I should like to thank Morehouse College most sincerely for the great honour that they have paid me in bestowing this award on me.  I can think of no institution in the United States from which I would be more honoured to receive such recognition than from this College – the alma mater of Martin Luther King.


Your gesture in making this award to a former leader of a government that was synonymous with apartheid and racial discrimination is in itself a wonderful act of reconciliation, of building bridges to former enemies and opponents.  It is a manifestation of the spirit and the values that have helped black and white South Africans to find one another after so many generations of division, oppression and enmity.


There has often been a tendency to compare the civil rights movement in the United States with the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.  There are a number of similarities – but there are also some stark differences:



There are, however, many similarities between the struggles in South Africa and in the United States.


One of the central themes of our religion is the commandment that we should forgive one another.  One of the central realities of our histories has been the utter failure of most Christians and most Christian countries to carry out this commandment.


Forgiveness is essential, not only because it is a central commandment of our Lord, but because it is critically important for our own spiritual and mental well-being and for the search for lasting peace.


Until we truly forgive our enemies we carry within our hearts a bitterness which can poison every other aspect of our lives.  Only when we truly and sincerely forgive the wrongs that have been done to us can we free ourselves from this burden.   By continuing to nurse grievances against those who have done us wrong, we give them continuing power over us.  With each remembrance of past wrongs we perpetuate the evil that has been done to us.  In the end we forgive those who have done us wrong not only for their sake, but also for our own liberation.


It follows that our forgiveness should be unconditional, since we grant it, not only for the sake of those who have wronged us, but also for our own spiritual and mental well-being.


There are, of course, also very practical reasons why we should forgive one another and why we should not allow the wrongs of the past to fester in our hearts.    We all have sinned against others as others have sinned against us.   If we do not clean the slate, our grievances will lead to alienation, vengeance and conflict.


Many of the conflicts that continue to wrack the world have their roots deep in memories of ancient and unforgiven wrongs.


Think of Northern Ireland, where the origins of the  conflict go all the way back to the original settlement of the Province by Protestants in the seventeenth century.

Think of the ongoing ethnic conflict in Kosovo, where memories of grievances can be traced back hundreds of years to bitter conflicts between Moslem Turks and  Orthodox Christian Serbs.


The same is true of the conflicts in Rwanda and Burundi, between the Hutu and the Tutsi; in Cyprus,  between the Greeks and the Turks and in the Middle East between the Palestinians and the Israelis.


Very often, the fuel that keeps these conflicts smouldering – or ablaze – is the memory of past atrocities – all carefully nurtured and remembered  – all of them unforgiven and therefore unresolved.


We cannot truly hope to establish peace between such peoples until we address the root of their sense of grievance – and this can only be done through forgiveness.


We Afrikaners know about this.   I grew up in a society that nurtured a deep sense of grievance against the British.   For us the Anglo-Boer War was not another distant and bothersome colonial campaign that we read about in the morning papers.   We called it the Second Freedom War.


It utterly devastated our two young republics;  it deprived us of our hard-won right to rule ourselves; and most tragically, it led to the deaths of a considerable portion of our women and children in disease-ridden concentration camps.    When I grew up,  there was hardly a family in our community that that had not suffered some or other loss.  Many of the older people still had first-hand memories of the conflict.


But somehow, or other, we have succeeded in putting most of this bitterness behind us.  The establishment of the Republic of South Africa in 1961 played an important part in all of this.  For many Afrikaners it was the final resolution of their struggle with Britain.


So we, as a people,  know what it is to have been sinned against and to have forgiven.   But we also know what it is to have sinned against others and to have needed forgiveness. The apartheid policies that my party implemented for many years  caused enormous suffering, disruption and humiliation to millions of South Africans.  In 1997 I expressed my deep and sincere apology for these policies to our Truth and Reconciliation Commission.


I apologised in my capacity as Leader of the National Party to the millions of South Africans who suffered the wrenching disruption of forced removals from their homes, businesses and land;  who over the years suffered the shame of being arrested for pass law offences;  who over the centuries had suffered the indignities and humiliation of racial discrimination;  who had been prevented from exercising their full democratic rights in the land of their birth;  who were unable to achieve their full potential;  and who in any way suffered as a result of the policies and actions of former Governments.


Forgiveness helps to break the vicious cycle of bitterness, revenge and escalating conflict.   It is the beginning of the road to reconciliation.


Reconciliation is a concept which requires thorough analysis if one is to avoid the misuse of the word as simply another rhetorical catch-phrase.  It has a number of different meanings, each, in its own way essential for the establishment of lasting peace.


Its first meaning is the bringing together of those who have previously been alienated from one another.  It is the reconciliation that so many people caught up in conflict situations  fail to achieve – because they could not find it in their hearts to forgive one another.


It is the coming together that continues to elude many warring communities throughout the world – because they cannot liberate themselves from their burden of bitterness and grievance.


