Ambassador Rasool, Senator Lugar, Representative Dellums and other distinguished guests; it is a truly an honor to be with you tonight. Given all that binds us together, it is fitting to see so many American friends of South Africa and champions of freedom honored tonight.
Every country in the world celebrates a national day. But Freedom Day is not just a day for South Africans. It strikes a deep chord for people around the world who have carried your long national struggle in their hearts. We remember the “long walk to freedom,” the long lines of people patiently waiting to cast their votes in the country’s first democratic elections -- a vote they had waited their entire lives to cast. South Africans inspired the world with their courage and their triumph.
Success has a way of looking inevitable in hindsight. But at the time, many predicted South Africa would be trapped by a history of violence and racism. But South Africans put their faith in a force more powerful than violence. And from all walks of life and political persuasions, South Africans embraced a comprehensive peaceful political revolution. They beat the odds and banished the threat of civil war that hung over the country’s future. This revolution soon came to be known by what it so clearly was: the South African miracle.
At the center of the miracle was Nelson Mandela, embodying the country’s hope for the future and its determination to rise above the past. Mandela, who emerged from 27 years of incarceration without rancor or bitterness; who forgave his captors; who understood that “to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” Mandela had the courage of a revolutionary, but also the wisdom of a statesman. It was a commingling of virtues that has proven far too rare in Africa and around the world.
Mandela determined to create a new South Africa built on principles of democracy and human dignity. He was a rare political leader, who combined great vision and moral grandeur with tactical genius. He not only saw where South Africa needed to go, but he understood how to take the country there. He knew that “after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.”
Mandela practiced a politics of magnanimity. By the 1980s, it was clear that apartheid was at a dead end. What was not clear was what would replace it. Mandela’s genius was to give voice to and embody in his own life a new vision of what it meant to be South African. He reached out to all of his countrymen and women, friends and former enemies. He appealed to their better natures. He converted them to the idea of a new constitutional order that looked beyond the politics of racial groups and replaced it with a politics of human rights and democracy. His personal decency and courage impressed even Afrikaners who had embraced apartheid for decades. His qualities created the political trust and emotional space for a Constitutional process that set the country on a new path.
It is often said that democracy is a road and not a destination. And South Africa’s constitutional process opened a path for a new nation to follow. A large, diverse and remarkable group of teachers, lawyers, former guerrillas, activists, and bureaucrats worked for hours, shoulder to shoulder, in a cavernous hall. Together they bridged their differences and crafted the guiding principles for South Africa’s future: human dignity, equality, non-racialism, the rule of law, and democracy. It was a radical break with South Africa’s past. The drafters deliberately turned the country’s sad history of isolation into a future of inclusiveness.
That vision extended beyond South Africa’s borders. Its leaders and diplomats have drawn on the principles that guided the South African transition – patient dialogue, consensus building, mutual respect – to build bridges between enemies and to heal divided nations.
South Africa has also taken a leadership role in world bodies, transforming itself from a cause championed by others to a champion for the rights of others. It chaired massive international negotiations to address the problem of global warming. In many ways, America and South Africa take convergent approaches to world politics, particularly so on the challenges facing Africa.
The United States has outlined five priorities for our work in Africa, our work with Africans. South Africa is a vital partner in pursuing all five.
First, we both support strong democratic institutions across the continent. South Africa and the United States have supported free and fair elections and pushed back against threats to democracy.
Second, we share a commitment to sustainable economic development. The beauty of democratic transitions and rule of law is that they do not sit isolated in the political realm. They provide the foundations for fostering economic development and prosperity. When governments transition peacefully, countries stay open for business. South Africa is proof of that. When regulations for doing business are known and transparent, companies feel comfortable investing. South Africa is proof of that. The new South Africa is one of the most important emerging economies in the world, a G-20 member, and a leading U.S. trading partner. More than 600 U.S. companies have offices there, employing South Africans, using the country as a sophisticated base of operations in Africa, and building economic prosperity throughout the continent.
Third, South Africa and the United States share a vision of a continent at peace with itself and the world. Under Presidents Mandela, Mbeki and Zuma, South Africa has worked hard to resolve conflicts in Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and, today, Sudan. We seek ways of strengthening local institutions to find creative and lasting solutions for the conflicts that have limited Africa’s development over the last fifty years. And all of Africa looks to South Africa’s peaceful end to apartheid as an inspiration for building peace throughout the rest of the continent.
The fourth pillar of U.S. policy in Africa is to support health and education projects, and nowhere have we had a more successful partnership for improving health than in South Africa. In 2010, we signed a five-year Partnership Framework– a five-year joint strategic plan to fight HIV/AIDS. Working together, the U.S. and South Africa provided antiretroviral treatment for 1.1 million men, women and children last year. More than 5 million individuals received HIV counseling and testing. More than 236,000 pregnant HIV-positive women received services to bring healthy children into the world. The progress that has been made in fighting HIV in the last few years is giving real hope that within a generation, HIV may be a relic of the past.
Fifth and finally, we are fighting the transnational challenges that no nation can solve on its own, but that will not be solved without collective resolve and leadership. In Durban and elsewhere, both our countries demonstrated a strong commitment to stopping and reversing the damage done to our environment, and seeking new and greener ways of promoting economic development.
I am pleased to confirm that Secretary Clinton plans to visit South Africa this summer to continue our important discusssions on all these issues under the framework of our Strategic Dialogue.
As we mark Freedom Day, we celebrate the founding principles of the new South Africa: Democracy. Justice. Equality. Human rights. These are the values on which both the United States and South Africa were founded, and the values that America and South Africa continue to fight for today, to ensure that all people, all around the world, can enjoy these freedoms. Tonight, we are proud to see our citizens honored by a country that knows what courage means.
As we celebrate South Africa, I hope you’ll let me borrow a few words from an Irish poet, Seamus Heaney, who said: “History says, Don’t hope / on this side of the grave. / But then, once in a lifetime / the longed for tidal wave / of justice can rise up, / and hope and history rhyme.”
That is what we celebrate in South Africa, and what we strive for: everywhere and always.