Address by Nelson Mandela at farewell banquet in his honour hosted by President Thabo Mbeki, Pretoria
16 June 1999
Your Royal Highnesses;
Ladies and Gentlemen.
When we chose the date of South Africa’s second democratic elections, we were guided by many practical and legal considerations. It was however a matter of chance that it fell on a date which dictated that we should inaugurate our new President on our national Youth Day.
Five years ago the world welcomed South Africa to the community of free nations. Leaders of the international community joined us here in Pretoria in the dawn of our freedom.
Little did we think that five years later we would again gather in Pretoria, with reason to celebrate South African democracy again. Conventional wisdom assured us that second democratic elections are but second-grade affairs, as the so-called normality of political apathy sets in.
And yet the winding queues of patient voters that in 1994 symbolised the determination of South Africa’s people to govern themselves, re-appeared in 1999, symbolising their determination to continue doing so after five testing years of transition and struggle for change.
Our people have therefore confounded the prophets of doom and the sceptics, not once but twice. And we are confident that they will do it over and over again.
For my part, I would want to say how privileged I feel to have participated in the achievements of our nation during the past five years. I have been humbled to have been honoured, as their representative, in the name of the principles for which our people stood. It has been an inspiration to serve a nation that has helped renew the world’s hope that all conflicts, no matter how intractable, are capable of peaceful resolution.
It is also a matter of great pride that the international community is represented in such strength to join us in welcoming our new President, Thabo Mbeki. Today a worthy son of Albert Luthuli and Oliver Tambo takes his place amongst the new generation of leaders. It is not merely the passing of the baton from one President to another, a transition from the so-called Mandela era to the Mbeki era, but indeed a significant changing of generations. This makes the choice of Youth Day for this installation even more meaningful.
And so it is that on this day, we say U’amkelekile Mbeki! Welcome to President Thabo Mbeki and Zanele Mbeki!
The warmth I have experienced today, and indeed wherever I have been inside and outside our country during the past months, leads me to welcome the new status I have occupied since this morning.
For you do make me feel at home: as part of an international community of men and women who have chosen the world as the theatre of their operations in pursuit of justice; and as an ordinary citizen of a nation that has won the world’s admiration not by prowess in war but by the dedication of its people of every background to celebrate their humanity.
It is no easy thing to rest while millions still bear the burden of poverty and insecurity.
But my days will be filled with contentment to the extent that hands are joined across social divides and national boundaries, between continents and over oceans, to give effect to that common humanity in whose name we have together made the long walk to where we are today.
Though I shall not be seen as much as I have been, I shall be amongst you and with you as we enter the African century; working together to make a reality of our hopes for a better world.
I thank you.