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Remarks Prior to Discussions With Nelson Mandela

June 25, 1990

The President. Welcome to all of you. It is a great pleasure, a sincere pleasure, for Barbara and me to welcome to the White House Mr. and Mrs. Mandela -- Mr. Mandela, a man who embodies the hopes of millions. In our meetings this morning, he and I will talk about the future of South Africa, and it is my sincere hope that these talks will be productive discussions that will contribute to positive change toward true democracy and the dismantling once and for all of apartheid.

We meet at a time of transition for South Africa. We applaud the recent steps President de Klerk and the Government of South Africa have taken to expand the rights and freedoms of all South Africans. These are positive developments, steps toward a fully free and democratic future that we all wish to see for all of the people of South Africa. In order for progress to continue, we must see on all sides a clear commitment to change.

All parties must seize the opportunity to move ahead in a spirit of compromise and tolerance, flexibility and patience. And from all parties, we look for a clear and unequivocal commitment to negotiations leading to peaceful change. I call on all elements in South African society to renounce the use of violence in armed struggle, break free from the cycle of repression and violent reaction that breeds nothing but more fear and suffering. In the words of the great Martin Luther King, Jr., "Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred."

Mr. Mandela, in the eyes of millions around the world, you stand against apartheid, against a system that bases the rights and freedoms of citizenship on the color of one's skin. That system is repugnant to the conscience of men and women everywhere, repugnant to the ideals that we in America hold so dear. No system that denies the rights that belong to each and every individual can endure forever. Apartheid must end.

The United States, committed to the concept of free market and a productive private sector, is ready to do its part to encourage rapid and peaceful change toward political and economic freedom. We will continue to urge American firms that are still doing business in South Africa to play a progressive role in training and empowering blacks and building a foundation for future prosperity.

But while the reform process has moved forward -- and it has -- apartheid remains a reality, and genuine democracy a dream. Our sanctions have been designed to support change. And when the conditions laid down in our law have been met, then, and only then, will we consider, in consultation with the Congress, whether a change in course will promote further progress through peaceful negotiations.

Mr. Mandela, we in this country support the struggle against apartheid. For two centuries, we had our own battles. America fought its own battles to promote the standard of equal rights. It was here at the White House -- in a room now obscured by these coverings because we're repainting the White House -- but it's right there, in the midst of the Civil War, that Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, that great beacon of light and hope. In the room where this historic document was signed, even now we feel the power of the undeniable truth that guided Lincoln's hand: that all men must be free.

In this past year, freedom has made great gains. A terrible chapter of oppression has ended for millions of men and women in Eastern Europe, in Asia, and in this hemisphere. People have defeated, through peaceful means, dictatorships that promised freedom and progress but delivered only poverty and repression. The triumph is far from universal. There are still those who rule through force and terror. But the events of this past year have been clear: The future belongs not to the dwindling ranks of the world's dictators but to democracy, the millions of friends of freedom the world over.

Mr. Mandela, you said many years ago, before the first of your 10,000 days in prison, that there is no easy walk to freedom. Your years of suffering, your nation's suffering -- they've borne that out. But just as, this past year, so many millions of people in Eastern Europe and elsewhere tasted freedom, so, too, South Africa's time will come.

As Martin Luther King said on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, we cannot walk alone. Sir, we here in America walk in solidarity with all the South Africans who seek through nonviolent means democracy, human rights, and freedom.

Once again, it is a sincere privilege to welcome you to the White House, and may God bless you and all the people of South Africa. Welcome, sir.

Mr. Mandela. Mr. President, it is an honor and a pleasure for my wife, my delegation, and I to be welcomed by you. This is a continuation of the rousing welcome which we have received from the people of New York and Boston, of black and white. That welcome has far exceeded our wildest expectations. We look forward to visiting Atlanta and other cities because we are confident that the warm welcome we have received is not confined to New York, Boston, and Washington. That mood expresses the commitment of all the people of the United States of America to the struggle for the removal of apartheid.

One thing that is very clear, and it has been made even more clear in the remarks by the President, is that on the question of the removal of apartheid and the introduction of a nonracial democracy in our country we are absolutely unanimous. That is something that we have always known because the people of America and the President, in particular, have spoken in this regard in very clear and firm terms. And this has been a source of great encouragement to our people. To receive the support of any government is, in our situation, something of enormous importance; but to receive the support of the Government of the United States of America, the leader of the West, is something beyond words. If today we are confident that the dreams which have inspired us all these years is about to be realized, it is, in very large measure, because of the support we have got from the masses of the people of the United States of America and, in particular, from the Government and from the President.

There are very important political developments that have taken place in our country today, and it is my intention to brief the President as fully as possible on these developments. We are doing so because it is necessary for him to understand not only in broad outline what is happening in our country, he must be furnished with the details which may not be so available to the public so that the enormous assistance that he has given us should be related to the actual developments in the country.

I will also ask the President to maintain sanctions because it is because of sanctions that such enormous progress has been made in the attempt to address the problems of our country.

I will also inform him about developments as far as the arms struggle is concerned. The remarks that he has made here are due to the fact that he has not as yet got a proper briefing from us. I might just state in passing that the methods of political action which are used by the black people of South Africa were determined by the South African Government. As long as a government is prepared to talk, to maintain channels of communication between itself and the governed, there can be no question of violence whatsoever. But when a government decides to ban political organizations of the oppressed, intensifies oppression, and does not allow any free political activity, no matter how peaceful and nonviolent, then the people have no alternative but to resort to violence.

There is not a single political organization in our country, inside and outside Parliament, which can ever compare with the African National Congress in its total commitment to peace. If we are forced to resort to violence, it is because we had no other alternative whatsoever. But even in this regard, there have been significant developments which I hope to brief the President on. I am also going to brief the President on the key role which the ANC now occupies in the country as a result of his efforts to mobilize the entire country around the question of peace.

We have and are addressing the question of black unity. We are also addressing ourselves to means and methods of helping Mr. de Klerk to maintain his position with confidence and to go on with the negotiations without looking over his shadow. We have already started important initiatives in trying to mobilize the white community, not only those who support him but even the right wing, because we are the only organization in the world that can help Mr. de Klerk to maintain his position.

And I am going to urge on the President not to do anything without a full consultation with the ANC in regard to any initiative which he might propose to take in order to help the peace process in the country. As people who are operating inside, and as the architects of the peace process, it is absolutely necessary for everybody who wants to be of assistance in the struggle of the black people inside the country and who want to help promote the peace process to have a full consultation with the ANC before any step is taken.

Finally, Mr. President, I would like to congratulate you and President Gorbachev for the magnificent efforts that you are making in order to reduce international tensions and to promote peace. It is my hope that governments throughout the world will follow your example and attempt to settle problems between governments, and between governments and dissidents inside its country, by peaceful methods. You and comrade Gorbachev have opened a chapter in world history which might well be regarded as the turning point in many respects. And here we congratulate you and wish you every success.

Note: The President spoke at 10:42 a.m. at the South Portico of the White House. Following their remarks, the President and Mr. Mandela met in the Oval Office and then attended a luncheon in the Old Family Dining Room.

George Bush, Remarks Prior to Discussions With Nelson Mandela Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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