Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release September 23, 1998


Capitol Hill

11:10 A.M. EDT

PRESIDENT CLINTON: Thank you. Mr. Speaker, Senator Thurmond, Senator Daschle, Congressman Gephardt. Representative Houghton, thank you for what you have done to make this day come to pass. We are all in your debt. Congresswoman Waters, Senator Moseley-Braun, Senator D'Amato. Congressman Dellums, thank you. To the members of Congress here present in both parties, members of the Cabinet, administration; to Graca Macel, and all our friends from South Africa who are here.

To my friend, President Mandela, Americans as one today, across all the lines that divide us, pay tribute to your struggle, to your achievement, and to the inspiration you have given us to do better.

Others have said with profound conviction and eloquence what it is that we love and admire. Today we offer a man who has received the Nobel Prize the highest honor within the gift of this country. But if this day is to be more than a day in which we bask in his reflected glory, we should ask ourselves what gift can we really give Nelson Mandela in return for 10,000 long days in jail. How can we truly redeem the life of Amy Biehl? How can we honor all of those who marched and worked with Nelson Mandela who are no longer standing by his side?

After the President was released and began his public career he said -- and I quote -- "The true test of our devotion to freedom is just beginning." Whenever we are together he always talks about unfinished business. He thanked me again yesterday for saying something that, to be honest, I didn't even think about consciously. He said that the United States had now said not what can we do for South Africa, but what can we do with South Africa to build a common future. So I ask all of you to think about just two or three things.

The work of our common struggle with people with whom we share a common past and with whom we must build a common future in South Africa and throughout the African continent has only begun. President Mandela says that he has now gotten old and is leaving the scene. The truth is, he has gotten married and he feels young and he is tired of his public responsibilities and he wants to go forward into a brighter life. (Applause.)

Those of us who share his vision and lift him up in honor today owe it to him to build a permanent partnership between Americans and Africans -- for the education of our children, for the solution of our problems, for the resolution of our differences, for the elevation of what is best about us all. That is what we owe to Nelson Mandela, to Amy Biehl and her family, and to all of those who have sacrificed.

We also owe, for those 10,000 long days and the shining example since, the clear understanding that a man who has given up so much of life can give us that even more important than the sacrifice yesterday is what you are doing with today and what you will do with tomorrow. For that is the thing that always humbles me when I am with Nelson Mandela, the sense of serenity and peace and engagement in the moment. And so I say to all of you, we should not waste our days; we should make more of our days.

Mr. Mandela waited a very long time to actually do something for his people, rather than just to be something to keep their hearts and hopes alive. And every day I watch him that is what he does. So should we.

And, finally, in forgiving those who imprisoned him he reminded us of the most fundamental lesson of all -- that in the end apartheid was a defeat of the heart, the mind, the spirit. It was not just a structure outside and jailhouses within which people were kept; it was a division of the mind and soul against itself. We owe it to Nelson Mandela not simply to give him this award, but to live by the lesson he taught us and to tear down every last vestige of apartheid in our own hearts -- everything that divides us, one from another. (Applause.)

For those of us who have been privileged to know this remarkable man, no medal, no award, no fortune, nothing we could give him could possibly compare to the gift he has given to us and to the world. (Applause.) The only gift that is true recompense is to continue his mission, and to live by the power of his profound and wonderful example. (Applause.)

Now, as prescribed by the law, it is my privilege to present the Congressional Gold Medal to President Nelson Mandela.

Mr. President. (Applause.)

PRESIDENT MANDELA: Thank you. President Clinton, Mr. Speaker, distinguished members of the Senate and the House, ladies and gentlemen. There is one regret I've had throughout my life -- that I never became the heavyweight boxing champion of the world. (Laughter and applause.) I would like my friend, Evander Holyfield to know that today I feel like the heavyweight boxing champion of the world. (Laughter and applause.)

