THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
|For Immediate Release|| ||September 22, 1998|
REMARKS BY PRESIDENT CLINTON
AND PRESIDENT NELSON MANDELA
AT AFRICAN AMERICAN RELIGIOUS LEADERS RECEPTION
6:30 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. The Scripturesays, it's more blessed to give than to receive. I was sitting herethinking, in this case, I wish I were on the giving rather than thereceiving end. It is difficult to absorb the depth and breadth ofwhat I have heard and what you have given to me through the words ofReverend King and through your expression, and I thank you.
I thank you also for what you have given to our country.I thank the members of Congress and the administration, theeducators, the ministers, the ambassadors -- all of you who are here-- and our friends from South Africa.
Hillary and I are delighted to have President Mandelaand Graca here. We thank you, Graca, for your concern for thechildren who have been made victims of war by being impressed intocombat as children and the scars they bear from it. And we thankyou, Mr. President, for being the person we'd all like to be on ourbest day. (Applause.)
I would like you all to think for a few moments before Ibring President Mandela on -- not about the terrible unjust sacrificeof his 27 years in prison, but about what he's done with the yearssince he got out of prison; not about how he purged his heart ofbitterness and anger while still a prisoner, but how he resists everyday the temptation to take it up again in the pettiness and meannessof human events. In some ways, that is all the more remarkable.
There have been many blessings for Hillary and for mefar outweighing all the trials of being given the opportunity by theAmerican people to serve in this position and live in this house.But certainly one of the greatest ones has been the friendship ofthis good man.
And I want to tell you one little story -- I try neverto betray any private conversations I have with anybody, but I wantto tell you this. (Laughter.) When President Mandela -- once I wastalking to him and I said to him, you know, I have listened carefullyto everything you have said, to how you laid your anger and yourbitterness down. But on the day you got out of prison -- Hillary andI were living in Arkansas in the Governor's Mansion, our daughter wasa very young girl. I got her up early on a Sunday morning and I sather down on the counter in the kitchen, because we had an elevatedtelevision. And I said, Chelsea, I want you to watch this. This isone of the great events of your lifetime, and I want you to watchthis.
And she watched President Mandela walk down that lastroad toward freedom, after all those years in prison. So I said tohim one day, I said, now, tell me this. I know you invited yourjailers to the inauguration, and I know how hard you've worked onthis. But weren't you angry one more time when you were walking downthat road? He said, yes, briefly, I was. I don't know if heremembers this. He said, "Yes, briefly, I was. And then Iremembered, I have waited so long for freedom. And if my anger goeswith me out of this place I will still be their prisoner, and I wantto be free." I want to be free. (Applause.)
I say that to set the stage for what is now happening inNelson Mandela's life. Yesterday we were at the United Nations, andhe and I spoke back to back, and then we had this luncheon. And wewere talking about the troubles in the Congo; we were talking aboutthe continuing, almost compulsive destructiveness of the people thereand all the countries outside, trying to get into the act, to makesure that whoever they don't like doesn't get a leg up. And we werelamenting the colossal waste of human potential in that phenomenallyrich country.
And I thought to myself, apartheid is gone in the law inSouth Africa, but it is still alive in the heart of nearly everybodyon Earth in some way or another. And here is this man still givingof himself to try to take the apartheid out of the heart of thepeople of his continent and, indeed, the people of the world.
We were talking just before we came down about a mutualfriend of ours who is the leader of a country, and how he had calledand admonished him to try to work through a problem that he has hadfor too long. And so, I say -- I have to say one thing that isslightly amusing about this. Now, President Mandela will probablyget up here and make some crack about being an old man and how histime is running out, and all that. The truth is he's leaving officebecause he feels like he's about 25 years old again. (Laughter.)And he's so happily married he can't be troubled with all theseboring affairs of politics. (Applause.) But I must say, it's theonly time I've ever known him to misrepresent the facts, but that is,I'm sure, what is going on here. (Laughter.)
But I ask you to think about that. Every time NelsonMandela walks into a room we all feel a little bigger, we all want tostand up, we all want to cheer, because we'd like to be him on ourbest day. But what I would say to you is, there is a little bit ofapartheid in everybody's heart. And in every gnarly, knotted,distorted situation in the world where people are kept from becomingthe best they can be, there is an apartheid of the heart. And if wereally honor this stunning sacrifice of 27 years, if we reallyrejoice in the infinite justice of seeing this man happily married inthe autumn of his life, if we really are seeking some driven wisdomfrom the power of his example, it will be to do whatever we can,however we can, wherever we are, to take the apartheid out of our ownand other's hearts.
Ladies and gentlemen, the President of South Africa.(Applause.)
