THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT AT CONGRESSIONAL BLACK CAUCUS LUNCHEON
State Dining Room
12:46 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Mr. President, members of Congress, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the White House. Welcome to this occasion marking what Martin Luther King once called "a joyous daybreak to end the long night of captivity."
Most of you in this room, through your prayers and your actions, helped to keep freedom's flame lit during the dark night of apartheid in South Africa. Now here we are, South Africa is free; Nelson Mandela is President. Some dreams really do come true. (Applause.)
We are also here because of our own ongoing struggle against racism and intolerance and division. Over the years South Africans and Americans have shared idea and drawn strength from one another. The NAACP was founded just a few months before the African National Congress, and close bonds were forged between two of the greatest leaders our two countries have produced, Nobel Prize winners Albert Luthuli and Dr. King.
Over the years Americans raised a powerful, unified voice for justice and change in South Africa that would not go unheard. A diverse coalition spread the word -- churches, universities, human rights organizations; ultimately, banks, businesses, cities and state governments. The tools they wielded -- cultural and economic sanctions, divestment, international isolation -- ultimately helped to force the apartheid regime to end more than four decades of repression.
At the center of this movement stood the Congressional Black Caucus. The Caucus helped to raise the consciousness of all Americans to the terrible injustice of apartheid, and it consistently acted upon a deep-rooted commitment to South Africa's freedom. Representative Ron Dellums introduced the first anti-apartheid legislation in 1972, the year the CBC was founded. It took 14 more years, the unbending will of the CBC, and, ultimately, the willingness of Congress to override a veto. But you persevered, you prevailed. And today we can say, South Africa's triumph is your triumph, too. And we thank you. (Applause.)
Now that freedom and democracy have won, they must be nurtured. And that is the ultimate purpose of President Mandela's visit to us in the United States. Working with Congress and the private sector, our administration is helping to promote trade with and investment in South Africa, not only for the good of South Africans, but in our own interests as well. The private sector which made its weight felt in the fight against apartheid must now lead the effort to build a prosperous South Africa. This is not, I say again, about charity; it's about opportunity -- opportunity for South Africans, opportunity for Americans.
We must also help South Africa to create jobs, housing and schools; to improve health care; to fight illiteracy and poverty. These are challenges with which the new South Africa must contend, now and vigorously. And rising to meet them, South Africa will become a model for all of Africa.
Let me add that our concern must not end with South Africa. For all its problems, Africa is a continent of tremendous promise and progress. I reject the "Afro pessimism," as it's been called, that is often expressed around this city. That's why we'll provide some $3 billion to Africa this year, directly and through international organizations, for economic assistance and humanitarian relief; why we've had the first-ever conference on Africa recently that many of you have participated in; why we're working through sustainable development and debt relief, through peacekeeping and conflict resolution, through diplomacy and military conversion, to take advantage of the opportunities for democracy and development on the African continent.
We owe our new partnership with South Africa to the man I have been privileged to host in Washington this week. President Mandela, by the simple justice of your cause and the powerful force of your example, you have inspired millions of Americans and millions more throughout the world.
We are in your debt not only for what you have done for South Africa, but for what you have done for us; for what you have made us believe again about what we might become and what we might do here at home.
Let me close with the words of the poet, Jennifer Davis, which she wrote in tribute to Albert Luthuli. They apply equally well to you. "Bounded, you gave us knowledge of freedom; silenced, you taught us how to speak."
President Mandela. (Applause.)
PRESIDENT MANDELA: Thank you.
Mr. President, members of the Congressional Black Caucus, brothers and sisters. In view of the complimentary remarks that have been made by my President here, yesterday and today, I think I should tell a story which my compatriots are very familiar with, just to put the comments of the President in context.
A day or two before my 75th birthday, I heard that there was a young lady of about four at the gate who wanted to see me on something important. I said to security, bring her in. She came in. She did not knock, she did not greet, and she said, "How old are you?" (Laughter.) I said, "I can't remember --(laughter) -- but I was born long, long ago." She said, "Yesterday?" I said, "No, longer than that." "A year ago?" I said, "Much longer than that." And she said, "But how long?" I said, "Well, I've told you that I can't remember, but it was a long time." Then she suddenly switched and said, "Why did you go to jail?" I said, "I didn't go there before because I liked. I was sent there by certain people who don't like me."
And she said, "How long did you remain there?" -- and again, a day or a year and so on. And my answer was, "I do not know." But she insisted, "How long?" I say, "Well, I have already told you that I don't know, but I remained there for a long time." She said, "You are a very stupid old man." (Laughter.) And having said that, she continued conversing with me about everything under the sun as if she had paid me a compliment. (Laughter.) And this was not the first time I caught a bruising from a young lady. (Laughter.)
When I came out of jail, I went to Harare, and I became friendly with a young lady of about 12. And one day we were conversing, and she decided to take me to into confidence about what is being said about me. She says, "Do you know what the children in my school say about you?" I say, "No, I don't." She says, "They say when you were young, you were handsome -- (laughter) -- but that you are now old and ugly." (Laughter.) And I said, "Well, I'm very happy that at least they know that I was not always so ugly." (Laughter). She says, "No, they're not talking about the past, they say now you are ugly." (Laughter.)
So that is -- I think that it is very proper to put the remarks of the President in that context. (Laughter.)
