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European Commission

José Manuel Durão Barroso

President of the European Commission

Speech by President Barroso at the University of Cape Town: "A gift to South Africa, an inspiration to the World"

University of Cape Town/Cape Town

19 July 2013

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is for me an honour and great satisfaction to be able to speak to you today here in the University of Cape Town, the oldest and one of South Africa's most prestigious Universities.

A University which carries the motto of Spes Bona, Good Hope, that plunges us back into the times of where the first globalisation started, where the North met the South and when the Cape was the maritime entry point from the West to the East.

But hope is also a word with a powerful weight and significance in a country where so many people for so many years had to wait until becoming citizens in their entire right, until the country could reunite again under one flag, until South Africa became "a rainbow nation, at peace with itself and with the world".

And it is with a profound feeling of respect and gratitude that I find myself in South Africa these days, coinciding with Mandela’s day, and I am able to pay this public tribute to the man who made it all possible.

Like others from all corners of the world who held government positions in their own countries at the time, I had the great honour and the noble pleasure of meeting Nelson Mandela.

I first met him twenty-three years ago at the time of Namibia's independence.

This was indeed in the period between Mandela's release from Victor Verster prison on the 11th of February 1990 and his inauguration as the first President of democratic South Africa on the 10th of May 1994 witch I also had the honour and pleasure of attending representing my country as Foreign Minister.

Through those short and intense years we all knew that at the end of negotiations between the ANC led by Nelson Mandela and the National Party led by Frederik de Klerk, once the broad institutional and political framework of the reformed country had been set; free and fair elections would be held and Nelson Mandela would become President of South Africa.

But the odds against it all coming out well in the end were enormous.

It is true that the general environment had never been so propitious to the demise of apartheid.

The Soviet Union was collapsing: Nelson Mandela was freed three months after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Adopted almost universally, sanctions against the regime were biting.

Nelson Mandela and the leaders of the apartheid regime had talked for some time while he was still in jail.

Under the stewardship of Cyril Ramaphosa and Roelf Meyer, good people were conducting the talks on both sides.

President De Klerk, as he then was, courageously grasped the role history had allotted to him.

But the grievances accumulated over the years were so many and so deep that without Nelson Mandela the peaceful transition from oppression to freedom and the almost twenty years of democratic life that have lapsed since the first free and fair elections in the country might never have been.

South Africa was blessed by Nelson Mandela's vision and by his courage to live up to it. His mind was clear and being the man he is he found he had to share his wisdom and his hopes with his brothers and sisters whatever the cost.

His was a long journey - a Long Walk to Freedom - and he wrote about it beautifully.

Allow me to quote him extensively as his words are an endless source of inspiration.

"… the hunger for my own freedom became the greater hunger for the freedom of my people. It was this desire for the freedom of my people to live their life with dignity and self-respect that animated my life […] I am no more virtuous or self-sacrificing than the next man, but I found that I could not even enjoy the poor and limited freedoms I was allowed when I knew my people were not free. Freedom is indivisible; the chains on any one of my people were the chains on all of them, the chains on all of my people were the chains on me".

" I knew as well as I knew anything that the oppressor must be liberated just as surely as the oppressed. (…) The oppressed and the oppressor alike are robbed of their humanity".

"(…) I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill.

That long walk will continue through the example of Nelson Mandela's life that will loom large well beyond the borders of his beloved country and of the whole African continent.

It will be a beacon of rightness, courage and magnanimity for as long as the government of men by men will last.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In Europe, where I come from, lie some of the oldest democracies in the world.

But we Europeans cannot and must not forget 2,000 years of history when war was a normal and frequent fact of life and crimes against humanity were committed.

For several decades now all that has seemed consigned to a remote past.

In Western Europe, peace among countries and democracy within each country have prevailed since the end of the Second World War.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, Central and Eastern European countries have joined us in the European Union.

We have just welcomed a new member from the Western Balkans, Croatia. And others aim to accede to our Union.

A Europe long devastated by wars has been transformed into a peaceful Europe.

A Europe long divided has been reunited.

The claim of the peoples of Europe for their fundamental rights to freedom, to dignity and to justice has overcome oppression and humiliation.

It has been anchored in a community of destiny where diversity and unity are both legitimate and guaranteed.

A community grounded on law. A Union based on mutual consent rather than force.

