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President Clinton Awards The Congressional Gold Medal To South African President Nelson Mandela

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The Briefing Room

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release September 23, 1998


Capitol Hill

11:10 A.M. EDT

PRESIDENT CLINTON: Thank you. Mr. Speaker, SenatorThurmond, Senator Daschle, Congressman Gephardt. RepresentativeHoughton, thank you for what you have done to make this day come topass. We are all in your debt. Congresswoman Waters, SenatorMoseley-Braun, Senator D'Amato. Congressman Dellums, thank you. Tothe members of Congress here present in both parties, members of theCabinet, administration; to Graca Macel, and all our friends fromSouth Africa who are here.

To my friend, President Mandela, Americans as one today,across all the lines that divide us, pay tribute to your struggle, toyour achievement, and to the inspiration you have given us to dobetter.

Others have said with profound conviction and eloquencewhat it is that we love and admire. Today we offer a man who hasreceived the Nobel Prize the highest honor within the gift of thiscountry. But if this day is to be more than a day in which we baskin his reflected glory, we should ask ourselves what gift can wereally give Nelson Mandela in return for 10,000 long days in jail.How can we truly redeem the life of Amy Biehl? How can we honor allof those who marched and worked with Nelson Mandela who are no longerstanding by his side?

After the President was released and began his publiccareer he said -- and I quote -- "The true test of our devotion tofreedom is just beginning." Whenever we are together he always talksabout unfinished business. He thanked me again yesterday for sayingsomething that, to be honest, I didn't even think about consciously.He said that the United States had now said not what can we do forSouth Africa, but what can we do with South Africa to build a commonfuture. So I ask all of you to think about just two or three things.

The work of our common struggle with people with whom weshare a common past and with whom we must build a common future inSouth Africa and throughout the African continent has only begun.President Mandela says that he has now gotten old and is leaving thescene. The truth is, he has gotten married and he feels young and heis tired of his public responsibilities and he wants to go forwardinto a brighter life. (Applause.)

Those of us who share his vision and lift him up inhonor today owe it to him to build a permanent partnership betweenAmericans and Africans -- for the education of our children, for thesolution of our problems, for the resolution of our differences, forthe elevation of what is best about us all. That is what we owe toNelson Mandela, to Amy Biehl and her family, and to all of those whohave sacrificed.

We also owe, for those 10,000 long days and the shiningexample since, the clear understanding that a man who has given up somuch of life can give us that even more important than the sacrificeyesterday is what you are doing with today and what you will do withtomorrow. For that is the thing that always humbles me when I amwith Nelson Mandela, the sense of serenity and peace and engagementin the moment. And so I say to all of you, we should not waste ourdays; we should make more of our days.

Mr. Mandela waited a very long time to actually dosomething for his people, rather than just to be something to keeptheir hearts and hopes alive. And every day I watch him that is whathe does. So should we.

And, finally, in forgiving those who imprisoned him hereminded us of the most fundamental lesson of all -- that in the endapartheid was a defeat of the heart, the mind, the spirit. It wasnot just a structure outside and jailhouses within which people werekept; it was a division of the mind and soul against itself. We oweit to Nelson Mandela not simply to give him this award, but to liveby the lesson he taught us and to tear down every last vestige ofapartheid in our own hearts -- everything that divides us, one fromanother. (Applause.)

For those of us who have been privileged to know thisremarkable man, no medal, no award, no fortune, nothing we could givehim could possibly compare to the gift he has given to us and to theworld. (Applause.) The only gift that is true recompense is tocontinue his mission, and to live by the power of his profound andwonderful example. (Applause.)

Now, as prescribed by the law, it is my privilege topresent the Congressional Gold Medal to President Nelson Mandela.

Mr. President. (Applause.)

PRESIDENT MANDELA: Thank you. President Clinton, Mr.Speaker, distinguished members of the Senate and the House, ladiesand gentlemen. There is one regret I've had throughout my life --that I never became the heavyweight boxing champion of the world.(Laughter and applause.) I would like my friend, Evander Holyfieldto know that today I feel like the heavyweight boxing champion of theworld. (Laughter and applause.)

