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Remarks at the Memorial to Hector Peterson in Soweto, South Africa

March 28, 1998

Thank you very much. Premier Motshekga, Father, Foreign Minister Nzo, Ambassador Sonn, Ambassador Joseph, Mayor Mayathula, Mayor Mogase. I'd like to especially thank Walter Sisulu and Mrs. Sisulu for being here and Helen Suzman and Dorothy Molefe. Thank you all so much for coming.

I thank the Soweto Heritage Trust for their work on this magnificent memorial. And I thank the people of Soweto for making Hillary and me feel welcome here.

This solemn place commemorates forever the death of one young boy, a death that shocked the world into a new recognition of the vast evil of apartheid. Today, as South Africa enjoys what our President Lincoln called "a new birth of freedom," we remember the historic events of this decade and we remember that none of them could have been possible without the bravery of the young men and women of the townships who took to the streets in protest, many of whom were cut down in struggle, more of whom were damaged by prison and torture. We remember generations divided by a system that denied them equality, justice, and the opportunity to make the most of what God gave them at birth.

Here in the heart of Soweto, on behalf of all the American people, we also honor those who led the fight over so many decades to end apartheid. Some of their names are now well known all around the world: Biko, Tambo, Hani, Suzman. Many others have names that most of us who are not South African have never heard and now will never know, black, white, colored South Africans who answered the call of conscience. But all of them together, by their unyielding refusal to accept injustice, summoned men and women around this country, and indeed around the world, to raise their voices and work until change came to South Africa, people who gave themselves for the greater good of their country men and women, people who by their very example made our world a better place to live. For this, all men and women of good will in every nation on this Earth should be profoundly grateful.

With the tree that Hillary and I just planted with the help of those wonderful young people, we remember all who fought, all who suffered, all who died. Let this tree, a symbol of new life, recall their sacrifices but also embody with every blooming the bright and hopeful new day they gave so much to bring to South Africa. And with every new day, let us be all the more grateful that they made it possible.

Thank you very much, and God bless you all.

NOTE: The President spoke at 3:57 p.m. In his remarks, he referred to Premier Mathole Motshekga of Guateng Province; Father Cornelius Mpahki, rector, Holy Cross Anglican Church, who gave the invocation; Minister of Foreign Affairs Alfred Nzo of South Africa; South African Ambassador to the U.S. Franklin Sonn; U.S. Ambassador to South Africa James A. Joseph; Mayors Nandi Mayathula-Khoza of Soweto and Isaac Mogase of Greater Johannesburg; retired head of the African National Congress Walter Sisulu and his wife, Albertina; Helen Suzman, former Member of Parliament; and Dorothy Molefe, mother of Hector Peterson.

William J. Clinton, Remarks at the Memorial to Hector Peterson in Soweto, South Africa Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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