Lise Grande, President, United States Institute of Peace
Senator Reverend Raphael Warnock
Ambassador George Moose, Former Chair, Board of Directors United States Institute of Peace
Andre Pienaar, Chief Executive and Founder, C5 Capital
Strive Masiyiwa, Founder and Executive Chairman, Econet Group and Cassava Technologies
Chargé d’Affaires Ntshinga, Embassy of the Republic of South Africa here in Washington
Members of the Diplomatic Corps
It is an absolute honor to be here with you today at the Nelson Mandela Lecture.
Thank you to President Grande and the team at the United States Institute of Peace for the invitation to speak on this auspicious occasion as we dedicate the Nelson Mandela Peace Plaza.
I would also like to acknowledge Andre Pienaar for his sustained commitment to the United States Institute of Peace and to preserving the legacy of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, or Madiba. Andre’s contributions to the Institute’s endowment in honor of Madiba and his service on the Institute’s International Advisory Council have helped foster partnerships that support peace and good governance on the Continent. As someone who has committed much of my professional life towards those same ends, I want to thank you personally.
[Personal acknowledgments to Senator Warnock, Ambassador Young, Chairman Masiyiwa, and Ambassador Ntshinga]
Americans and South Africans have been inspiring each other for generations, going back to Charlotte Maxeke [mah-cheke] and the Jubilee Singers and continuing up, through Martin Luther King, Junior, Madiba, and Andrew Young to the present day. Madiba inspired generations of Americans to fight for civil rights, from students and activists to cultural figures and political leaders, even while he was incarcerated on Robben Island. Today, when it can seem like the entire world is on fire, there is no better time to reflect on Nelson Mandela’s example and his great personal sacrifice to stay focused on our values, to remind us of the need to work together for a better tomorrow.
One of Madiba’s many qualities was his commitment to achieving his positive vision for South Africa in the spirit of ubuntu, which I consider one of South Africa’s greatest exports to the world.
That spirit Madiba embodied inspires us at the U.S. Mission in South Africa, where my team and I feel a great weight of responsibility. We work everyday to drive forward this critical partnership for the United States. That spirit of honoring our shared humanity is intertwined with Madiba’s legacy.
Entire books have been written about Mandela’s legacy in leadership, courage, governance, international relations. I cannot possibly cover all we could say about this great man in the few minutes we have today. But in light of recent events, I would like to focus today on how Madiba used the cultural significance of sport and its potential to unify a new democratic South Africa. For nearly 30 years, South Africa was banned from the Olympic Games and suspended by various international sporting federations. Rugby, and particularly the springboks, was a symbol of the oppression and divisiveness of Apartheid.
Right after his 1994 inauguration, Madiba attended a soccer match between South Africa and Zambia at the historic Ellis Park instead of inaugural parties and when asked why, he said, “I wanted to make sure our people know how much I appreciated the sacrifices made by our athletes during the many years of the boycott. I have no doubt I became president today sooner than I would have had they not made those sacrifices.”
One year later, South Africa was hosting the Rugby World Cup. During his imprisonment, Madiba and other inmates were widely known to support any team playing against the Springboks. When the tournament opened, he said, “Our loyalties have completely changed. We have adopted these young men as our sons.”
His leadership united the nation and when the Springboks defeated the New Zealand All Blacks, they did it under the slogan, “One Team, One Country.” The match was also played at Ellis Park, known as the spiritual home of South African rugby. Madiba donned the Number 6 jersey worn by the Springbok’s captain, Francois Pienaar. He joined Pienaar on the stage to hoist the Webb-Ellis Cup and celebrate South Africa’s historic first world championship in the sport.
In 2010, Mandela went on to play a pivotal role in bringing the football World Cup to South Africa, showcasing the country and the Continent on the world stage as the first and still only time that the event has been hosted by an African nation.
Fast forward to today, you will see a commemorative Number 6 jersey on the field supporting the Springboks and honoring Madiba’s memory and love for sport.
The Number 6 is now worn by the Springboks’ current captain, Siya Kolisi, the first Black South African to lead the team. I cannot relate in words just how exciting it was to be in South Africa to witness the Springboks’ heroic march to an unprecedented fourth World Cup championship. It was the first time since 1995 that the Springboks and the All Blacks played in the final. Kolisi is only the second captain in the history of men’s rugby to lead back-to-back championship teams.
So, the timing is perfect to be together with all of you at the United States Institute of Peace to dedicate the Nelson Mandela Peace Plaza as South Africans have once again come together under the Springboks’ slogan “Stronger Together.”
Please allow me to close by underscoring the message that Madiba left with the U.S. Congress and the American people in 1990.
He said: “The day may not be far when we will borrow the words of Thomas Jefferson and speak of the will of the South African nation. In the exercise of that will by this united nation of black and white people, it must surely be that there will be born a country on the southern tip of Africa which you will be proud to call a friend and an ally, because of its contribution to the universal striving toward liberty, human rights, prosperity, and peace among the peoples.”
May we all continue to strive to keep Madiba’s legacy alive and vibrant for generations to come.