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Nelson Mandela Foundation

Title:
Acceptance speech at receiving the "Planet and Humanity Award" from the International Geography Unionís (IGU)

Item type: Address
Acquisition method: From hard drive
Unique ID: NMS1011


Notes

Description notes: 
Mr Mandela ad-libbed substantially from his prepared speech. Both speeches are reproduced. The first speech is a verbatim transcript and the second speech is the prepared one.


Presentation(s)

Occasion: International Geographical Union (IGU) Regional Congress and General Assembly in Durban, August 2002
Place: Durban International Convention Centre Durban South Africa
Date:  Sunday, August 04, 2002

Transcript

Verbatim speech

Madame President of the International Geographical Union, esteemed members of the International Geographical Union,

international visitors, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

My grandchildren, including Dr. Ben Ngubane, the Minister of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology, and Mike Sutcliffe there, keep reminding me that I have now lost power and influence and that I should remain with my grandchildren. I hope they will revise their opinion after this occasion, because a man who has lost power and influence cannot be honored by such an organization!

It is with a special sense of humility that we stand here to receive the Planet and Humanity Medal. We are aware of how

much correspondence and intervention it took to finally secure our presence here this afternoon. We need to indicate that the effort it entailed to finally conclude the discussions about our participation had nothing to do with an unwillingness to accept this prestigious award, or with an attitude of playing Ďhard to get,í as the colloquial saying goes. We ourselves, as

well as our office, long ago indicated to our Minister of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology, that we would be extremely

honored to receive the award. But the vagaries of leaving official office and having to establish a home as an unemployed pensioner contributed to the uncertainty of not knowing where and in what condition one would be when the event comes around at last. Employed people and those in office can never imagine how chaotically unscheduled the lives are of those who find themselves in the idleness of retirement and pension. We are very happy that out of that chaos, our office could contrive to have us here, at this most prestigious event and occasion.

I am a simple country boy, and I remain astounded and overawed by the awards and honors that people for some incomprehensible reason decide to bestow upon us. A colleague of mine often asks me how it is that I remember so distinctly people I have met, days on which events have occurred, and the details of occurrences. My consistent and

truthful reply to him is the following: I am a simple country boy, unacquainted with all of these marvellous and strange things

of the world. Every time I encounter people, things and events, they remain indelibly stuck on my overawed mind.

I left the country in April 1941, and many people may wonder why I call myself still a country boy. But although I left the country in 1941, the country has not left me. This visit will be such an occasion that I will never be able to forget, and it is furthermore an occasion that takes me back to concrete memories of, and present-day knowledge about my origins as a country boy.

When I go to the place and area of my birth, so often as I do, the changed geography of the place strikes me with a

force that I cannot escape. And that geography is not one of mere landscapes and topography, it is the geography of

the people. Where once there were trees and even forests, we now see barrenness.

I can no longer walk those distances, but until a few years ago, I would traverse the miles of land I knew as a child and young man, and one was saddened at the poverty of the people - poverty lived out in the geography of the place. It is the geography of women and young people, walking miles and miles to find the paltriest pieces of wood for fire to cook a mealie

meal and to keep a shelter warm.

The trees and forests were destroyed exactly because our people were so dependent upon them as sources of energy. And in turn, people are today cold and in want of energy for cooking, cleaning and basic comforts because the trees and forests are destroyed. I walked and I saw in the land of my youth women walking, but walking in poverty and destitution. The streams of my youth that were places of beauty and inspiration were now clogged up and dirty. I saw the descendants of the mothers of our people bowing down to secure with their bare hands the cleanest of the dirty and dangerous water in those streams and pools.

