Acceptance speech by President Jacob Zuma on receiving the Lifetime Award for Global Peace from the Mahathir Global Peace Foundation on behalf of former President Nelson Mandela, Malaysia

27 August 2013

Photo of: President Jacob Zuma

Honourable Prime Minister of the Federation of Malaysia,

Honourable Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Swaziland,

Former Prime Minister Mahathir, founder of the Global Peace Foundation;  

Honourable Ministers and Premier,

Honourable Members of the Diplomatic Corps,

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,


We are filled with great humility and joy as South Africans, to accept the Lifetime Award for Global Peace from the Mahathir Global Peace Foundation, on behalf of the founding President of the Republic of South Africa, His Excellency Mr Nelson Mandela.


We are honoured that our beloved former President is the first recipient of this award which is being launched today by His Excellency Prime Minister YabDato’ Sri NajibTunRazak.


This momentous award highlights and honours the peace efforts and achievements of this internationally revered icon and comes at a time when we have just commemorated 100 years of the African National Congress in 2012, an organization that is synonymous with his life.


This gesture confirms what Madiba means to the world as a man who has an unwavering belief in unity, peace, justice, human rights, freedom, equality and who wants the world to be  a better place for all, free of conflict and wars, poverty and degradation.


We are humbled as South Africans to share President Mandela with the world.


At the same time, we are truly proud that our country and the struggle for liberation in particular, produced such an international icon.


This award comes at an opportune moment.  Former President Mandela is still in hospital receiving treatment and remains in a critical but stable condition.


While wishing him good health, we also have to celebrate his legacy and learn from it, in order to build a better world.


This Award enables us to reflect on the impact that this global icon has made in our country and the in the world.

Madiba is also no stranger to Malaysia. He is a personal friend of former Prime Minister Mahathir and led our country in cementing relations with Malaysia during his Presidency.


South Africa and Malaysia have strong bonds of friendship and solidarity steeped in the history of struggle against colonialism and racial oppression, dating back to the 17th century. 


The horrors of the Atlantic slave trade brought many people from Southeast Asia, including parts of Malaysia, to the Cape of Good Hope. The descendants of that horrible slave trade are now full citizens of a democratic South Africa and have contributed to the cultural diversity, success and development of our country.


Another defining moment in our relations came as part of the birth and development of the Afro-Asian People’s Solidarity Movement in the 1950s as Africa and Asia entered the period of decolonisation.


It was in this context that the leaders of our liberation movement, the African National Congress, Moses Kotane and MaulviCachalia attended the historic 1955 Bandung Conference.


The ANC is proud to have participated in that Conference which our esteemed leader, Oliver Tambo, said constituted;


“a step in the direction of meeting the aspirations of the vast majority of mankind, particularly the oppressed people of Asia and Africa”.


While Malaysia did not participate in the inaugural Bandung Afro-Asian Conference in 1955, Malaysia quickly played a leading role in the formalised movements of the South such as the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the G77 caucus within the United Nations.


Malaysia’s commitment in championing the cause of the developing South became even more prominent by the early 1980s when ASEAN, the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC), the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and the Commonwealth took centre stage in the nation’s foreign policy.


It was in the Commonwealth that Malaysia, led by then Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman, strongly demonstrated its disdain for the racial policies of the apartheid government in South Africa.


Prime Minister Rahman insisted that Apartheid South Africa be expelled from the Commonwealth in 1960.

This, among other efforts, resulted in the end of diplomatic relations between Apartheid South Africa and countries in the Commonwealth.


Malaysia, under the sterling leadership of Former Prime Minister Mahathir consistently championed the cause of the countries of the South. He was the voice of conscience in the face of the plight of developing countries.

Since then, Malaysia has promoted the need for self-reliance on the part of the developing countries through cultivating partnerships among them, as well as championing the cause of developing countries on the global stage.


Dr Mahathir, who remains an advocate for development, is a great personal friend of Nelson Mandela. 

In a rare gesture for a foreign head of government at the time, Dr Mahathir was among the first to meet Mr Nelson Mandela at the airport in Zambia in 1990, soon after his release from prison, where he has been imprisoned for 27 years.


In the meeting they later held at a Zambian government guest house, Dr Mahathir presented Madiba with a silver keris, the symbol of Malaysia’s constitutional monarchy system of government.


Thus distinguished ladies and gentlemen, this award further underscores the importance with which South Africa and President Mandela are regarded in this country. We are truly honoured, privileged and humbled to occupy this pride of place in the hearts and minds of the Malaysian people.


We shall never be able to thank you enough for the solidarity and friendship shown to us during the struggle for liberation, and the cooperation and friendship between our two nations in the era of freedom and democracy.

Like Chief Albert Luthuli, the first African to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, President Mandela is a symbol of peace, unity and reconciliation. 


