Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release September 22, 1998



East Room

6:30 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. The Scripture says, it's more blessed to give than to receive. I was sitting here thinking, in this case, I wish I were on the giving rather than the receiving end. It is difficult to absorb the depth and breadth of what I have heard and what you have given to me through the words of Reverend King and through your expression, and I thank you.

I thank you also for what you have given to our country. I thank the members of Congress and the administration, the educators, the ministers, the ambassadors -- all of you who are here -- and our friends from South Africa.

Hillary and I are delighted to have President Mandela and Graca here. We thank you, Graca, for your concern for the children who have been made victims of war by being impressed into combat as children and the scars they bear from it. And we thank you, Mr. President, for being the person we'd all like to be on our best day. (Applause.)

I would like you all to think for a few moments before I bring President Mandela on -- not about the terrible unjust sacrifice of his 27 years in prison, but about what he's done with the years since he got out of prison; not about how he purged his heart of bitterness and anger while still a prisoner, but how he resists every day the temptation to take it up again in the pettiness and meanness of human events. In some ways, that is all the more remarkable.

There have been many blessings for Hillary and for me far outweighing all the trials of being given the opportunity by the American people to serve in this position and live in this house. But certainly one of the greatest ones has been the friendship of this good man.

And I want to tell you one little story -- I try never to betray any private conversations I have with anybody, but I want to tell you this. (Laughter.) When President Mandela -- once I was talking to him and I said to him, you know, I have listened carefully to everything you have said, to how you laid your anger and your bitterness down. But on the day you got out of prison -- Hillary and I were living in Arkansas in the Governor's Mansion, our daughter was a very young girl. I got her up early on a Sunday morning and I sat her down on the counter in the kitchen, because we had an elevated television. And I said, Chelsea, I want you to watch this. This is one of the great events of your lifetime, and I want you to watch this.

And she watched President Mandela walk down that last road toward freedom, after all those years in prison. So I said to him one day, I said, now, tell me this. I know you invited your jailers to the inauguration, and I know how hard you've worked on this. But weren't you angry one more time when you were walking down that road? He said, yes, briefly, I was. I don't know if he remembers this. He said, "Yes, briefly, I was. And then I remembered, I have waited so long for freedom. And if my anger goes with me out of this place I will still be their prisoner, and I want to be free." I want to be free. (Applause.)

I say that to set the stage for what is now happening in Nelson Mandela's life. Yesterday we were at the United Nations, and he and I spoke back to back, and then we had this luncheon. And we were talking about the troubles in the Congo; we were talking about the continuing, almost compulsive destructiveness of the people there and all the countries outside, trying to get into the act, to make sure that whoever they don't like doesn't get a leg up. And we were lamenting the colossal waste of human potential in that phenomenally rich country.

And I thought to myself, apartheid is gone in the law in South Africa, but it is still alive in the heart of nearly everybody on Earth in some way or another. And here is this man still giving of himself to try to take the apartheid out of the heart of the people of his continent and, indeed, the people of the world.

We were talking just before we came down about a mutual friend of ours who is the leader of a country, and how he had called and admonished him to try to work through a problem that he has had for too long. And so, I say -- I have to say one thing that is slightly amusing about this. Now, President Mandela will probably get up here and make some crack about being an old man and how his time is running out, and all that. The truth is he's leaving office because he feels like he's about 25 years old again. (Laughter.) And he's so happily married he can't be troubled with all these boring affairs of politics. (Applause.) But I must say, it's the only time I've ever known him to misrepresent the facts, but that is, I'm sure, what is going on here. (Laughter.)

But I ask you to think about that. Every time Nelson Mandela walks into a room we all feel a little bigger, we all want to stand up, we all want to cheer, because we'd like to be him on our best day. But what I would say to you is, there is a little bit of apartheid in everybody's heart. And in every gnarly, knotted, distorted situation in the world where people are kept from becoming the best they can be, there is an apartheid of the heart. And if we really honor this stunning sacrifice of 27 years, if we really rejoice in the infinite justice of seeing this man happily married in the autumn of his life, if we really are seeking some driven wisdom from the power of his example, it will be to do whatever we can, however we can, wherever we are, to take the apartheid out of our own and other's hearts.

Ladies and gentlemen, the President of South Africa. (Applause.)