How would they get that water clean enough to use it for household purposes, I often asked them. They would boil it,

they reply, if only they had wood or other sources of energy to do so. I was taking a walk a few days ago in my country village and I came across a stream which was polluted and where the water was moving very slowly. And then I found three women fetching water. And I asked them, "What are you going to do with that water?" They said, "We are

going to use it for domestic purposes. We are going to cook with it, drink it, clean ourselves." I said, "But the water has tadpoles moving around, it has algae, this green stuff that covers stagnant water." And I said, "Up there, you see

people washing their bodies and their clothes. That water comes here." They said, "That is our life." And then I asked

this question: "What do you do with this water before you use it?" They said, "We do nothing. We use it as it is."

And then I asked a foolish question. I was born in that area and I am supposed to know the conditions, but for me

twenty-seven years of prison life was sufficient to make me forget about the living conditions of my people. I then asked the question, "Donít you boil it before you use it?" They all exclaimed simultaneously, "Boil it with what? Look up, right up to the horizon, there is not a single tree. We have no electricity. With what must we boil it? We use cow dung, and that gives more smoke than heat." I felt humiliated because I should never have asked that question, but I did. The alternatives seem clear: use what they have and suffer the consequences. And the consequences were and remain cholera and other environmentally induced diseases.

On the ninth of May I was in New York and I met one of the most powerful businessmen in the world, who has supported us in the past, and built a school and a clinic. And when I formed the [Nelson Mandela] Foundation, he invited me and my wife to his place in the United States of America. He then gave my wife five million dollars, and gave me ten million. And his partner gave my wife seven-and-a-half million, gave me seven-and-a-half million too [for charity work in South Africa]. Now I said to him, "I want you to build forty-five schools in the countryside in South Africa, because there are vast areas in the

countryside where there is no school, where there is no clinic."

He said, "No, I concentrate on health. I propose building so many clinics in your country." And we had an argument.

I said, "No, clinics are alright, but in the countryside the situation, the thinking of the people is that the sangomas are

more reliable than the clinics, modern clinics. We therefore want an educated core of people who are going to campaign in the countryside to say, "these clinics are much better than sangomas." So thatís why I want you to build your forty-five schools." We couldnít resolve the argument. He said, "No, I am prepared to respond, but only in the field of health." "Well," I said, "let me go back and go to consult."

I came back home and I consulted the Minister of Education, Professor Kader Asmal. He overruled both of us, and he

said, "No, there are many schools throughout the country without water, without sewerage, where the school children have to go to the veld to relieve themselves. They have nothing to clean themselves so they use grass and then their fingers are soiled. With soiled hands, without washing because there is no water, they go and handle food: bread, sandwiches, hard mealie pap, meat, fruit, and in that way cholera spreads." And then Professor Asmal said, "What we want is the installation of water in all the schools. And itís going to cost a lot of money." Well, I have written to the businessman to say this is what the man who knows this field thinks we should do. No schools, no new schools, no new clinics, but water for the schools that are there, because that will go a long way in preventing cholera.

These conditions I have seen repeated all over our country, our continent, and the developing world.

We accept the honour you bestow upon us today, not as an honour in the usual sense of that word. We accept it as an acknowledgement of our common lack of honor, as humanity, for the manner in which we are destroying our mother planet and the chances for our children to have a sustainable future on earth. Your medal is, however, also a source of encouragement to take up and continue the struggle for a world in which we can live in dignity, not only among ourselves as human beings, but also as human beings in relationship with our natural environment.

South Africa will soon be hosting the all-important World Summit for Sustainable Development. As your Union gathers here and now, it is part of the challenge to our country, its leaders, and its people to be seen to be in the vanguard of the modern-day struggle to render our environment a liveable and sustainable one for our children.

I try to live by the simple precept of making the world one in which there is a better life for all, particularly the poor, marginalized, and vulnerable. A devastated geography makes for a devastated people. It renders people vulnerable, and the traditionally vulnerable - women, children, the aged and disabled - will always be bearing the brunt of that suffering.

Let us stand together to make of our world a sustainable source for our future as humanity on this planet.