Today Europeans are bound in their belief in supremacy of shared values and principles: democracy, human rights, freedom, justice and solidarity.

In national capitals - large and small - and in the European institutions set in Brussels, Strasbourg, Luxemburg, Frankfurt, constant tending of the democratic process takes place.

Like the tending of a garden - sowing, watering, weeding, pruning - that tending is mandatory, least the garden gives way to an unwieldy and hostile jungle.

And we the citizens of Europe must be attentive. We cannot accept erosions of our liberties. We must stand firm in the protection of our values.

A vibrant democracy means a lot of hard work and an unwavering commitment.

Last year, the European Union was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of its long hauled contribution to peace and democracy in Europe. In Oslo, I was humbled to see our Union joining so many illustrious predecessors, among them Nelson Mandela and Frederik de Klerk, and Desmond Tutu, another great South African personality and moral authority that I had the honour and pleasure to meet today just before coming to this University.

EU member states have now been through almost half a century of peace (a first in Europe, ever), unprecedented prosperity and uninterrupted democratic governance.

Yet today the secret that Nelson Mandela discovered decades ago has a special resonance in Europe: after climbing that great hill we find many more hills to climb.

A financial, economic and social crisis is turning into a crisis of confidence.

Recent opinion polls in many of our Member States show waning public support for politics in general. And this is also true in other parts of the world as we can see from the people who come into the streets to demonstrate and express their anger. We should pay more attention to what these moments may mean.

Populist discourses call for protectionism and nationalism whereas more than ever we need to remain open and united.

What can be done?

I think that all of us, including European politicians, in government, in opposition or in the European institutions could take a leaf from Nelson Mandela's book.

None of us, political leaders of today's globalized world, can hope to emulate Nelson Mandela.

But even if we cannot emulate him we can be inspired by him, learn from his example and study what he did. For he has become, borrowing an expression of the poet William Butler Yeats, a monument of magnificence.

Like in most of what he said and did concerning the government of men, the full strength of his observation shines through, when one remembers the width and depth of his vision and the single-mindedness of his inexhaustible determination.

The example of Nelson Mandela is of unique value.

It teaches us all in every corner of the world that to prevail in the end one must have a clear view of what one wants, that one must share that view with one's people not to teach them but to learn from them, that one is their servant.

And that a political vision is fundamentally an ethical vision.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The long journey of the new South Africa could not be continued without Mandela's vision, spirit and mission being embraced by the rest of the nation.

As Nelson Mandela said during his inauguration’s speech "Our daily deeds as ordinary South Africans must produce an actual South African reality that will reinforce humanity’s belief in justice, strengthen its confidence in the nobility of the human soul and sustain all our hopes for a glorious life for all".

It is therefore incumbent on all South African to continue building on the foundations left by Nelson Mandela. His legacy to the world is intimately linked with South Africa’s legacy and role as a country. Much has been achieved in these almost 20 years of democracy. South Africa has developed strong democratic institutions and a large part of the South Africans have improved their living conditions. Water, electricity, sanitation, school enrolment have all went up.

However important challenges still lie ahead. The same challenges in nature, even if of a different magnitude, we all face throughout the world: to achieve freer, more tolerant, more prosperous and more inclusive societies.

This is a task that only each country and each nation can achieve. However the great lesson of today’s world is that this cannot be achieved in isolation. We are all interdependent. Even the greatest countries are not immune to what happens in their neighbourhood and further away in the world.

This is also my firm belief and that of the European Union. Only through global cooperation we can overcome the problems that are common to us all.

These are the principles that inspire us in our relations with the partners in the world. This is what guides us in our dialogue with South Africa, a country which has gained important regional and global influence.

So, our relation is important not just because the European Union is South Africa’s largest trading partner; or because we are South Africa’s largest source of foreign direct investment and neither because we are South Africa’s largest development partner.

Our relation is important and special because we embrace the same principles and values that were at the heart of the foundation of the new South Africa. And this is something we should all cherish and value.

Ladies and gentlemen,

As far as one can see the future, Nelson Mandela will keep being evoked whenever human dignity will be at risk - and in many other occasions.

His long life and his unparalleled political experience lit fires of hope in mankind that will accompany us for a long time.

More than ever, in the age of globalization and growing mutual interdependence, we should nurture his legacy and strive to live up to it. As he said and showed throughout his life: "the common ground is greater and more enduring than the differences that divide".

I thank you for your attention.


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