PRESIDENT MANDELA: President Clinton and Mrs. Clinton, Reverend Bernice King, distinguished guests and friends. When I turned 70, a young lady who is now principal of a leading university in the country came to see me in prison. She was blunt and straightforward, did not flatter me. She didn't say, I came to see you here because of my interest in you. She said, if my father were alive today he would have been 70. And when I read in the paper that you were turning 70 today, I thought I should come and see how a man of 70 looks like. (Laughter.) Now I've turned 80. I suspect that many of you came here to see -- (laughter) -- to see what a man of 80 looks like. (Laughter.)

No visit to the United States by a representative for the South African people would be complete without an opportunity to meet with those who are gathered here tonight. For us, probably on our last official visit to your country, it has special meaning, and I most sincerely thank our host for making it possible.

More than friends, we are among those on whom history has visited the same pains and deprivation, and who have shared our victories. The founders of our liberation movement drew deep inspiration at the turn of the century from black America striving under difficult circumstances to fulfill our common aspiration for the restoration of human dignity. It is small wonder that the struggle to end apartheid drew such strength from here, or that we now look to you to work with us as we seek to banish poverty, hunger, illiteracy, and ignorance from our land.

Mr. President, by embodying your identification with these said aspirations in the program of your administration, you have won for yourself a warm place in the heart of the South African people, as you witnessed on your visit to our country earlier this year. We know that we have your understanding as we seek with the countries of the south to shift the world economic system towards the needs of the poor and the weak.

We are aware of the national debate that is taking place in this country about the President, and it is not our business to interfere in this matter. But we do wish to say that President Clinton is a friend of South Africa and Africa, and I believe the friend of the great mass of black people, and the minorities, and the disabled of the United States. (Applause.) Few leaders of the United States have such a feeling for the position of the black people and the minorities in this country. (Applause.)

We have often said that our morality does not allow us to desert our friends. (Applause.) And we have got to say tonight, we are thinking of you in this difficult and uncertain time in your life.

Two days ago, the President of Zambia, Frederick Chiluba, phoned me. Now, he is far younger than me -- I think he's in his 60s. (Laughter.) And in meetings he only speaks to me with great respect, and sometimes when we don't agree, he says, now, look, I'm not convinced, Mr. President, of what you're saying, but in our custom, we never challenge an old man. (Laughter.) But he projected a new image two days ago when he phoned me. He did not make a request to me; he gave me an instruction. And he said, Madiba, I want you to support President Clinton. (Applause.) He was not speaking for himself, and he said so. He said, I'm speaking for the continent of Africa. (Applause.)

When he addressed our Parliament, he almost brought down the walls of that building when he said, "We, in the United States, have been asking the wrong question. We have been saying, what can we do for Africa? That was the wrong question. The right question was, what can we do with Africa?" (Applause.)

That is the man, my friend, who I respect so much. But it clearly is changing American foreign policy, to the satisfaction of all those who accepted the United States as a world leader, with the biggest economy in the world, and he is decisively changing American policy.

I repeat that I will not interfere in the domestic affairs of this country. (Laughter and applause.) But you should have seen the way he was received by the General Assembly of the United Nations. (Applause.) The applause was spontaneous and overwhelming. All of us rose to our feet when he came in. It was the same after he delivered his speech. That sent a strong message as to what the world thinks on this matter -- (applause.)

The men and women who were there come from every part of the globe. They are leaders of thoughts -- Presidents, Prime Ministers, Foreign Ministers, and other opinion makers. That was the strong message they sent. If you judge from the reaction of the National Assembly, the United States is completely isolated on this question. (Applause.)

But if our expectations, if our fondest prayers and dreams are not realized, then we should all bear in mind that the greatest glory of living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time you fall. (Applause.)

PRESIDENT CLINTON: I want to leave you on a high note here. (Laughter.) I want to tell you a story that I never told the President. I have a friend who is a minister -- a white minister who was in South Africa recently. And he was given the chance to meet the President, but he was told, you'll have to go to the airport if you want to meet the President. He said, I'll go anywhere to shake his hand. So he said, I was standing off here waiting for him to come, and here comes the President across the lobby of the airport. And he said, President Mandela walked up to this gorgeous little blond-haired, blue-eyed girl, about six years old. And my friend went up to hear the conversation.

And he said to the little girl, "Do you know who I am? She said, "Yes, you're President Mandela." And he looked at her and he said, "If you study hard and learn a lot you can grow up to be President of South Africa some day." (Applause.)

That's a lot to say after this life. Remember the point. God bless you all. Thank you. (Applause.)

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