The award should thus serve to further highlight the need for peace in the world, as it has been given to a man who has demonstrated a remarkable ability for forgiveness and reconciliation which are the building blocks for a peaceful society.


President Mandela was an exceptional President for both South Africa and his political organisation, the African National Congress. He was truly the President South Africa needed during the fragile transitional period.


His inauguration as the first President of free and democratic South Africa on the 10th May 1994 was the most liberating moment for all freedom-loving people in South Africa, Africa and the world.

Madiba made a commitment on behalf of all South Africans, stating as follows;


“Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another and suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world. Let freedom reign. The sun shall never set on so glorious a human achievement!”


We are grateful to President Nelson Mandela for laying a firm foundation for the transformation of our country.

It was under his leadership that South Africa developed a progressive Constitution that enshrines human rights through a Bill of Rights and which affirms the equality of all.


To give meaning to our freedom and to implement the provisions of the Constitution, from 1994, the democratic government under President Mandela immediately focused on building a new non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous society.


During the first ten years of democracy, thanks to Madiba’s guidance and leadership, Parliament approved 789 laws or amendments to eliminate institutionalised racism from our statute books.  Institutions were established to strengthen and protect constitutional democracy and human rights.


To give effect to socio-economic rights, Government, working with the people and guided by President Mandela and the African National Congress, began undoing the apartheid colonial legacy by extending social services to the poor and marginalized.


To this day, the programme started by Madiba is continuing, to ensure that every household has water, electricity, sanitation and other basic services.


Work is continuing to ensure that all our people get quality education, health care, housing, roads, transport and all services that human settlements should have in any corner of the world.


To encapsulate this vision, we have developed a 20 year National Development Plan, which outlines what our country should look like by the year 2030.


President Mandela has acknowledged that the long walk is not yet complete. We still have many hills to climb.


One hill that we must climb is one taking us to true economic and social emancipation. The challenges of poverty, inequality and unemployment remain.


Also, the more we extend basic services, the more we have to go further as the legacy of underdevelopment left by the colonial and apartheid regimes is huge. However, we are able to say that South Africa is today a much better place than it was before 1994, thanks to the foundation led by the ANC government under President Mandela’s leadership.


While we as South Africans value the foundation of peace and democracy and social transformation that President Mandela built during his Presidency, it is the commitment to reconciliation that stands at the core of the Mandela legacy.


It influenced both his efforts to build a new democracy at home and his contribution to the resolution of conflicts in the larger world.


When others doubted whether it was still possible for old enemies to beat their swords into ploughshares, he showed us how.


Nelson Mandela’s leadership style was honed in the political culture of the African National Congress with its emphasis on cooperative,collective, and consultative leadership.


In the international arena he sought, first, and wherever feasible, to work through multilateral organisations like the United Nations, the Non-Aligned Movement, the Organisation of African Unity and the Southern African Development Community.


He was an especially important voice in efforts to maintain the nuclear non-proliferation edifice.


He had special credibility in this regard because one of his first acts as President of the Republic of South Africa was to dismantle South Africa’s strategic nuclear programme.


As President he was and remains a strong supporter of a ban on chemical and biological weapons, the banning of small weapons and de-mining.


We also acknowledge his contribution to peace in Africa. As mediator in the Burundi conflict he laid the foundation for the peace and democracy prevailing in Burundi now. He led efforts to bring about peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo.


The United Nations declared July 18, his birth date, as Mandela International Day in recognition of the remarkable contribution of this world statesman.


On this day, people are encouraged to volunteer 67 minutes of their time to community service in honour of Madiba’s dedication of 67 years of his life working for human rights, peace, freedom and reconciliation.


The international community through this gesture, ensures that even in retirement or ill health, Madiba continues to exert an influence on the world.


It ensures that the good work he has done for humanity lives on which is his wish, as expressed by himself referring to his looming retirement from active politics a few years ago.

He said;


“It is no easy thing to rest while millions still bear the burden of poverty and insecurity.


“But my days will be filled with contentment to the extent that hands are joined across social divides and national boundaries, between continents and over oceans, to give effect to that common humanity in whose name we have together made the long walk to where we are today."


Madiba’s influence comes from the attractiveness of his ideals, the elegance of his humanity and the power of his personal story.  It comes from the powerful story of a freedom fighter who was prepared to do anything so that South Africans could live as equals in a society free of racism, racial discrimination and oppression of one by another.


In fact, the totality of who Mandela is and what he lives and stands for can be summarised in no better words than his own, as expressed from the dock during his trial in 1964:

He said;


“I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities.

“It is an ideal which I hope to live for and achieve. But if need be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die”.


Your Excellencies,

Distinguished Guests,


I am humbled to accept the Lifetime Award for Global Peace from the Mahathir Global Peace Foundation, on behalf of Dr Nelson Mandela and on behalf of all 53 million South Africans who love him very much.


I thank you.


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