September 18 2016 16:30 | Teatro Lyrick

Speech of Baleka Mbete

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Baleka Mbete

Chairperson of the National Assembly of the Republic of South Africa

Madam Hilde Kieboom

His Excellency Professor Sergio Mattarella
President of the Italian Republic
His Excellency Faustin-Archange Touadéra
President of the Central African Republic
His Holiness Bartholomew
Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople
Professor Andrea Riccardi
Founder of the Community of Sant’Egidio
Professor Marco Impagliazzo
President of the Community of Sant’Egidio
Eminences, Excellences, Authorities, Distinguished Guests
Let me begin by thanking the organisers for inviting South Africa to participate in this global reflection about peace and the importance of dialogue between faiths and across cultures, because we, brothers and sisters, are all bound together.  You did so because you helped give birth to the South Africa of today, the South Africa without apartheid.
Our country is indeed one of the good illustrations for the topic of this conference which is: "Thirst for peace. Faiths and Cultures in Dialogue "
To this day, we continue to recognise and thank all the friends of the South African liberation struggle like yourselves for standing by us during the difficult period of our painful history.  You never abandoned us, nor tire in your selfless solidarity with our struggle. Today, you are by our side as we continue to grow, learn and mature as a young nation.
We sometimes forget that not long time ago, South Africa was a theatre of war;  that South Africa was a pariah state, unwanted and isolated by the world for its apartheid colonial system. 
When we began our journey out of apartheid in 1994,  part of the Long Walk of Freedom of Nelson Mandela, we did so with the full knowledge that apartheid was a system that is rooted in our society and the minds of our people. 
Our Long Walk to Freedom had to deal with apartheid and its legacy as a colonial system through a programme of transformation to decolonise our society.  This programme of decolonisation had to address itself to the fundamental structure of our society which was based on racial discrimination and oppression, to our hearts which were taught to hate, and to our minds which were brainwashed and  poisoned. Where hundreds of years of colonial rule had created divisions based on race, creating tribes that are hostile to each other, and setting one South African against another, we had to build a nation that is united in its diversity.  We had to see ourselves as one nation, a rainbow nation.
This new nation is in the making as I speak. It is built on the recognition of all our eleven languages that are accorded equal status, and protected by our Constitution.   We do not only speak many languages, but we are also a diverse nation in terms of faith. Our location on the African continent, between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans,  has blessed our country with religions that trace their origin to different parts of the world. Hence our national official events are always opened with an interfaith prayer session to bring together our different faiths in the service of one single nation.
Under apartheid, we were many nations, at war with each other.  Today, we are a single nation of diverse and different nationalities, working towards a common goal of a better life for our people.
We admit, however, that this nation is still in the making, and require more and more effort to mature and realise its full potential.  
Yes, the unity of a nation is built of the richness on its languages and cultures. But the ravages of poverty,  inequality and hopelessness can threaten the survival, let alone the future,  of such a nation.
We will fail as a nation if the fundamental structure of apartheid is not addressed.  
We will fail as a nation if racial and gender inequality continue to define the fundamentals of our society. 
Poverty is so widespread and very prevalent among those who were oppressed in the past -  who justifiably continue to ask the question: why has this freedom that we achieved in 1994 not changed their lives? Why are they still poor? 
The management of hope and popular expectations is a challenge any post-colonial society has to navigate and overcome. The failure to do so can lead to civil strife, the increase in incidents of racism, xenophobia and other forms of intolerance, political and religious extremism, and even political instability. 
We have a challenge to secure the future of our young nation. Our people had hope when apartheid ended. We have to keep the flame of this hope burning. Our people had expectations when they achieved their freedom. We must not fail them.
The end of apartheid put our country on the path towards sustainable peace. We sometimes forget that South Africa is one of the success stories of post-conflict reconstruction and development. 
We had to take hard decisions - whether to pursue the path of vengeance? But instead we chose forgiveness. We could have hunted down the perpetrators of apartheid, and we would have been justified in doing so; but we chose to work with them for a better and new South Africa.  We chose the path of transitional justice instead of endless which-hunts and retribution. 
History has exonerated us. Our wounds of the past may not be fully healed. Our painful memories will remain part of us for generations to come. But we are no longer a nation at war, either with itself or with its neighbours. Our soldiers are agents of peace in different parts of our continent, not perpetrators of war and other forms of destabilisation in our neighbourhood like in the past.  
We believe that if we had chosen the path of vengeance, we would not have the peace that we enjoy today. 
This was a difficult decision.  Thankfully, we had leaders who understood that we needed to make certain sacrifices in order to secure a better and peaceful future for our people. Therefore, leadership is key; and so is the political will required to carry through such a decision against temptations of populism and the inflammatory rhetoric of demagogy.  
To forgive while making sure that the past is not forgotten, saved our country from the cycle of violence.  
Yes, we have achieved our freedom. But from time to time, the ugly faces of racism rears its head in the public space, including our schools, remind us that the identity question remains unresolved.
We are not the only country in the world in the midst of all these challenges.  We will continue to learn from other comparable experiences.
Our friends like yourselves should also feel free to advise us. We are ready to listen.
The Community of Sant’Egidio has proven through its work that it can be a partner to a country like ours. We look forward to engaging further with you, not only here through this dialogue, but also through your very wide networks in South Africa and across the globe. 
The philosophy and principles of the Community of Sant’Egidio have to be emulated by leaders as an antidote against corrupt practices, the arrogance of power, and greed. Your work among the poor -  for the poor and with the poor – is an aspiration that must always remind us that we  are not yet there until poverty, want,  disease,  ignorance, and fear  are history. 
In this regard, we join the multitudes of Catholics all over the world  in celebrating the sainthood of Mother Teresa.  This is an honour for us as women because her elevation recognises not only the role of women in society but also in history. 
South Africa is the product of the topic that has brought us together today. It emerged out of humanity’s thirst for peace. It is a melting pot of many cultures brought together by history. It has triumphed because of dialogue and the recognition and full acceptance  of the diversity of its people. 
Therefore, we are here to learn and to listen. 
I thank you.