Address to Chamber of Deputies of the National Congress (Parliament) of the Republic of Chile by National Council of Provinces Chairperson, Honourable Thandi Modise

Honourable Vice President of the Chamber of Deputies, His Excellency Mr Jaime Mulet Martinez

Honourable Members

Distinguished guests

I am honoured to stand before this august House, which represents the democratic will, aspirations and hopes of the Chilean people, to pay homage to my leader, the icon of my people, South Africa’s first democratically elected President, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, whose centenary birthday is being commemorated this year.

We do not take lightly the honour you have bestowed on us, as our sister parliament, on behalf of the people of Chile, to share this great occasion with you. I also extend my sincerest appreciation and gratitude to this esteemed House for bestowing on us the decoration of the Chamber of Deputies of Chile.

This invitation, this celebration, underscores the great respect and friendship, the shared determination and purpose between our two nations � driven by a common history.

Earlier this year, both the Government and the Parliament of the Republic of South Africa resolved to dedicate 2018 to celebrate Mandela and to renew and reaffirm our commitment to the noble values, principles and ideals for which he stood.

2018 is also shared with the great and iconic Albertina Sisulu � a leader of women and communities, a freedom fighter and a mother of freedom fighters � a woman determined to fight the unjust apartheid system by any means possible.

Nelson Mandela and Albertina Sisulu were lifelong friends and comrades, connected by blood, struggle and unwavering determination to defeat the minority oppressive rule. They belonged to a generation of courageous champions of human rights and social justice. Their efforts paved the way for the liberties we have now entrenched into our Constitution.

It was Albertina Sisulu who nominated Nelson Mandela from the floor of Parliament to be elected as President.

We celebrate Nelson Mandela as a leader who insisted that he was part of the mass liberation movement; part of a collective of leaders who were servants of the people.

We celebrate Madiba because he was honest, frank, faithful and exemplary. We celebrate him because he put the people first. He taught us that it was right and noble to suppress the self in order to achieve, with others, the greater good.

Even as we stand here today, we know that it is because of the courageous efforts of the great revolutionaries and giants like Oliver Tambo, CompaAero Pepe (Jose Gregorio Vera), Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Beatriz Allende, Michelle Bachelet, Walter Sisulu, Pablo Neruda and Salvador Allende. We stand on their shoulders.

We appreciate that you host us today as you consider the significance of Mandela. This is a demonstration of your commitment to establish a just, peaceful, prosperous and inclusive world for which he gave us so much.

In special sessions in September and October, the UN at its 73rd General Assembly, and the IPU at its 139th Assembly � acknowledged Madiba’s immeasurably meaningful contribution to peace and a just world. A statue of Madiba was unveiled at the UN headquarters in New York on 24 September.

What made Madiba such a revered person that the largest global platforms of heads of state and of legislatures have acknowledged him so significantly?

Perhaps it is the lessons of a rural boy who learned the games and the rules of his community; perhaps it is being trained by his royal uncle that listening was better than talking. Perhaps it is the art of mediating and negotiating that he learned from kinsmen; perhaps he was taught to take the pain of being a leader � absorbing the discomforts and resolving the difficulties that were part of being raised in a royal house.

He studied law at Fort Hare University and played a role in the formation of the ANC Youth League. He led the Defiance Campaign and mobilised for and led the people’s army � Umkhonto we Sizwe. He was its first commander-in-chief, having being trained abroad.

Nelson Mandela was brave. During the Rivonia Treason Trial, he and his comrades stood tall and defiant in the face of possible death penalty sentences. Instead of pleading for mercy � Nelson Mandela made a speech from the dock: Bold, defiant, rousing his people to stand firm for a just struggle. That speech was a clarion call for the oppressed to choose dignity, to die for principles! No retreat, no surrender, Aluta Continua!!

He ended it with the words: I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.

The pursuit of that ideal of a democratic and free society, in which people live together in harmony and with equal opportunities, took various forms. It was made possible through, among other things, the pursuit of international friendships.

Increasingly, it also involved exploring and advocating that South Africa’s liberation from the yoke of the racist undemocratic apartheid state involved freeing both the oppressed and the oppressors.

Madiba was always conscious that, through the manifestation of international bonds, such as, the one that our country enjoys with this glorious nation of Chile, he owed his existence also to the world community.

There are special ties that bind South Africa and Chile, though. So, today is, particularly, a time of great joy for us. But it is also a time tinged with poignancy � when we remember the bitter struggles we both had to fight to end the jackboot brutality of former regimes and begin to build societies founded on freedom, human rights and democratic government.

Madiba, himself, acknowledged the affinity between our two countries. In November 1998, during the first official visit by a democratically elected President of Chile � Eduardo Frei � to our democratic South Africa, at the banquet in honour of Mr Frei, Madiba remarked: Both Chile and South Africa face the challenge of overcoming a legacy of underdevelopment within a globalised world economy. We do so as peoples for whom the memory of oppression and repression is still fresh and painful, and who know that the process of dealing with such a past is a long and difficult one.

