8th assembly/50th anniversary

Together on the Way
6.5. Address by President Nelson Mandela to the WCC
on the occasion of its 50th Anniversary, Harare, 13 December 1998

It is a great honour, as an African, to join this august gathering on African soil. I thank you most sincerely for your invitation.

We have come to celebrate with you fifty years of achievement in activating the conscience of the world for peace and on behalf of the poor, the disadvantaged and the dispossessed.

When the World Council of Churches was established, the smoke was still lifting from a world shattered by decades of economic crisis and armed conflict, by the pursuit of racist doctrine and the violation of human rights.

As part of an international effort to ensure that never again should such things happen, the WCC helped voice the international community's insistence that human rights are the rights of all people everywhere. In doing so you helped vindicate the struggles of the oppressed for their freedom.

To us in South and Southern Africa, and indeed the entire continent, the WCC has always been known as a champion of the oppressed and the exploited.

On the other hand, the name of the WCC struck fear in the hearts of those who ruled our country and destabilized our region during the inhuman days of apartheid. To mention your name was to incur the wrath of the authorities. To indicate support for your views was to be labelled an enemy of the state.

Precisely for that reason, the vast majority of our people heard the name of the WCC with joy. It encouraged and inspired us.

When, thirty years ago, you initiated the Programme to Combat Racism and the Special Fund to support liberation movements, you showed that yours was not merely the charitable support of distant benefactors, but a joint struggle for shared aspirations.

Above all, you respected the judgment of the oppressed as to what were the most appropriate means for attaining their freedom. For that true solidarity, the people of South and Southern Africa will always remember the WCC with gratitude.

As we were coming here, I told President Mugabe that he is a younger man than myself, and I said perhaps the experiences I have had he did not have during his time. But I said my generation is the product of church education. Without the missionaries and other religious organizations I would not have been here today.

The government of the day took no interest whatsoever in the education of Africans, Coloureds and Indians. The churches bought the land, built the schools, equipped them, appointed and employed people. Therefore when I say we are the product of missionary education, I recognize that I will never have sufficient words to thank the missionaries for what they did for us. But you have to have been in an apartheid prison in South Africa to appreciate the further importance of the church. They tried to isolate us completely from the outside. Our relatives could only see us once every six months. And we could only write and receive one letter every six months. The link was religious organizations, Christians, Muslims, Hindus and members of the Jewish faith. They were the faithful who inspired us.

The WCC's support exemplified in the most concrete way the contribution that religion has made to our liberation. From the days when religious bodies took responsibility for the education of the oppressed because it was denied us by our rulers, to support for our liberation struggle, whenever the noble ideals and values of religion have been joined with practical action to realize them, it has strengthened us and at the same time nurtured those ideals within the liberation movement.

It is therefore a matter of pride to us that democratic South Africa has a constitution that embodies those values and ideals in whose name we enjoyed the support of the international community in our striving for freedom and justice.

Those ideals and values must be our guide in the unfinished journey we have travelled together.

The rights that have been gained, and that have been declared universal, will remain hollow shells and our freedom incomplete if they do not bring an end to the curse of hunger, disease, ignorance and homelessness which blight the lives of millions, in our country, in Africa and across the globe.

Fifty years after the establishment of an international order intended to avert the repetition of a human catastrophe, the spectre of a new disaster on an unimagined scale requires of us the creation of a new world order. In a changed international environment that was not foreseen in the middle of the century, the gap between the rich and the poor parts of the world is widening rather than narrowing.

Central to the challenge we face as we enter the new millennium is the eradication of poverty and underdevelopment.

The reshaping of the institutions of the existing order has become a matter of urgency if peace and a life of dignity are to become a reality for all. In using this Council meeting to assess your own role and seek directions for the next century, the WCC is answering to the needs of the times.

Within this context, my own continent of Africa dreams of an African renaissance in which, through reconstruction and development, we will overcome the legacy of a devastating past and ensure that peace, human rights, democracy, growth and development are a living reality for all Africans.

We have, through our own efforts, taken important steps along that road. We can, for example, speak of over forty democratic elections since 1990. Most of the countries in the continent are at peace with themselves and their neighbours. Until the impact of the current global economic turmoil was felt, sub-Saharan Africa was showing modest but steady economic growth at an average of 5 percent for almost a decade. Regional cooperation is a reality, and strengthening by the day, whether here in Southern Africa or in other parts of the continent.

This is in no way to suggest that Africa has managed to pull herself out of the quagmire of poverty, disease, conflict and underdevelopment.

The conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, Sudan and elsewhere are a great concern. In a world as interdependent as ours, they impact not only on those directly involved but on their neighbours and whole regions, bringing instability, displacing people and diverting resources away from social services.

Such conflicts have the capacity to set back all our efforts to meet the urgent needs of our people, but I would like to make it perfectly clear that Africa in general and our region in particular has highly competent, committed and experienced leaders, and I have no doubt that they will be able to resolve these conflicts to the satisfaction of everybody. All our leaders in this region understand that peace is the greatest weapon which humanity has in advancing progress. They understand that everybody without exception in all continents wants to get on with his life. And peace is the only environment under which there can be stability and people can get on with their life. All the leaders in this region realize this, and they are working 24 hours a day to bring about a solution.

At the end of a century that has taught that peace is the greatest weapon in development, we cannot afford to spare any effort to bring about a peaceful resolution of such conflicts.

Nor can we allow anything to detract from the urgent need to cooperate in order to ensure that our continent avoids the negative consequences of globalization and that it is able to exploit the opportunities of this important global advancement.

That means working together to ensure that the legacy of underdevelopment does not leave Africa on the margins of the world economy.

That means finding ways to deal with the world's highest incidence of AIDS, to advance and entrench democracy, to root out corruption and greed, and to ensure respect for human rights.

It means together finding ways to increase the inward flow of investment, to widen market access, and to remove the burden of external debt which affects Africa more than any other region.

It means cooperating to reorient the institutions that regulate the international trade and investment system, so that world economic growth translates into the benefits of development.

It means finding ways of ensuring that the efforts of countries to put their economies on a sound basis in order to uplift their people are not set back by huge flows of finance as they move across the globe in search of quick profits.

The challenge facing today's leaders is to find the ways in which the prodigious capacity of the contemporary world economy is used to decisively address the poverty that continues to afflict much of humanity.

The WCC forms part of the cadre of leaders who must accomplish this formidable but achievable task. The fact that on your 50th anniversary you have chosen Africa as the venue for your deliberations on the challenges of the new millennium bears witness to your continuing solidarity with all who strive for peace and dignity.

Thirty years ago you launched a programme that broke new ground and set new directions for the future. You moved beyond the affirmation of the right to resist on the part of the oppressed, to the risk of active engagement in the struggle to end oppression. Today the WCC is called upon to show that same engagement in the new and more difficult struggle for development and the entrenchment of democracy.

It is a great privilege for me, as my public life draws to a close, to be allowed to share these thoughts and dreams for a better world with you.

I do so filled with hope, knowing that I am among men and women who have chosen to make the world the theatre of their operations in pursuit of freedom and justice.

It is as a peaceful and equitable world takes shape that I and the legions across the globe who dedicated their lives in striving for a better life for all, will be able to retire in contentment and at peace.

And I am talking to the members of an organization each of whom can say, I believe, at the end of their life, "I have done my duty to my country and my people". I am talking to people whose word is written across their faces. That distinction of immortality, men and women whose names will live beyond the grave, and down the centuries. It is because of this that I put aside everything that I had to take the opportunity to come and say thank you for all you did for each and every one of us. Thank you, and again thank you.

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