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Remarks at a Congressional Black Caucus Luncheon for President Nelson Mandela of South Africa

October 05, 1994

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Mr. President, Members of Congress, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the White House. Welcome to this occasion marking what Martin Luther King once called "a joyous daybreak to end the long night of captivity."

Most of you in this room, through your prayers and your actions, helped to keep freedom's flame lit during the dark night of apartheid in South Africa. Now here we are: South Africa is free; Nelson Mandela is President. Some dreams really do come true.

We are also here because of our own ongoing struggle against racism and intolerance and division. Over the years South Africans and Americans have shared ideas and drawn strength from one another. The NAACP was founded just a few months before the African National Congress, and close bonds were forged between two of the greatest leaders our two countries have produced, Nobel Prize winners Albert Luthuli and Dr. King.

Over the years Americans raised a powerful, unified voice for justice and change in South Africa that would not go unheard. A diverse coalition spread the word: churches, universities, human rights organizations; ultimately, banks, businesses, cities, and State governments. The tools they wielded, cultural and economic sanctions, divestment, international isolation, ultimately helped to force the apartheid regime to end more than four decades of repression.

At the center of this movement stood the Congressional Black Caucus. The caucus helped to raise the consciousness of all Americans to the terrible injustice of apartheid, and it consistently acted upon a deep-rooted commitment to South Africa's freedom. Representative Ron Dellums introduced the first antiapartheid legislation in 1972, the year the CBC was founded. It took 14 more years, the unbending will of the CBC, and ultimately the willingness of Congress to override a veto. But you persevered, you prevailed. And today we can say, South Africa's triumph is your triumph, too. And we thank you.

Now that freedom and democracy have won, they must be nurtured. And that is the ultimate purpose of President Mandela's visit to us in the United States. Working with Congress and the private sector, our administration is helping to promote trade with and investment in South Africa, not only for the good of South Africans but in our own interests as well. The private sector, which made its weight felt in the fight against apartheid, must now lead the effort to build a prosperous South Africa. This is not, I say again, about charity. It's about opportunity, opportunity for South Africans, opportunity for Americans.

We must also help South Africa to create jobs, housing, and schools; to improve health care; to fight illiteracy and poverty. These are challenges with which the new South Africa must contend, now and vigorously. And rising to meet them, South Africa will become a model for all of Africa.

Let me add that our concern must not end with South Africa. For all its problems, Africa is a continent of tremendous promise and progress. I reject the Afro-pessimism, as it's been called, that is often expressed around this city. That's why we'll provide some $3 billion to Africa this year, directly and through international organizations, for economic assistance and humanitarian relief; why we've had the firstever conference on Africa recently that many of you have participated in; why we're working through sustainable development and debt relief, through peacekeeping and conflict resolution, through diplomacy and military conversion, to take advantage of the opportunities for democracy and development on the African Continent.

We owe our new partnership with South Africa to the man I have been privileged to host in Washington this week. President Mandela, by the simple justice of your cause and the powerful force of your example, you have inspired millions of Americans and millions more throughout the world. We are in your debt, not only for what you have done for South Africa but for what you have done for us, for what you have made us believe again about what we might become and what we might do here at home.

Let me close with the words of the poet Jennifer Davis, which she wrote in tribute to Albert Luthuli. They apply equally well to you: "Bounded, you gave us knowledge of freedom; silenced, you taught us how to speak."

President Mandela.

NOTE: The President spoke at 12:46 p.m. in the State Dining Room at the White House.

William J. Clinton, Remarks at a Congressional Black Caucus Luncheon for President Nelson Mandela of South Africa Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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