Thu. Oct 17th, 2019

Op-ed: Intolerance and prejudice remain our mortal enemies

fw de klerkIt’s been 25 years since Nelson Mandela and I shared the Nobel Peace Prize. This is the full text of the speech given at the acceptance 25 years ago.

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It is a little more than six years to the end of this century and to the dawning of the new millennium. In three years we will mark the centenary of Alfred Nobel’s death and in eight the hundredth year of this award.

The intervening years have witnessed the most dreadful wars and carnage in the long and violent history of mankind.

Today as we speak, the shells rain down on beleaguered communities in Bosnia; there is bitter conflict in Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan; there are devastating wars and conflicts in Africa – in Angola, in Somalia and recently in Burundi; and in my own country, notwithstanding the tremendous progress which we have made, more than 3 000 people have died in political violence since the beginning of this year.

As always, it is the innocent – and particularly the children – who are the main victims of these conflicts.

Above all, we owe it to the children of the world to stop the conflicts and to create new horizons for them. They deserve peace and decent opportunities in life. I should like to dedicate this address to them and to all those – such as UNICEF – who are working to alleviate their plight.

The question that we must ask is whether we are making progress toward the goal of universal peace. Or are we caught up on a treadmill of history, turning forever on the axle of mindless aggression and self-destruction? Has the procession of Nobel Peace laureates since 1901 reflected a general movement by mankind toward peace?

When considering the great honour that has been bestowed on us as recipients of this Peace Prize, we must in all humility ask these questions. We must also consider the nature of peace.

The greatest peace, I believe, is the peace which we derive from our faith in God Almighty; from certainty about our relationship with our Creator. Crises might beset us, battles might rage about us – but if we have faith and the certainty it brings, we will enjoy peace – the peace that surpasses all understanding.

One’s religious convictions obviously also translate into a specific approach towards peace in the secular sense. I have time only for a few perspectives on peace in this world and its effect on human relationships.

Peace does not simply mean the absence of conflict.

Throughout history, there has been an absence of conflict in many repressive societies. This lack of conflict does not have its roots in harmony, goodwill or the consent of the parties involved – but often in fear, ignorance and powerlessness. There can thus be no real peace without justice or consent. Neither does peace necessarily imply tranquillity.

The affairs of mankind are in incessant flux. No relationship – between individuals or communities or political parties or countries – remains the same from one day to the next. New situations are forever arising and demand constant attention. Tensions build up and need to be defused. Militant radical minorities plan to disrupt peace and need to be contained.

There can thus be no real peace without constant effort, planning and hard work. Peace, therefore, is not an absence of conflict or a condition of stagnation.

Peace is a frame of mind.

It is a frame of mind in which countries, communities, parties and individuals seek to resolve their differences through agreements, through negotiation and compromise, instead of threats, compulsion and violence.

Peace is also a framework.

It is a framework consisting of rules, laws, agreements and conventions – a framework providing mechanisms for the peaceful resolution of the inevitable clashes of interest between countries, communities, parties and individuals. It is a framework within which the irresistible and dynamic processes of social, economic and political development can be regulated and accommodated.

In our quest for peace we should constantly ask ourselves what we should do to create conditions in which peace can prosper. It is easy to identify those forces and conditions which militate against it and which must be eradicated:

Peace does not fare well where poverty and deprivation reign.

It does not flourish where there is ignorance and a lack of education and information.

Repression, injustice and exploitation are inimical with peace.

Peace is gravely threatened by inter-group fear and envy and by the unleashing of unrealistic expectations.

Racial, class and religious intolerance and prejudice are its mortal enemies. 

This speech was first published on the FW de Klerk foundation website.

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