In the light of this profound observation by Madiba, to suggest that our invitation to be here with you today is a mere coincidence would be to deny our very common history which, as Madiba aptly characterised it, is that of oppression, repression and pain.

We are bound by our shared past and our common desire for true freedom, prosperity, dignity and social justice. Both our countries have emerged victoriously from the era of repression, rampant human rights abuses, detention without trial, brutality, elimination of those deemed enemies of the state, banishment and general impunity and lawlessness. Both in the Southern hemisphere, our two nations share a dark historical past presided over by regimes united in the pain, terror and suffering they inflicted upon those they ruled.

The year 1990 therefore became a turning point in the histories of both South Africa and Chile, the beginning of a triumphant and yet a difficult and complex transition, characterised by breaking away from the painful past and building a new future. As the world witnessed Mandela walking out of prison after almost three decades of unjust imprisonment in Cape Town, about 5 697 kilometres away a new dawn was breaking here with the stepping down of Pinochet.

There are further commonalities in the paths both nations chose in breaking away from the past: the path of reconciliation and national unity. And this is a further testament how Mandela’s noble principles and values are mirrored in the developmental trajectory of our sister nation of Chile: the principles of forgiveness, reconciliation and unity, as opposed to retribution and revenge.

To best capture the noble and progressive principled approaches of the two countries, Fidel Castro made the following profound observation during his historic address to our Parliament in 1998: Nelson Mandela will be remembered for his generosity and his wisdom at the time of an already uncontainable victory, when he knew how to lead so brilliantly his self-sacrificing and heroic people, aware that the new South Africa would never be built on the foundations of hatred and revenge. He further said: The political miracle of unity, reconciliation and peace under the leadership of Nelson Mandela will perhaps become an unprecedented example in history.

This is one of the most insightful explorations of the concept of Madiba, which I believe best defines why the world and, indeed, the people of Chile are honoring this iconic figure today.

Since both our countries became democracies, we have been strengthening and formalising co-operative relations between us. There are bilateral agreements and memoranda of understanding and regular visits between us on specific issues.

In 2014, Chile’s President, Ms Michelle Bachelet, during her state visit to South Africa, announced the establishment of the Republic of Chile-Nelson Mandela Scholarship Programme, through which the Government of Chile will receive South African professionals to pursue postgraduate studies at universities in Chile.

The Joint Trade and Investment Commission, led by the trade departments of our two countries, spearhead economic relations.

We have close to 27 South African companies having a presence in Chile � in, for example, mining; engineering; construction; food; airfreight; transport; industrial equipment for health, agriculture and the renewable energy industry; cosmetics; and the casino and hospitality sectors.

Ms Michelle Bachelet observed in her Annual Nelson Mandela Lecture on 9 August in 2014: Our transitions from the military dictatorship in the case of Chile and apartheid in the case of South Africa to democracy, occur nearly simultaneously, making our learning process virtually parallel.

The privilege of living in peace took precedence in the new democratic order of both Chile and South Africa and had been protected in both our countries, Ms Bachelet said, to establish the tranquility to be able to plan for one’s future without fear of seeing legitimate dreams arbitrarily crushed.

Beyond our reminiscences of Madiba, to really honour him, we should be exploring how to pursue the goal of a just world to which he devoted his life.

How do we live out the values, which guided his life and made it possible to forgive � but not forget � the heinous deeds visited on him and the millions of other South Africans and oppressed people throughout the world?

It starts with each one of us, in our homes, in the areas where we live.

How do we retain our humanity, our respect and compassion for our fellow human beings, our environment? As parliamentarians, representing the hopes and aspirations of our people, how do we ensure we uphold the highest standards of integrity and honesty in conducting our public � and private � lives?

How can we, as countries of a world that is inter-dependent, learn from and help one another?

As that great iconic son of the Chilean soil, Nobel Peace Laureate Pablo Neruda said: There is no insurmountable solitude. All paths lead to the same goal: to convey to others what we are. And we must pass through solitude and difficulty, isolation and silence in order to reach forth to the enchanted place where we can dance our clumsy dance and sing our sorrowful song � but in this dance or in this song there are fulfilled the most ancient rites of our conscience in the awareness of being human and of believing in a common destiny.

Neruda also added, as he echoed the prophetic words of Rimbaud:

A l’aure, armes d’une ardente patience, nous entrerons aux splendides Villes (In the dawn, armed with a burning patience, we shall enter the splendid cities).

This is the challenge facing us and it is one which we cannot shirk � if this commemoration of Madiba and the UN’s declaration of the next decade being the Madiba decade of peace is to have real meaning. Together, we can change the world!

Muchas Gracias

Source: Parliament of the Republic of South Africa