste in the mouth. They create the impression that one has here to do with attempts to retain the unjust advantages from which the Afrikaners benefited in the past.

We all know that in the previous dispensation, in the years of apartheid and white domination, the Afrikaners had political power and were exceptionally privileged in all areas. It is therefore understandable that the advent of the new dispensation evokes fear and reservation. But one also knows that the less the Afrikaners embrace the new social and political dispensation, the more difficult their own position will be - and the last thing I would like to see is for the Afrikaner to stand on the political sidelines of the new South Africa. As the youth you have the task of assuming leadership to ensure that your community remains fully involved as active and enthusiastic participants in the new South Africa.

The new generation of young leaders in the Afrikaner community will have to show sufficient courage to make it clear to leaders of previous generations that the genuine interests of Afrikaners cannot be promoted by narrow and exclusive ways. You should refuse to be drawn into projects which send the message that Afrikanerdom today should be equated with defence of human rights violations and opposition to the independent Truth and Reconciliation Commission; with the defence of white privilege in a sea of poverty; with opposition to democratic rule. All these, I believe, are a disservice to the Afrikaner.

The survival and prosperity of our nation requires men and women of vision and foresight, who do not shrink from their obligations as South Africans. If you are ready to boldly accept this challenge, a bright future awaits the Afrikaner in our country. I hold out my hand to such people knowing that you are beyond doubt fellow citizens and that we can build our homeland together. And you can expect of me to protect the precious spiritual wealth of the Afrikaner as if it were my own, for I will feel assured of your loyalty to South Africa and its people.

I do understand that when Afrikaners speak of the future role and place of Afrikaners, the main concern is the place and status of the Afrikaans language. I think that it is right to repeat today what I have said on many previous occasions: Afrikaans is one of our country's languages, and as such it will receive precisely the same protection as any of the other languages, and precisely the same measure of support and promotion as other languages. The outstanding achievements of Afrikaans are something of which all South Africa's people can be proud.

There is, therefore, no attempt on the part of the Government of National. Unity to downgrade Afrikaans. It would be cultural folly to destroy what has already been built. What the Constitution requires of us and what is a moral obligation in the new society we are building, is to put all the different languages of our country on an equal footing. I am sure you will agree that the special and privileged position previously enjoyed by Afrikaans and English cannot remain unchanged. As young leaders you have the duty as well as the opportunity to help create a situation in which all our country's languages are treated alike and promoted alike. I would like once more to assure you that there is no hostility towards Afrikaans, and that there is also no attempt to promote English at the expense of Afrikaans.

The Afrikaners have a long and proud history of struggle for your freedom. In spite of great sacrifices and deeds of inspiring heroism, the Afrikaners were militarily victorious in neither of the two Wars of Liberation which they fought. And yet you emerged each time from the fight with a deeper sense of your identity and that is something from which our country has benefited in various ways.

Today you face a Third War of Liberation, and the way in which you participate in this struggle will also to a large extent help determine attitudes towards Afrikaans and Afrikaners. Today's war is not a military one against an external enemy. It is a war and a struggle against division and large-scale social inequality. It is not only Afrikaners who are responsible for Afrikaner rights and interests. I myself, and others, have always attached importance to an active concern for the interests of Afrikaners, just as those of other groups. And in the same way Afrikaners have an obligation to concern themselves not only with the interests of Afrikaners, but to be active participants in the struggle for a better life for all South Africans.

It is in this context that I would ask you to approach the question of affirmative action. There is unfortunately a growing perception amongst the majority of the people of South Africa - those who suffered under apartheid - that criticism of affirmative action from amongst Afrikaners is simply aimed at preserving as much as possible of the Afrikaner's unjustly privileged position of the past. How true this is only you can say. Self-criticism on such a matter can be liberating rather than demeaning. It is in any case of the utmost importance that we all understand that the injustices of the past must be addressed. Concerning the manner in which affirmative action is applied, it is important that we should be able to discuss it with open and critical minds. Any constructive proposals from your side will be appreciated.

I have noted that the Ruiterwag is an organisation which bases itself on a Christian foundation. Underlying the idea of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission are concepts which ought to evoke strong resonance amongst believers. The principal objective of the Commission is to bring about national reconciliation. True and lasting reconciliation however is never an easy and superficial undertaking. True reconciliation and forgiveness presuppose that we come to know the pain done to one another; that we show concern for what has been suffered and that we then join hands as a healthier nation to build a future in which such abuses can never happen again. I am confident that the members of the Commission are men and women of the calibre and integrity required to ensure that the Commission works in that spirit.

The remarks made by some of you under the banner of the Foundation for Equality before the Law about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission were extremely unfortunate. It leaves the impression of an attempt to mobilise people against the Commission through a psychosis of fear. The truth about the objectives of the Commission is being distorted and I would earnestly appeal to any of you involved in such statements to stop making them. You harm the Afrikaner case and do your people a great wrong in misleading them over what the Government's real reconciliatory aims are with the Commission. As I said earlier you have a duty to help your people to become truly part of the new South Africa . For the sake of the Afrikaner, please don't allow anyone to hold them back.

In conclusion, may I extend to your organisation, and all the young Afrikaner leaders, my best wishes for the year which lies ahead.

In the last period of nearly two years we have laid a strong foundation for our new nation. 1996 is the year in which we must consolidate, and work to bring further concrete changes in the lives of our people - especially those who suffered so much under apartheid. Each of us has an important role to play in this task - including you as young Afrikaners.

Once more, I would urge you never to forget that you are South Africans. If that is always a part of your outlook, then I have no doubt that that you will once again, as so often in our country's history, be seen as central to the building of the new society. Fully South African, able now more than ever to make their contribution to this beautiful country because they are finally liberated from the chains of racism and apartheid.

I 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 25/01/2010 by Zintle Bambata




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