Item 188 - Address by President Nelson Mandela at the Johannesburg opening of the Anne Frank Exhibition at Museum Africa

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Address by President Nelson Mandela at the Johannesburg opening of the Anne Frank Exhibition at Museum Africa


  • 1994-08-15 (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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Opening of the Anne Frank Exhibition

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  • English

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Members of the Anne Frank Foundation,
Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
Distinguished Guests,

I thank you most profoundly for the invitation to open the Anne Frank Exhibition in Johannesburg. My colleagues in other parts of the country, where the exhibition was held, have said much that I concur with about the significance of this exhibition. I will only make a few remarks.

The Anne Frank Exhibition explores the past in order to heal, to reconcile and to build the future. In this sense, it is particularly relevant for the South Africa of today, as we emerge from the treacherous era of apartheid injustice.

I think we will all agree that it is not the most pleasant thing to revive bitter memories, to invoke the pain and suffering of the past. But, like the people of the Netherlands and others in Europe who experienced the harsh realities of Nazism and fascism, like the people in the developing world who lived under the brutality of colonialism, we, in South Africa know too well that we cannot move forward with confidence if we ignore the past.

It is therefore not surprising that in the four South African cities in which it has been held, some 50,000 people have seen the exhibition.

In our country, people were kept apart, and the majority of the population subjected to terrible privations, by design of the apartheid rulers. As we experience this new dawn, it is therefore important that all our people understand how different sectors of society experienced and reacted to the many events that make up our common past.

This applies also to those whose experiences include the Second World War: in the Netherlands, in Germany, in the former Soviet Union and other parts of the world. For us to understand the people of these countries, and particularly the Jewish people of today, we have to be aware of the history of the Holocaust which so profoundly affected them.

To know the past in its full measure, is to take the first important step towards learning from it. If Anne Frank - whose writing talent has brought us together tonight - had survived, she would be a young lady of sixty-five. We salute her. By honouring her memory as we do today, we are saying with one voice: Never and Never Again!

My own memories of the Second World War revolve around the hopes of black South Africans that the defeat of Nazism would not only bring about the liberation of Europe but also the liberation of the oppressed in our own country. This is what the ANC and its Youth League, the Communist Party of South Africa, the trade union movement and many other democrats sought to achieve. Instead, after the War, apartheid triumphed in our country.

Apartheid and Nazism shared the inherently evil belief in the superiority of some races over others. This drove adherents of these ideologies to perpetrate unspeakable crimes and to derive pleasure from the suffering of their fellow human-beings. But because these beliefs are patently false, and because they were, and will always be, challenged by the likes of Anne Frank, they are bound to fail.

The victory of the democratic forces in South Africa is a contribution to this world-wide effort to rid humanity of the evil of racism. It is Anne Frank's victory. It is an achievement of humanity as a whole.

During the many years my comrades and I spent in prison, we derived inspiration from the courage and tenacity of those who challenge injustice even under the most difficult circumstances. As my colleague, Govan Mbeki indicated at the Port Elizabeth exhibition, some of us read Anne Frank's Diary on Robben Island and derived much encouragement from it.

Combined with news of the heroic struggles of the people, led by the ANC, as well as the support of the international community, the tales of heroes and heroines of Anne's calibre kept our spirits high and reinforced our confidence in the invincibility of the cause of freedom and justice.

Today, as South Africans we have the opportunity to reconcile our nation and to reconstruct and develop our country. We are confident of success because we have not swept the past under the carpet. Rather, we see it as crucial that in dealing with the past, we should consider amnesty at the same time as we restore the dignity of the victims and ensure meaningful reparation.

The proposed Truth and Reconciliation Commission is meant to address these matters. We are confident that this Commission will receive the support of the majority of South Africans, so that we can build the future assured that mistakes of the past shall never be repeated.

The Anne Frank Foundation in Amsterdam deserves praise for the consistent stand it has always taken against fascism and apartheid. We are happy that it has now come to South Africa. This exhibition also serves to remind us that, while racism and other forms of discrimination in our country have been formally eradicated, they have certainly not completely disappeared. Changing legislation to bring it in line with the Interim Constitution is crucial. However, much work needs to be done by all of us to help change attitudes - be it in the work-place or any other area where people interact.

We express our special thanks to the Foundation, the Royal Netherlands Embassy and the South African Jewish Board of Deputies for affording people in various parts of our country the opportunity to see the exhibition.

We are confident that the exhibition will strengthen the partnership among all South Africa's people, including the Jewish community, in combating racism, improving the quality of life and healing the wounds of the past.

I now formally open the Johannesburg Exhibition of Anne Frank in the World.


