Mandela Offers Insights in Campus Talk

Mandela Offers Insights in Campus Talk

Rice News Staff
November 4, 1999

Charming and quick-witted, Nelson Mandela admonished a Rice audience last week to settle whatever situation they may face by peaceful methods, just as he and other South African leaders did in their long fight against apartheid.

Mandela fought injustices in his country from a prison cell for 27 years and following his release was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 and elected the first black president of South Africa one year later.

He made his remarks at Autry Court during an event sponsored by Rice’s James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy, receiving the institute’s Enron Prize for Distinguished Public Service.

Mandela received a standing ovation upon his introduction, and his legacy was lauded by former Secretary of State James A. Baker, III, the honorary director of the Baker Institute.

Baker, who met Mandela just weeks after his 1990 release from prison, described Mandela as “soft-spoken, but determined, dignified and willing to compromise, but absolutely commited to his ultimate goal–the creation of a multiracial, democratic South Africa.”

Dressed in a regal gold-colored shirt, Mandela emphasized the importance of the United Nations (UN) and its charter, which calls upon all its members to resolve their problems through peaceful means.

“I urge you, when you face any situation, bear in mind consciously the charter of the United Nations,” Mandela said.

Black South Africans respected the UN charter and also realized they had to be willing to change to bring about an end to apartheid.

“We had to try to change ourselves as individuals, because there’s no use trying to change others if you are unable to change yourself,” he said.

“Our emotions said ‘It is revolting for me to talk to the people who for more than three centuries have persecuted our people and treated us like flies,'” Mandela continued. “But our brains said something totally different. Our brains said ‘If you don’t talk to the enemy, then this country will go up in flames and innocent human beings–men, women, children and the aged–will be slaughtered.’ Our brains prevailed over our blood, and we sat down and talked with our enemy.”

Still using South Africa as an example, Mandela added that “when you have a strong case, you don’t have to resort to violence. You actually want to meet your opponent because he can’t answer your case.”

The mandate of the UN charter was also pivotal in Mandela’s negotiations with Libyan president Moamar Gadhafi to turn over the suspects in the bombing of Pan AM Flight 103 over Larabie, Scotland.

When he announced he planned to meet with Gadhafi, Mandela was told by the U.S. State Department that if he did aid would be cut off to South Africa.

“I must confess that I spoke more from my blood, which was boiling, than from my brain, and I said ‘No one in the universe will dictate to me. I am going to Libya.’

“Many people, including the United States, said we would never convince Gadhafi to hand over those suspects, but we were able to persuade Gadhafi to hand them over. Again in that case, we worked closely with the United Nations and we kept reminding Gadhafi that the charter calls upon all of us, including Libya, to try to settle problems through peaceful means,” he said.

In another message to his audience, Mandela told students that they should acquire the best instrument to save their society–a good education.

Following his speech, Mandela took questions from the audience, including one from a 12-year-old who asked him how he wants to be remembered.

“I never wanted to be regarded as an angel. I am an ordinary man with weaknesses,” he said. “I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps trying.”

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