It has been my great privilege to serve a people whosebondage to an inhuman system evoked the solidarity of all those wholove freedom and justice; a people whose triumph over the divisionsof racist doctrine has given new life to humanity's hope for a worldwithout hatred and discrimination. I am conscious that in bestowingthe Congressional Gold Medal upon me you are evoking these bondsbetween our nations, and paying tribute to the whole South Africannation for its achievements in realizing our shared ideals.(Applause.)

It is in that spirit that I humbly accept the award,aware at the same time of the great honor you do me by using me asthe vehicle of a unique distinction conferred by this hallowedinstitution of American democracy. As one who has dedicated his lifeto the pursuit of unity, I am moved by the consensus in your nation'sregard for the achievements of my people. And I feel a great pridein the fact that with a few citizens of other countries who havereceived this high honor, the name of an African is now added.(Applause.)

If today the people of South Africa are free at last toaddress their basic needs, if the countries of Southern Africa havethe opportunity to realize the potential for development throughcooperation, if Africa can devote all her energies and resources toher reconstruction, then it is not least because the American peopleidentified with and lent their support to the struggle to endapartheid, including critically, through action by this Congress. Itis also because of the actions of countless ordinary Americancitizens who responded to the call to join the worldwideanti-apartheid campaign, or who have since joined hands with us as westrive to make a living reality of our vision of a better life forall South Africans.

Among those we remember today is young Amy Biehl.(Applause.) She made our aspirations her own and lost her life inthe turmoil of our transition as the new South Africa struggled to beborn in the dying moments of apartheid. Through her our peoples havealso shared the pain of confronting a terrible past as we take thepath to reconciliation and healing of our nation.

In all these ways, the United States and its people haveplayed a significant role in the birth of our new nation. Since theachievement of democracy, the relations between our countries havebeen steadily growing. We appreciate the commitment to our futurethat was embodied in the decision to set up the Binational Commissionand that has informed the Commission's contribution to the systematicdevelopment of an all-around relationship between our countries.

The highly successful state visit by President Clintonto South Africa in March this year testified to the strength of ourrelationship. The warm welcome he received from our people speaks ofthe special place that the people of the United States occupy in thehearts of South Africans. The breadth of our relationship makes theUnited States an indispensable partner in bringing materialimprovement in the lives of our people, especially the poor, withoutwhich our democracy would remain a hollow shell and our stabilityfragile.

Yet, we need to remind ourselves that as much as we havemade progress in changing our people's lives for the better, theneeds that must be met in our country, our region, and our continentare immense. Though we are long past the blaming of our past for ourproblems, it does need to be acknowledged that the imbalances andinequities bequeathed to us by the history of Africa and South Africaare beyond our capacity to meet on our own. They call for apartnership of Africa and the United States, developing and developedcountries, in bringing about a transfer of resources and addressingthe imbalances and disparities which have been so dramaticallyexposed in the turmoil in the world's economic system.

In the common agenda that we seek to develop with youare such issues as increased aid, the rescheduling of the burden ofexternal debt, improved access to markets for the products ofdeveloping countries. It includes also the democratization of theinstitutions of international governance and the redirection of theworld's trade and financial system so that it better reflects theneeds of the poor.

The recognition that even the most powerful economy inthe world is not immune from the consequences of defects in theglobal economic system, so forcefully articulated recently by yourown President, indicates to us that the needs of developingcountries, and of Africa in particular, will have an understandinghearing in Washington. It adds to our confidence that the UnitedStates will be in the forefront of the supporters of Africa'sstruggle to bring about her relations.

Honorable members, I do not expect to be granted againthe privilege of addressing the elected representatives of the UnitedStates of America. I am proudly grateful to have been allowed to doso in the last months of my public life. Though the challenges atthe present time for our country, our continent, and the world aregreater than those we have already overcome, we face the future withconfidence. We do because despite the difficulties and the tensionsthat confront us, there is in all of us the capacity to touch oneanother's hearts across oceans and continents. The award with whichyou honor me today is an expression of the common humanity that bindsus, one person to another, nation to nation, and people of the northto people of the south.

I receive it with pride as a symbol of partnership forpeace, prosperity, and equity, as we enter the new millennium. Ithank you. (Applause.)

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