What a life!
Resistance fighter, political prisoner – and the first President of a democratic South Africa.
And what a life’s work!
His long fight for a free, equal and democratic South Africa remains unforgotten. His international mediation initiatives made him a bridge builder.
His tireless efforts in the service of peace and freedom continue to inspire people around the world to this day.
Nelson Mandela would have celebrated his 100th birthday this year, and, as we have just heard, his name stands for even more – it is a symbol of universal values.
Mandela is omnipresent also in his native South Africa. I had an opportunity to gain a first hand impression of this myself in Johannesburg just a few months ago.
On a giant wall of a house, he – as a boxer – stands guard over the city in black and white graffiti.
His former house in Soweto, which I had the chance to visit, is an attraction for all those who want to find out more about Nelson Mandela. Who want to understand who Madiba was; people who want to be close to him, even today.
And yet, Nelson Mandela himself always refused, indeed abhorred, being regarded and treated not like a human being, but like a saint.
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is important that we call to mind the great person and statesman Nelson Mandela in this year marking the centenary of his birth.
In so doing, we also pay tribute to our special partnership not only with South Africa, but also with the entire African continent.
1990 was the year in which Madiba regained his freedom after a long period of imprisonment. That same year, our country peacefully overcame decades of division.
We share the memory of this year as a year of hope.
German unity and Nelson Mandela’s release –
moments that seemed impossible for decades and then, when they came, became moments in which everything suddenly seemed possible.
The best moments in the history of our peoples are thus inextricably linked.
The fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War created one of the conditions for the ANC to be recognised by the West and respected as a legitimate fighter for the end of apartheid in South Africa.
Germany and South Africa became role models thanks to peaceful change, the fall of the Berlin Wall and Mandela’s release.
We saw that history can also end well.
For Nelson Mandela himself, as he writes in his autobiography “Long Walk to Freedom”, the year 1994 was to become the destination for his journey to freedom. The year in which, at the age of 75, he became the first South African President elected by the entire people.
He wrote that this was where his journey to freedom ended, but he also spoke of a new journey that was beginning.
A journey to establish a new South Africa, which he believed was poised to move forward as a united nation in order to create a common, a better, future.
There are parallels here, too: like in South Africa, we are continuing in Germany to work to overcome differences and division.
Mandela would have put it thus: “After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.”
Despite the experience of 27 years of imprisonment, hardship and loss, he knew that violence, racism and oppression can be overcome peacefully. That forgiveness and reconciliation are possible.
What would Nelson Mandela say today when looking at the world? What journey would he send us on?
We can only hazard a guess here.
Perhaps we can glean our first clue from his personality.
At any rate, he never made a secret of his weaknesses – and continued into old age to endeavour to become a better person.
Secondly, like almost no other, Mandela embodied what is written in our Basic Law, namely that human dignity shall be inviolable. No matter the colour of our skin, our gender or whom we love. Human dignity shall be inviolable. He showed us that we must also talk to our enemies and opponents; and also to those who think differently to us.
Mandela knew that succumbing to cynicism is not the answer, not even in the face of apparent hopelessness.
Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,
Particularly at a time when rules based multilateralism is being called into question in many quarters and when we are seeing a resurgence of populism, xenophobia and marginalisation, Nelson Mandela’s ideals are more important than ever.
We therefore not only want to commemorate Nelson Mandela, but also, like him, to defend the dignity of the human being – ALL human beings – and to undauntedly stand up for democracy and justice – especially 70 years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
We’re going to need a great deal of staying power here.
You, esteemed participants, have this staying power and are offering us insights into Madiba’s work and legacy, and the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung also possesses this quality – once again, it is providing us with a free and democratic platform for discussion and debate. Thank you very much for this contribution.
I hope that we will all enjoy a wonderful evening!