It has been my great privilege to serve a people whose bondage to an inhuman system evoked the solidarity of all those who love freedom and justice; a people whose triumph over the divisions of racist doctrine has given new life to humanity's hope for a world without hatred and discrimination. I am conscious that in bestowing the Congressional Gold Medal upon me you are evoking these bonds between our nations, and paying tribute to the whole South African nation for its achievements in realizing our shared ideals. (Applause.)

It is in that spirit that I humbly accept the award, aware at the same time of the great honor you do me by using me as the vehicle of a unique distinction conferred by this hallowed institution of American democracy. As one who has dedicated his life to the pursuit of unity, I am moved by the consensus in your nation's regard for the achievements of my people. And I feel a great pride in the fact that with a few citizens of other countries who have received this high honor, the name of an African is now added. (Applause.)

If today the people of South Africa are free at last to address their basic needs, if the countries of Southern Africa have the opportunity to realize the potential for development through cooperation, if Africa can devote all her energies and resources to her reconstruction, then it is not least because the American people identified with and lent their support to the struggle to end apartheid, including critically, through action by this Congress. It is also because of the actions of countless ordinary American citizens who responded to the call to join the worldwide anti-apartheid campaign, or who have since joined hands with us as we strive to make a living reality of our vision of a better life for all South Africans.

Among those we remember today is young Amy Biehl. (Applause.) She made our aspirations her own and lost her life in the turmoil of our transition as the new South Africa struggled to be born in the dying moments of apartheid. Through her our peoples have also shared the pain of confronting a terrible past as we take the path to reconciliation and healing of our nation.

In all these ways, the United States and its people have played a significant role in the birth of our new nation. Since the achievement of democracy, the relations between our countries have been steadily growing. We appreciate the commitment to our future that was embodied in the decision to set up the Binational Commission and that has informed the Commission's contribution to the systematic development of an all-around relationship between our countries.

The highly successful state visit by President Clinton to South Africa in March this year testified to the strength of our relationship. The warm welcome he received from our people speaks of the special place that the people of the United States occupy in the hearts of South Africans. The breadth of our relationship makes the United States an indispensable partner in bringing material improvement in the lives of our people, especially the poor, without which our democracy would remain a hollow shell and our stability fragile.

Yet, we need to remind ourselves that as much as we have made progress in changing our people's lives for the better, the needs that must be met in our country, our region, and our continent are immense. Though we are long past the blaming of our past for our problems, it does need to be acknowledged that the imbalances and inequities bequeathed to us by the history of Africa and South Africa are beyond our capacity to meet on our own. They call for a partnership of Africa and the United States, developing and developed countries, in bringing about a transfer of resources and addressing the imbalances and disparities which have been so dramatically exposed in the turmoil in the world's economic system.

In the common agenda that we seek to develop with you are such issues as increased aid, the rescheduling of the burden of external debt, improved access to markets for the products of developing countries. It includes also the democratization of the institutions of international governance and the redirection of the world's trade and financial system so that it better reflects the needs of the poor.

The recognition that even the most powerful economy in the world is not immune from the consequences of defects in the global economic system, so forcefully articulated recently by your own President, indicates to us that the needs of developing countries, and of Africa in particular, will have an understanding hearing in Washington. It adds to our confidence that the United States will be in the forefront of the supporters of Africa's struggle to bring about her relations.

Honorable members, I do not expect to be granted again the privilege of addressing the elected representatives of the United States of America. I am proudly grateful to have been allowed to do so in the last months of my public life. Though the challenges at the present time for our country, our continent, and the world are greater than those we have already overcome, we face the future with confidence. We do because despite the difficulties and the tensions that confront us, there is in all of us the capacity to touch one another's hearts across oceans and continents. The award with which you honor me today is an expression of the common humanity that binds us, one person to another, nation to nation, and people of the north to people of the south.

I receive it with pride as a symbol of partnership for peace, prosperity, and equity, as we enter the new millennium. I thank you. (Applause.)

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