Nelson Mandela Foundation

Greetings to you all who are following today’s event from home, here in South Africa, and from wherever you are in the world. On behalf of the Nelson Mandela Foundation’s Board of Trustees, and the Staff of the Foundation, I thank you for supporting the 19th Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture with your presence.

The world we all live in, particularly at this moment, continues to change and change so rapidly that both our intellectual and emotional understandings of it, and even of very ourselves, are
changing all the time.

It is just over a year ago that United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres addressed the very first virtual Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture and spoke about the need for a new social contract in what he called “a new era”. Indeed, the demands of that new era continue to exert pressure in similar or different ways on all peoples across the world.

That this year’s Annual Lecture also takes place virtually speaks to the adaptive resourcefulness of the Covid-19 virus to mutate into new and more deadly strains. This has forced us into lockdowns of
various kinds as we simultaneously rethink the way we have lived and how we now face the imperative to have to co-create a new world based on an understanding clearer to us all as never before. It is this: that we all fundamentally equal as human beings. 

Perhaps the greatest imperative of the 21st century emerges from that understanding: to work together in mutual respect to the change the global order significantly.

In South Africa we have felt the compelling urgency of the demands of that imperative. This happened recently when the one thing that we solemnly agreed would be the foundational basis for how we would constitute ourselves into a new nation, the South African Constitution, was brazenly and concertedly attacked.

The wave of looting, burning and other forms of public violence, destruction, and lawlessness which the world will have seen, and which swept two of South Africa’s provinces just a month ago, caught many of us by surprise. But deep down we knew that the kindling for such a fire had been building up over many years.

The planned, rehearsed, and deliberate disruption of the economic lifelines of our country shocked the entire South African population. Had the perpetrators succeeded they would have demonstrated
publicly the blueprint by which they would govern South Africa into a future of more instability, more poverty, more ignorance, and more violence as the bases on which they would exercise their control over the South African population.

They intended to turn our country into a state without the rule of law. They would have installed a tin god as head of state who would become the beginning and end of his own laws. The conditions for looting were created with the intention to expose the needy to the chaos under which they could acquire both essential life supporting commodities, as well as non-essential accoutrements of modern life they desired but could not afford because they still lived largely in an economic system and the social conditions that undergird it, which, as we all know, where inherited from a long history of colonialism and apartheid. They also banked on the devastations of Covid-19 which led to massive joblessness and general social disruption.

The South African Constitution, a living work-in-progress, was designed to be the solemn means by which we could alter myriad and complex legacies in our history which we should not, and aught
not to, sustain. In assisting us to carry out this task, the South African judiciary, through its studious adjudication on the basis of the rule of law which covers all aspects of South African life, has been steadfast in its commitment to ensure the integrity of state governance by calling to account the executive authority to honour individually and collectively, in word and in deed, the oaths of office they swore, in full view of the nation, and to be guided by them.

But it was in the midst and aftermath of the chaos, that an amazing social phenomenon occurred. Communities in affected provinces and others around the country, came to recognise the organic interconnectedness of the social order in which they lived. In an instance of social insight, they saw that each township had a local economy that was the beating heart of its community life.

They recognised and began to uphold the reality that it was in the public, community interest that the neighbourhood store, the spaza shop, the local shopping mall, the ATM, the petrol station, the
schools, early childhood development centres, the library, the clinics, the post office, even the local police station, and the entire municipal infrastructure which includes electricity, water, sanitation, streets and roads, the trains, buses, and taxis, should always be in a regulated state of readiness to be accessed and maintained by members of each community so that the services which such
institutions provide are reliably available to each and everyone in ways that have been agreed to in formal ways by the respective communities which needed them to support their communal livelihood.

They also realised, as a result of the massive self-imposed inconvenience they experienced, that it was now necessary to end all forms of violence as the means to achieve community objectives no
matter how unhappy some citizens might be. It dawned on our township communities that the governed social order was a public good to be recovered, maintained, and protected.

The current generations who have witnessed and experienced this severe disruption in their livelihoods, carry the greatest responsibility to recreate and restore the integrity of community life and that the life-giving lessons of that restorative experience be passed on from one generation to the next. The communities of today are the generations that carry the historical responsibility to lay the foundations.

The principle at the heart of social living that township communities have now recognised is a source of social cohesion that many communities around the country, such as for example, Abahlali Base
Mjondolo, have known all along. But their experience and knowledge was something the larger population, even the governing party, failed to acknowledge and learn from. It is that local communities, from which countries are built from the ground up, are the true and authentic sources of the authority of all elected government.

For this reason, it is the solemn commitment and responsibility of all elected government to demonstrate the will and commitment to apply their hearts, minds, and consciences to the expressed needs of the communities that put them in office.

Our immediate task as South Africa rebuilds, in my view, is twofold – on the one hand, to deal with the recent sabotage and criminality decisively; on the other, to expedite the systemic changes which we know cannot be avoided, and to do so now with a sense of urgency greater than ever before, and that the rule of law is a central snd primary source of social order and conduct.

This is also a time like no other before. It is that in the context of the global impact of Covid-19 the sense of identity that South Africa’s township communities have rediscovered is of the kind that all countries in Africa and in other parts of the world known as the “global south”, its peoples once colonised and oppressed, must themselves recover and become the new and purposeful source of their own authority in the reordering of the global systems of world governance and trade, and the movement of people in migratory patterns that have deep historical origins. The moral and ethical burdens of this history must be carried by the entirety of humanity.

All of us who belong to plundered worlds should participate strongly, vigorously, and with greater conviction in the reordering of organisations such as the United Nations, the UN Security Council, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organisation, rating agencies and other global institutions which have been principal contributing agencies in the setting up and deep structuring of unbalanced and unfair systems of global trading that have over the last five hundred years led to a fundamentally unjust world order.

The truth of the moment has finally hit us all! We can all see the fullest extent of the cumulative devastation of the environment by unbridled capitalism and how it has led to a collective understanding that life as we know it is rolling forward fast on a railway track towards extinction.

We have begun to realise that what we in modern times have named “ecological thinking”, has been the experience and order of living that shaped the wisdom of ancient civilisations for thousands
of years, and that all human beings, all other forms of life on land, in the air, in rivers and in the sea, and beyond in space, are sacred.

The ways in which currently the world is, and should be governed in both the ongoing and in the anticipated post Covid-19 times, should reflect this fundamental relearning at this global moment and begin to appreciate, reflect, and uphold the priceless value of once despised ancient wisdom, and inheritance of the universe itself. All humanity should work together to achieve a new world order, and free itself from notions of modernity that have also induced some of the most pernicious forms of blindness embedded in some of the most priced, dominant views of the world today.

It was precisely the recognition of such global challenges that face the world today which compelled the Nelson Mandela Foundation to invite former International Criminal Court Prosecutor Mrs Fatou Bensouda to deliver this year’s Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture on the theme The Rule of Law, International Criminal Justice and Sustainable Development. She is uniquely positioned to explore the connections between accountability and sustainability, and between reckoning with oppressive pasts and making liberatory futures.

We first became aware of her work when she served in the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. She has just completed what has been almost two decades of distinguished
service with the International Criminal Court, including a long stint as the head of prosecutions. She has earned many honours and received numerous awards. We are honoured to have her with us today.

I am looking forward, as we all are, to Madame Bensouda’s lecture with a great anticipation. We welcome her warmly to this platform.