Podium: Nelson Mandela - South Africa's small human miracle

From a speech by the President of South Africa to his country's parliament, opening a debate on reconciliation
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ALTHOUGH THE Truth and Reconciliation Commission's work and its reporting will be completed only with the conclusion of the amnesty process, it is right that we should now initiate the national debate on reconciliation and nation-building.

I would like once again to record our appreciation of the commission, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, his fellow commissioners, their staff and field workers for the service they have rendered to the country. Their dedication to a difficult and painful task has helped us through a historic stage in our journey towards a better society. They made it possible for tens of thousands of South Africans to make known the inhumanities they had endured. They made it possible for others to disclose their part in inflicting or acquiescing in those inhumanities by acts of commission or omission.

We recognise today the many men, women and children who have sacrificed freedom and even life itself; who have been left with disabilities; who have lost families. We think of the suffering of communities and the trauma of the nation as a whole. We reflect on the scars that all South Africans carry.

We think of those apartheid sought to imprison in the jails of hate and fear; those it infused with a false doctrine of superiority to justify their inhumanity to others. But we think, too, of those it conscripted or encouraged into machines of destruction, exacting a heavy toll among them in life and limb, and a warped disregard for life and the trauma that goes with it.

We think of the millions of South Africans who live in poverty because of apartheid, disadvantaged and excluded from opportunity by the discrimination of the past.

We recall our terrible past so that we can deal with it, to forgive where forgiveness is necessary, without forgetting; to ensure that never again will such inhumanity tear us apart; and to move ourselves to eradicate a legacy that lurks dangerously as a threat to our democracy.

It is against that background that we turn to the recommendations which the committee makes. Because the effects of the past are so profound and far-reaching, there is a large number of recommendations.

The first set of recommendations for promoting reconciliation focuses on building a strong human rights culture in order to prevent gross human rights violations in the future.

In this regard, we should draw pride in our new constitution and the culture of openness and accountability that has become the trademark of our new society. And we should here today recommit ourselves to these values, and to practical action to promote human rights among all our citizens and to protect the institutions that are charged by our constitution with this important responsibility.

One outstanding matter that should receive special attention is that of expediting the process of exhumations and burials. Among the many contributions of the committee, the recovery of the remains of victims and their return to family and community in proper reburial have been profound in their contribution to healing and knowledge of the past.

While the limitations of this with regard to those buried outside the country are widely recognised, this should not subtract from our responsibility to find ways of recognising and acknowledging them in a manner that will bring succour not only to their families and relatives, but also to a nation reaping the fruits of their tireless labour.

The building of monuments and memorials to those who gave their lives, as part of the reconstruction and development of our society, will rightly seize the creativity of our people. We know too keenly that no debate can ever capture the emotions that were laid bare in a process that launched our nation's catharsis.

Captured in halls through the length and breath of the country and beside the unmarked graves of fallen heroes was the resilience of the human spirit of South Africa's people. The tears shed, and the voices choking with emotion, reminded us once more that the freedom we have gained we should never take for granted.

The injunction from that process and from the people of South Africa is that we should forgive but not forget. It is that leaders should emerge from all parties and from all walks of life to build the nation on the basis of hope for a future that we should create together.

Personally, I wish to pledge to you and to the nation as a whole that I will at all times be at your service, to the best of my ability, to contribute to the maturing of the small human miracle that all South Africans have conceived by their collective efforts.