Item 1506 - What makes a champion

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ZA COM MR-S-1506

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What makes a champion

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  • 2000-09-03 (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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  • English

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TRANSCRIPT

The respect that people pay to old age has benefited me greatly here in the latter part of my life. I had pretensions to being a boxer at one time in my life and nothing could have brought greater pride to an aspiring sportsperson than being a champion at the Olympic Games. Both because of limited abilities and a variety of other factors I never came close to such achievement. Now my old age has inspired the organisers of this conference to honour me by the invitation to participate in this event about champions on the eve of the millennial Olympics.

I thank you sincerely for the opportunity to be part of this most prestigious event.

The twentieth century was in human history the era of the most outstanding and astounding achievements. Advances in science and technology outstripped the cumulative achievements of all previous centuries. The limits of human possibility were radically redefined as we made the far reaches of outer space accessible and penetrated the smallest units of matter. Communications and information technology shrunk the planet to a veritable village where the limitations of geographic separation became increasingly irrelevant for the exchange of knowledge and information.

In that situation of unprecedented progress and with the ability to transmit and share information across barriers and boundaries, one could reasonably have expected that human beings all over the world would have been living in conditions conducive to the fullest development of their potential. The contrary is, however, true; rather than humanity of the twentieth century being a species of universal champions, the divide between those with privilege and those living in penury, has increased.

The great arsenal of knowledge and capacity generated by the advances of the century was not effectively used to combat inequity. We closed the century with an even more marked distinction between the powerful rich nations on the one hand and the poor and marginalised on the other. The majority of people on the planet continue to languish in poverty, subject to the social and physical degradation attendant upon poverty.

That the century closed in that manner is the more disappointing considering that it was also an era marked by the presence on the world stage of so many champions of freedom and equality. The process of decolonisation, led by great fighters for freedom and dignity, was a major step towards global equality; the international community, once more under the leadership of some inspired statesmen, created bodies and agencies to guard over peace and freedom and protect the rights of all nations and people. As democracy spread to all parts of the world, the hope increased that the rule of the people would lead to greater prosperity and better living conditions for all.

How did we as a collective fail those champions of freedom, dignity and equality? Why did we fail to create the conditions for great achievement to be the domain of the many rather than a select few? The brave dream with which humanity entered the last century, imbued with the ideal of progress, was of a world of champions, one in which we all would have optimal opportunities to develop our potential to the fullest.

It is that relationship of the champion to the team, the leader to the collective, the achieving individual to the group and community that has occupied our attention throughout our life. A recognition that no individual achieves and performs in isolation must stand at the heart of our reflections on what makes a champion. Those astounding achievements of the previous century we referred to are the products of the collective labours of human beings, at one particular point in time and as the cumulative effect of those of preceding generations.

I was singularly privileged by history and circumstance to have been in a position to make a particular contribution to what has been described as one of the great moral struggles of the last century. The fight to end apartheid and establish a non-racial democracy in South Africa captured the imagination and enjoyed the support of people from all walks of life in all parts of the world. That struggle on the part of the people of South Africa achieved championship status amongst the moral endeavours to make of the world a place of freedom, dignity and equality.

Those who were privileged to give leadership to that struggle and gain recognition in the wider world, could only do so by the consent of the collective and through a respect for and acknowledgement of the collective efforts. No leader, no champion, who puts him or herself above the people and above the team deserves that title or status.

This recognition of and respect for the collective inspires one to keep the common good constantly in mind. To achieve those goals to which one is committed and chose to dedicate ones life, a belief in yourself is essential. That self-belief becomes vain and egotistical, and ultimately self-defeating, if it does not derive from a dedication to and faith in the common goal. The necessary self-belief of the true leader or champion is tempered by the respect for the broader concerns.

We have learnt through the experiences of our life that in all circumstances and in all communities there are to be found good men and women who are prepared to stand up for those common goals and to achieve for the common good. South Africa has provided an excellent example thereof.

When the rest of the world expected our country to go up in flames and in the greatest racial conflagration ever, the presence of such men and women in all our communities contributed to a peaceful solution that is today described as a miracle. The struggle to change South Africa was in the first place led by the liberation movement, but without the participation and co-operation of all the major political parties and the people of the country, such a peaceful negotiated political settlement would not have been possible. If our country achieved in the eyes of the world the status of a "miracle nation", a champion nation of reconciliation, it was once more through the collective efforts of her people. Leaders and leadership were required to mobilise and direct those energies, but the energy came and derived from those good men and women to be found in all communities and groups.

Twenty-first century advances in learning and science will certainly be even more breath taking in scope and impact on the human possibilities. Shall this century provide champions of human dignity and equality to match in their success that of the great innovators in the field of science and technology?

The commitment and dedication without which none can achieve and become a champion, need also in this century be directed towards the betterment of the life of all people all over the world. While so many still labour under conditions where with the best will in the world the greatness of achievement is out of their reach, those of us who do achieve find our rewards diminished.

As we prepare for the start of the millennial Olympics, it is in the fervent hope that the excellence of achievement and the dream of universal friendship will at last meet in this century. Let us be champions of the ideal of making of twenty-first century humanity that species of champions: a brotherhood and sisterhood where all share in the fruits of our great advances and achievements.

I thank you once more for honouring me with this opportunity to share with you on this great occasion.

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Acquisition method: Hardcopy ; Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation. Accessioned on 26-07-2012 by Kelsey Duinkerken

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