It is the new sense of common purpose and communion that I hope we, in South Africa, are tentatively beginning to develop after so many centuries of division and alienation.


Reconciliation in this sense, requires us to put the hurt, reproach and conflict of a divided past behind us and to concentrate, instead, on the promise and common purpose of a united future.


The second sense of reconciliation is the auditing concept of balance.   All of us have, at some time or other, struggled to reconcile our bank statements with the often wildly inaccurate figures in the stubs of our cheque books.   We overlook long-standing debts and debits.  Sometimes we are surprised by unexpected credits.  And we have all experienced the satisfaction when we finally succeed in balancing our books to the last penny.


So it is also with our search for reconciliation with one another.   We must forgive and we must hope to be forgiven.  But we should not do this blindly without cognisance of our responsibilities, debts and credits.  For that reason reconciliation requires that we should also carefully, and dispassionately, examine our collective accounts of our past relationships and seek to find a balance.  The purpose of such an exercise must not be a reversion to the kind of reproach or retribution that caused our alienation from one another in the first place.   But it is a necessary exercise before we can finally close the books on the past.  The essence of the exercise, however, remains balance and the production of a statement that accurately reflects all of the data at our disposal.  If all statements are not brought into reckoning, the accounts will not balance and our efforts will not lead to reconciliation.


A third meaning of reconciliation is the acceptance of things that, in an ideal world, we would rather not accept.  We say, in this sense, that we have reconciled ourselves to this or that reality.  We would have preferred something more but the imperative for compromise requires us to accept something less.


Reconciliation, in this sense, is also a prerequisite for peace.  The reality is that any search for lasting solutions to the problems that have caused conflict in the past, will require all parties to make real – and sometimes painful -compromises.


In the case of South Africa, the ANC entered the negotiation process as a truly convinced socialist alliance.  They wanted a rigidly centralist state that would have the power to implement  far-reaching social reforms on all parts of our society, regardless of the complexities of our country and the demands of globalised economies.  I am sure that it was difficult for many of their supporters to accept the broadly liberal, plural and free market society that  is emerging in South Africa.


We, on the other hand, had to make one of the greatest sacrifices that can be asked of any people.  My people, the Afrikaners,  had to give up the right to exclusive national self-determination for which we had struggled for more than three centuries.  We are as much a nation as any people on the face of the earth – with our own language, culture and history.  Yet we realised that our efforts to continue to maintain this right would inevitably lead to further injustice  to others and to a downward spiral of conflict and devastation.


In South Africa we have learned that reconciliation and peace require us to accept compromises.  To achieve reconciliation and peace nearly always require a leap of faith and a willingness to trust those whom we had previously regarded as our sworn enemies.


The fourth meaning of reconciliation is the reconciliation of man with his God.  As Christians we believe that the central act of history was the sacrifice that God made through the incarnation and crucifixion of His Son.  We believe that through this sacrifice Christ took upon himself all the sins of all people through all the ages.  By so-doing He made it possible for them to be reconciled with God, after the alienation that had been brought about between man and God by original sin.


There is another important similarity between your struggle in the United States and our struggle in South Africa:  it is that the achievement of our constitutional rights is only part of the battle.


The reality is that our constitutional transformation has had very little effect on the lives of at least half of our population.  This is also the reality for many black Americans as well.   All South Africans now have the vote – but most of them do not have jobs or adequate housing;  they enjoy the full spectrum of human rights; but in practice they continue to live in poverty and deprivation;  they have been promised the world – but in reality they have received only crumbs from the new society.


Too many of our institutions are still insufficently representative of the South African population as a whole.  For many black South Africans very little has changed:  The same people still own the big houses; they still hold down the best jobs;  they still drive the fancy cars that speed – unseeing – past the black informal settlements that line our first-world highways.  They still own more than 80% of the country’s farmland.


Naturally, this is not the total picture.  In fact, South Africa’s privileged classes are now more than 50% black.   Black South Africans have made steady progress in the middle echelons of the private sector  and firmly control the public sector.  A great deal has been done to alleviate poverty during the past ten years: more than 1.2 million houses have been built and millions of South Africans have benefited from improved child maintenance grants and pensions.


Nevertheless, the truth remains that we are still very far from achieving the human dignity, the equality and the advancement of human rights and freedoms for all proclaimed in the first article of our constitution.


The manner in which we deal with economic and social transformation during the next decade will determine the long-term success and viability of the new state that we founded ten years ago.


I suspect that it is the same here in America.  The dream of Dr Martin Luther King will not be fully realised until the constitutional rights that he helped to secure for black Americans are translated into decent living conditions and real equality for all black Americans.


It is a question of justice.


You in America and we in South Africa have come far.  We have achieved great constitutional victories;  we have, I hope, learned to forgive one another and to practise reconciliation.  But there is still a long road ahead of us and many more mountains to climb until we finally achieve all our dreams.