Presentation notes:
Mr President, (ladies and gentlemen)

South Africa is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. During "Apartheid" that was about the only thing that could be said in Holland without starting a political discussion. Now, we are impressed by the recent changes.

Historically there has been a long relationship between the people of South Africa and the people of Holland. Personally, I feel particularly close to what is happening in South Africa. I was born in a German concentration camp in 1944, and lost most of my family. This is one of the reasons that I devote time to the work of the Anne Frank House.

Anne Frank lived over 50 years ago in a different world, in a different time.

The way she was able to express her feelings in her diary made her a symbol for what happened to the Jews. Set apart and six million were systematically killed. Many of them must have shared some of the same feelings, fears and hopes.

Anne Frank did not play an active role during her lifetime. But her diary and beliefs substantially influenced many people all over the world. Anne Frank believed in the future, in a better world, a world without racial or religious discrimination.

What can we learn from history, and how can we translate what happened then to the present situation, and that of the future? Our organisation, the Anne Frank House, is devoted to keeping alive the memory of what happened, in a constructive way.

Our organisation does not talk about guilt or prosecution. We focus our work on stimulating individuals to think about the present. What lessons can be learnt from a little girl's diary, written down in her hiding place in Amsterdam?

What happened during the Second World War was a result of a long process of different developments.

We feel that we should be very alert today and every day, to make people realise that initially weak signals can result in a process which cannot be stopped.

This is especially true for all forms of discrimination.

In practical terms we believe that focused education and information in all different forms, starting with the younger generation at school, will have a positive effect. This exhibition "Anne Frank in the World", shows that in wartime it is more than one man or a small group of people who are responsible for what happens.

The exhibition shows that within a (..missing...) individuals feel that they have "no choice" but to conform with the system. Unacceptable norms and values become "normal". Only a few people, brave and with long-term vision, accepting the individual consequences of their action, did not conform with the system.

For example the people who helped the Frank family.

In many places in the world the systems are changing.

Former rulers and victims now live in the same street and their children attend the same school.

"Common" ground can be found in understanding history, common ground for a better future.

Maybe the exhibition will also support this process.

We invite all visitors to think about the multi-cultural society. This to new fundamental thoughts about human rights, tolerance and democratic values.

We hope that the history, the thoughts and the beliefs of Anne Frank, may inspire many of them.

I spoke of the power of a system, I spoke about the fact that only a few people, brave and with a long term vision are able to change a system.

You, Mr Mandela, always retained your long term vision concerning the basic rights of all people as a leading principle throughout your life.

It is well known to us that you were a crucial factor.

You have always fought for the essential values of all people in your country. Despite what you had to sacrifice.

Nobody can feel what you must have felt.

It was your choice to work for a better future with an impressive tolerance that everybody in world respects.

The situation in your country can and should not be compared with what happened during the Second World War, what happened to the Jews, what happened to Anne Frank.

But the essential thoughts are similar: the importance of values, human rights and tolerance.

We are impressed by what you have achieved and hope your goals can and will be realised in the coming years.

South Africa is now so much more than one of the most beautiful countries in the world.

Also thanks to you.

We have a small token of honour, we call it the "Anne Frank Penning" and we would like to present it to you as evidence of our admiration.

Dr. M. Simon -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- ANNE FRANK MEDAL The Anne Frank House has presented the Anne Frank Medal eight times, to the persons/institutions mentioned below. The first medal was presented in the late fifties, by Otto Frank, to the cast of the theatre play on Anne Frank. In our publicity we only mention the last three (Nederlands Auschwitz Commitee, SOS Racism, Paula D'Hondt) ourselves. 1984: Cast and co-workers of the theatre play on Anne Frank (new Dutch performance): performance of the theatre play on Anne Frank; 1985: Anne Frank Mavo, a Dutch school that emphasised the importance of anti-racist education; 1986: NCRV Literama, Dutch radio programme, because of its information about literature concerning World War II and present-day racism; 1987: Mrs Henny Willems, a Dutch woman who presented more than 1000 schools with the Diary of Anne Frank; 1988: `Kinder (children) von Bullenhuser Damm', a German organisation commemorating the murder of twenty Jewish children killed by the Nazi's in Hamburg, 1945, and giving information about present-day discrimination; 1989: Nederlands Auschwitz Commitee', Holland, for the way it keeps the memory of the Shoa alive and challenges discrimination today; 1990: SOS Racism, France, especially for the way it reached young people from different backgrounds; 1991: No award; 1992: Mrs Paula D'Hondt, Royal Commissioner on Migrant Affairs, Belgium, because of the inspiring way she worked towards a multi-cultural society and a constructive policy on migrants. 1993: no award.

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Acquisition method: From website ; Source: ANC Website. Accessioned on 14/11/06 by Helen Joannides




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