'To close the circle, let our peoples join hands'

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The Independent Online
This is the edited text of President Nelson Mandela's speech to both Houses of Parliament yesterday:

My lords, ladies and gentlemen. It is with a deep sense of humility that we stand here today to address the historic Houses of Parliament of the United Kingdom.

This rare honour you have extended to a foreigner speaks to the great age, the extent and the warmth of the relations between our two peoples.

Eight decades ago, my predecessors in the leadership of the African National Congress came to these venerable Houses to say to the government and the legislators of the time that they, the patricians, should come to the aid of the poor citizens.

With no pikes to accompany them, because the British armies had defeated them, they spoke eloquently and passionately of the need for the colonial power to treat them as human beings equal to the 1820 settlers who wafted down from Europe.

As eloquently and passionately, the British rulers said they could not and would not amend their agenda with regard to South Africa, to address the interests of that section of our population which was not white.

Despite that rebuff and the terrible cost we had to bear as a consequence, we return to this honoured place neither with pikes, nor a desire for revenge, nor, even, a plea to your distinguished selves to assuage our hunger for bread.

We come to you as friends, bearing with us warm greetings from the hearts across the oceans.

Even in the most lifeless of historical sessions, two hundred years would be too long a period for the force of change not to break free. Change has come to our country too, perhaps at last, but bringing with it joy, the promise of a better future and a protracted festival of hope across the globe.

Racism is a blight on the human conscience. The idea that any people can be inferior to another, to the point where those who consider themselves superior define and treat the rest as sub-human, denies the humanity even of those who elevate themselves to the status of gods.

It seems to us that, as the ordinary people of the world came to understand the real nature of the system of apartheid, they decided that they would not permit their response to that question should be to hang their heads in shame.

We take this opportunity once more to pay tribute to the millions of Britons who, through the years, stood up to say: No to apartheid!

Our emancipation is their reward. We know that the freedom we enjoy is a richly textured gift handcrafted by ordinary folk who would not allow their own dignity as human beings to be insulted.

No society emerging out of the grand disaster represented by the apartheid system could avoid carrying the blemishes of its past.

The first founding stone of our new country is national reconciliation and national unity. The fact that it has settled in its new mortar needs no advertising. Our second founding stone is the establishment of a democratic system which ensures that all citizens have an equal right and an equal possibility to determine their future. It prohibits the option of tyranny and dictatorship and it guarantees the fundamental human rights of all our people.

Our third founding stone must surely be that we end the enormous race and gender disparities in wealth, income and opportunity we have inherited from our past and whose continued impact on our society necessarily subtracts from the achievement of the goals of national unity and reconciliation.

Here we are confronted with a protracted struggle which is intimately bound up with our fourth founding stone, this being the rebuilding and modernisation of our economy and setting it on a high sustainable growth path to end poverty, unemployment and backwardness.

As important a founding stone as the rest is the fact that we are an African country. With all our colours and races combined in one nation we are African people. The successes we seek and must achieve in politics, the economy and social development, are African successes which must be part of an African renaissance.

They are integrated within a process which must lift and banish the clouds of despair that continue to cast a dark shadow over our continent.

For centuries, an ancient continent has bled from many gaping sword wounds. It lost millions of its most able sons and daughters to a trade in slaves. To this day we continue to lose some of the best among ourselves because the lights in the developed world shine brighter.

An ancient continent disgorged into the hands of foreigners what lay in its bowels and in the fertility of its soils.

The continent bleeds still, struggling to service a foreign debt it can neither afford, nor afford to repudiate.

The louder and more piercing the cries of despair - even when that despair results in half-a-million dead in Rwanda - the more these cries seem to encourage an instinctive reaction to raise our hands so as to close our eyes and ears.

Both of us have been part of this unfolding tragedy, watching, waiting, troubled, not knowing what beast born of this superhuman suffering, slouches towards Bethlehem to be born, to borrow the words of an Irish poet.

But this we must know, that none of us can insulate ourselves from so catastrophic a scale of human suffering.

In the end, the cries of the infant who dies because of hunger or because a machete has slit open its stomach, will penetrate the noises of the modern city to say: Am I not human too?

To close the circle, let our peoples, the ones formerly poor citizens and the others good patricians - politicians, business people, educators, health workers, scientists, engineers and technicians, sportspeople and entertainers, activists for charitable relief - join hands to build on what we have achieved together and help construct a humane African world, whose emergence will say a new universal order is born in which we are each our brothers' keeper.

And so let that outcome, as we close a chapter of two centuries and open a millennium, herald the advent of a glorious summer of a partnership for freedom, peace, prosperity and friendship. Thank you.