PRESIDENT MANDELA: President Clinton and Mrs. Clinton,Reverend Bernice King, distinguished guests and friends. When Iturned 70, a young lady who is now principal of a leading universityin the country came to see me in prison. She was blunt andstraightforward, did not flatter me. She didn't say, I came to seeyou here because of my interest in you. She said, if my father werealive today he would have been 70. And when I read in the paper thatyou were turning 70 today, I thought I should come and see how a manof 70 looks like. (Laughter.) Now I've turned 80. I suspect thatmany of you came here to see -- (laughter) -- to see what a man of 80looks like. (Laughter.)
No visit to the United States by a representative forthe South African people would be complete without an opportunity tomeet with those who are gathered here tonight. For us, probably onour last official visit to your country, it has special meaning, andI most sincerely thank our host for making it possible.
More than friends, we are among those on whom historyhas visited the same pains and deprivation, and who have shared ourvictories. The founders of our liberation movement drew deepinspiration at the turn of the century from black America strivingunder difficult circumstances to fulfill our common aspiration forthe restoration of human dignity. It is small wonder that thestruggle to end apartheid drew such strength from here, or that wenow look to you to work with us as we seek to banish poverty, hunger,illiteracy, and ignorance from our land.
Mr. President, by embodying your identification withthese said aspirations in the program of your administration, youhave won for yourself a warm place in the heart of the South Africanpeople, as you witnessed on your visit to our country earlier thisyear. We know that we have your understanding as we seek with thecountries of the south to shift the world economic system towards theneeds of the poor and the weak.
We are aware of the national debate that is taking placein this country about the President, and it is not our business tointerfere in this matter. But we do wish to say that PresidentClinton is a friend of South Africa and Africa, and I believe thefriend of the great mass of black people, and the minorities, and thedisabled of the United States. (Applause.) Few leaders of theUnited States have such a feeling for the position of the blackpeople and the minorities in this country. (Applause.)
We have often said that our morality does not allow usto desert our friends. (Applause.) And we have got to say tonight,we are thinking of you in this difficult and uncertain time in yourlife.
Two days ago, the President of Zambia, FrederickChiluba, phoned me. Now, he is far younger than me -- I think he'sin his 60s. (Laughter.) And in meetings he only speaks to me withgreat respect, and sometimes when we don't agree, he says, now, look,I'm not convinced, Mr. President, of what you're saying, but in ourcustom, we never challenge an old man. (Laughter.) But he projecteda new image two days ago when he phoned me. He did not make arequest to me; he gave me an instruction. And he said, Madiba, Iwant you to support President Clinton. (Applause.) He was notspeaking for himself, and he said so. He said, I'm speaking for thecontinent of Africa. (Applause.)
When he addressed our Parliament, he almost brought downthe walls of that building when he said, "We, in the United States,have been asking the wrong question. We have been saying, what canwe do for Africa? That was the wrong question. The right questionwas, what can we do with Africa?" (Applause.)
That is the man, my friend, who I respect so much. Butit clearly is changing American foreign policy, to the satisfactionof all those who accepted the United States as a world leader, withthe biggest economy in the world, and he is decisively changingAmerican policy.
I repeat that I will not interfere in the domesticaffairs of this country. (Laughter and applause.) But you shouldhave seen the way he was received by the General Assembly of theUnited Nations. (Applause.) The applause was spontaneous andoverwhelming. All of us rose to our feet when he came in. It wasthe same after he delivered his speech. That sent a strong messageas to what the world thinks on this matter -- (applause.)
The men and women who were there come from every part ofthe globe. They are leaders of thoughts -- Presidents, PrimeMinisters, Foreign Ministers, and other opinion makers. That was thestrong message they sent. If you judge from the reaction of theNational Assembly, the United States is completely isolated on thisquestion. (Applause.)
But if our expectations, if our fondest prayers anddreams are not realized, then we should all bear in mind that thegreatest glory of living lies not in never falling, but in risingevery time you fall. (Applause.)
PRESIDENT CLINTON: I want to leave you on a high notehere. (Laughter.) I want to tell you a story that I never told thePresident. I have a friend who is a minister -- a white minister whowas in South Africa recently. And he was given the chance to meetthe President, but he was told, you'll have to go to the airport ifyou want to meet the President. He said, I'll go anywhere to shakehis hand. So he said, I was standing off here waiting for him tocome, and here comes the President across the lobby of the airport.And he said, President Mandela walked up to this gorgeous littleblond-haired, blue-eyed girl, about six years old. And my friendwent up to hear the conversation.
And he said to the little girl, "Do you know who I am?She said, "Yes, you're President Mandela." And he looked at her andhe said, "If you study hard and learn a lot you can grow up to bePresident of South Africa some day." (Applause.)
That's a lot to say after this life. Remember thepoint. God bless you all. Thank you. (Applause.)