Mr. President, it is a great honor and a source of joy for me to be with you today. For us to share views with the Congressional Black Caucus is to speak not to strangers or mere supporters; we speak to you as part of us, and we as part of you -- friends, colleagues, brothers, and sisters in the joint effort to create a world in which discrimination on the basis of race or gender is a thing of the past.
It is, therefore, with a sense of pride that we are able to say to you, on behalf of all our people: Dear colleagues, South Africa is now in the hands of the people. We are free at last. (Applause.)
Our common origins and our similar bitter experiences in the centuries and decades gone by have so decreed that we should endure our pains and celebrate our joy as one. The victory of democracy in South Africa is, therefore, your victory. It is the common achievement of all humanity.
We wish to pay tribute to the Congressional Black Caucus and all those you represent for your unwavering support in the struggle to eradicate apartheid. The role which the Caucus played in assisting to bring about a nonracial and democratic South Africa will always be highly cherished by our people.
I must add that to have a strong leader, highly competent, but with a common touch, who worries himself about the needs of the people is a species that is very rare in the world today. In our President here we have a man who is endowed with such virtues, with such qualities, and the world is rich as long as he remains the President of this country. (Applause.)
Many of you here today were in South Africa last April and May to witness the elections and join us in celebrating the birth of our nation. It is fitting at a moment like this to pay tribute to the millions who sacrificed in various ways to secure a democratic, nonracial and nonsexist South Africa. This scroll of honor includes such giants such as W.E.B. DuBois, Nkwame Nkurumah, Eduardo Mondlane, Albert Luthuli, Martin Luther King, Jr., Oliver Tambo, and many more. However, the most fitting tribute to these leaders who paved the way for our small South African miracle is to ensure that we build the better life for which they struggled.
We have traversed at the first phase of South Africa's transition with a great measure of success. The Government of National Unity has made significant strides in laying the foundations for the two interrelated tasks that we face -- national reconciliation and reconstruction; nation building and development. Perhaps the greatest achievement of this era is the ease with which various communities have found one another, building an unprecedented national consensus around these crucial tasks.
These are, however, only the first steps in the long journey to South Africa's national redemption. The democratic movement does have in its hands elements of democratic power. But a great deal needs to be done to ensure that democracy becomes a living reality for all citizens. This entails, among other challenges, firstly, setting democratic provincial and local structures on an operational footing; second, restructuring the public service, security forces, and the judiciary to be representative of the population as a whole, and to serve the cause of democracy. And, thirdly, intensifying the process of implementing measures aimed at improving the lives especially of black people.
Digressing a bit here, you will notice that my delegation there are more whites than blacks. All members of my delegation, including those whites, are men of high -- men and women of high integrity. I rely on them, and I'll continue to rely on them, because they are patriotic; they want to serve and to die for South Africa. But in a country where the overwhelming majority of the population are black, it is unacceptable that government institutions should be dominated by one racial group. We have to change that because, as long as that situation remains, the masses of the people will not be able to believe us when we say there has been a change in the system of government -- (applause.)
And we can effect that change without questioning the integrity of those members of our white community who are in these institutions.
The government does appreciate, as you will, that the success of democracy itself depends on progress we achieve in addressing the material needs of our people. The reconstruction and development program is an all-encompassing process of transforming our society in order to deal with the legacy of deprivation and poverty, which apartheid has left us.
The scale of this process and our commitment to achieving it on the basis of fiscal constraint and prudent use of natural resources has meant that we have had to spend some months in careful preparation and planning. But we are poised to begin the reconstruction of our country in earnest, and the first steps have already been taken. In this regard, we are grateful for the aid which we are getting from the United States. We are also learning very keenly from your experiences over the decades, but we are mindful of the fact that, ultimately, we must rely on our own resources and on actual investment to provide what is needed for reconstruction and development.
In the process, we need together to challenge the lingering skepticism in some quarters concerning the determination and capacity of South Africa's leaders to manage the political and economic transition. More often, this pessimism draws on the history of the conflict which our country has left behind. In this regard, we shall rely on the Congressional Black Caucus to help promote South Africa for its objective qualities, its natural beauty, its sophisticated infrastructure and financial system, and its realistic policies to ensure economic growth and equity.
The achievements we have made in South Africa have opened the way at last for Africa as a continent to build a new, allinclusive partnership based on democracy, human rights and social justice. South Africa is prepared to play her role in ensuring that the African renaissance becomes a reality as we step into the next century. It means promoting the cause of human rights, proactive measures to eliminate debilitating conflict, and cooperation on the economic front, taking into account the need for sound and sustainable policies.
These should be our goals. We intend to do this as part of the Organization of African Unity and other continental and regional institutions of which we have become full and active members.
Before I conclude, Mr. President, let me again emphasize the context in which your remarks must be understood. I had occasion to visit a game park somewhere in our country. And as I was preparing to leave, three ladies walked up to me and said, "We're very happy that we have at last had the opportunity to shake hands with you. We were worried. We thought that we wouldn't get a chance." And they said a number of things which made me feel that I'm somebody important. (Laughter.) Then we shook hands and they said good-bye, and they started walking away. But then they turned around and asked the question: "By the way, who are you?" (Laughter.)
So, Mr. President, in my own country, I'm not known so so very well. (Laughter.)
In conclusion, Mr. President, I wish again to refer to the good relations that we have developed over the years with the Congressional Black Caucus, the U.S. Congress and the administration. May this partnership grow from strength to strength in our common endeavors for justice, economic prosperity, and a healthier environment for all our people.
I thank you. (Applause.)
END1:13 P.M. EDT