I thank you.Ē


Prepared speech

President of the International Geographic Union

Esteemed Members of the Union

Our International Visitors

Distinguished Guests

Ladies and Gentlemen

It is with a special sense of humility that we stand here to receive this Planet and Humanity Award.

We are aware of how much correspondence and interventions it took to finally secure our presence here this afternoon.

We need to indicate that the efforts it entailed to finally conclude the discussions about our participation had nothing to do with an unwillingness to accept this prestigious award or an attitude of playing hard to get, as the colloquial saying goes.

We ourselves as well as our office long ago indicated to our Minister of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology that we would be extremely honoured to receive the award.

The vagaries of leaving official office and having to establish home as an unemployed pensioner contributed to the uncertainty of not knowing where and in what condition one would be when the event comes around at last.

Employed people and those in office can never imagine how chaotically unscheduled the lives are of those who find themselves in the idleness of retirement and pension. We are very happy that out of that chaos our office could contrive to have us here at this most prestigious event and occasion.

I am a simple country boy and I remain astounded and overawed by the awards and honours that people for some incomprehensible reason decide to bestow upon us.

A colleague of mine often asks me how it is that I remember so distinctly people I have met, dates on which events had occurred and the details of occurrences. My consistent and truthful reply to him is the following: I am a simple country boy, unacquainted with all of these marvellous and strange things of the world. Every time I encounter people, things and events they remain indelibly stuck on my over-awed mind.

This evening will be such an occasion that I will never be able to forget. And it is, furthermore, an occasion that takes me back to concrete memories of and present day knowledge about my origins as a country boy.

When I go to the place and area of my birth - as I often do - the changed geography of the place strikes me with a force that I cannot escape. And that geography is not one of mere landscape and topography; it is the geography of people.

Where once there were trees and even forests, we now see barrenness. I can no longer walk those distances but until a few years ago I would traverse the miles of land I knew as a child and young man. And one was saddened at the poverty of the people, poverty lived out in the geography of the place.

It is the geography of women and young people walking miles and miles to find the paltriest pieces of wood for fires to cook a measly meal and to keep a shelter warm. The trees and forests were destroyed exactly because poor people were so dependent upon them as sources of energy. And, in turn, people are today cold and in want of energy for cooking, cleaning and basic comfort because the trees and forests are destroyed.

I walked and I saw in the land of my youth women walking - but walking in poverty and destitution. The streams of my youth that were places of beauty and inspiration were now clogged up and dirty. I saw the descendants of the mothers of our people bowing down to secure with their bare hands the cleanest of the dirty and dangerous water in those streams and pools.

How would they get that water clean enough to use it for household purposes, I often asked them. They would boil it, they replied, if only they had wood or other sources of energy to do so.

The alternative seemed clear. Use what they had, and suffer the consequences. And the consequences were and remain cholera and other environmentally induced diseases.

These conditions I have seen repeated all over our country, our continent and the developing world.

We accept the honour you bestow upon us today not as an honour in the usual sense of that word. We accept it as an acknowledgement of our common lack of honour as humanity for the manner in which we are destroying our Mother Planet and the chances for our children to have a sustainable future on earth.

Your award is, however, also a source of encouragement to take up and continue the struggle for a world in which we can live in dignity not only amongst ourselves as human beings, but also as human beings in relationship with our natural environment.

South Africa will soon be hosting the all-important World Summit for Sustainable Development. That your Union gather here now is part of the challenge to our country, its leaders and its people to be seen to be in the vanguard of the modern-day struggle to render our environment a liveable and sustainable one for our children.

I try to live by the simple precept of making the world one in which there is a better life for all, particularly the poor, marginalised and vulnerable.

A devastated geography makes for a devastated people. It renders people vulnerable; and the traditionally vulnerable - women, children, the aged and disabled - will always be bearing the brunt of that suffering.

Let us stand together to make of our world a sustainable source for our future as humanity on this planet.

I thank you.



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