2004 – Nelson Mandela

First recipient of the Ousseimi Foundation Prize for Tolerance

On April 23, 2004 in Houghton (South Africa), Nelson Mandela was awarded the Ousseimi Foundation Prize for Tolerance with the following citation:

“Nelson Mandela epitomizes tolerance, both in his personal attitude and in his work and philosophy. The man who envisioned modern, multiethnic and democratic South Africa, Nelson Mandela managed to transcend hatred and violence, to counter racism with something other than more racism – even from the depths of the prison cell in which he spent 27 years of his life – in order to overcome the injustice of his own situation and extend a hand to those who oppressed him and the vast majority of South Africans, without ever accepting a compromise that was not based on recognition of equal rights for all men, in law and in fact, no matter what the colour of their skin, their ethnic group or their religion.

Nelson Mandela is both an idealist and a realist. He gained early on, when Africa was fighting to free itself of its white masters, in the 1940s and 1950s, the conviction that communities were interdependent and that the solution for a constructive future was to integrate all South Africans, including the Afrikaners, in a common national project in which everyone had a place and a share of power. Since its inception, the strength of Nelson Mandela’s project, which has been enriched by forty years of observation and reflection, has been an approach based, not on black versus white or on ethnic groups, but rather on equality and a shared future. This multiethnic and democratic concept is all the more remarkable in that Nelson Mandela belongs to a majority ethnic group, the Xhosa, and is himself descended from a tribal chieftainship.

Nelson Mandela’s strength is his strict adherence to his code of conduct; even at the worst of times, his faith in man and his commitment to justice and equality were unshaken. His attitude while in prison was characteristically open-minded: instead of stoking a spirit of revenge, he took advantage of the years spent behind bars to expand his horizons and refine his vision of the future “rainbow” South African nation, in particular by studying in prison the Afrikaner culture and language, to better understand and dismantle the mechanisms of apartheid.

His commitment to his ideas, his dignity, the universality of the values he upholds, coupled with the length of his struggle and his innate charisma, gave Nelson Mandela recognized moral authority both on the international scene and among his adversaries. The white government did not fail to realize this; starting in the late 1970s, it sought to negotiate his release and his acceptance of the Bantustan policy, the incarnation of everything Nelson Mandela opposed, since its aim was to establish semi-autonomous black ghettos.

Mandela refused even to discuss the matter, at the price of his freedom and even if it cost him his life. He knew that by rejecting all compromise with the regime, increasingly the target of international criticism, he would help gradually to drain the official white power of its “legitimacy”. His attitude paid off, in that at long last, in the late 1980s, the South African government took the first step towards dialogue by implicitly acknowledging that the system had reached an impasse. This led to Nelson Mandela’s release in 1990, the first act in the process of recasting the nation.

Nelson Mandela’s political and national project was based not only on a humanistic vision, but also on his awareness of the rivalries between black ethnic communities and of the danger this posed for civil peace once the common enemy – the system of apartheid – had been vanquished. He played a pivotal role as a moral authority in the years between his release from prison in 1990 and the establishment of a new, democratic and multiracial system in 1994. He managed to hold back the young black population, which was ready to overthrow the white government by force, to prevent widespread acts of intertribal violence and to obtain, if not full support for, at least minimum acceptance of his plans for national unity from the leaders of the main ethnic groups. The 1996 Constitution, which lays the groundwork for a State based on equality, tolerance, respect for human rights, minority protection and the participation of all in power, is directly grounded in the thinking of Nelson Mandela, who was able to make his ideal a reality and federate South Africans, in spite of their differences and disputes.

As the first president of South Africa to be elected by universal suffrage, Nelson Mandela used his term of office (1994-1999) to meet the challenge of consolidating that fragile balance by generating a feeling of ownership in a shared project. This process was facilitated by the uniquely brilliant idea of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, responsibility for which he conferred on Archbishop Desmond Tutu and which made it easier to grant clemency to those of the apartheid regime’s torturers who admitted and apologized for their crimes. All this allowed Nelson Mandela to leave office at the end of his term without his project, thus deprived of its founder, collapsing, and to pass power to his successor in what was also a democratic process.

Both a visionary and a man of action, Nelson Mandela managed the feat of having his concept of politics triumph in fact and of imposing, peacefully and in the face of all opposition, a system based on values of equality and tolerance.”

Speech given by Mrs Maria Ousseimi at the ceremony for the award of the Ousseimi Foundation Prize for Tolerance to Mr Nelson Mandela on 23 April 2004 in Houghton, South Africa

Dear Mr Mandela…or, if I may, “Dear Madiba”, as I see that your friends call you.

Before presenting you with this Award for Tolerance in the form of a check for your Foundation and of this statue, I hope that you will allow me to say a few words about the Ousseimi Foundation and its Founder, my father Khaled Ousseimi.

The Ousseimi Foundation was set up 12 years ago by my father. He had then decided to endow the foundation with a substantial part of his personal fortune, with the main aim of promoting higher education by supporting those who would not otherwise have access to it. With time, the Foundation enlarged its scope of action and began financing various projects of cultural and developmental nature as well as relief efforts in time of crisis, with a special focus on women and children.

Recently, my father and the Foundation Board decided to create an Award that would be given to individuals who had strived to promote tolerance through their life’s work. When he brought his idea to the board, of which Dr Moreillon and myself are members, the choice of your name as first recipient of the Ousseimi Award for Tolerance was spontaneous and unanimous.

Mr Mandela, you have, through your life’s work and permanent struggle, shown such power of forgiveness, acceptance and tolerance that the lessons you teach resonate throughout the world. You embody those universal qualities that transcend boundaries, race, color and religion. You have given the world an example that is unique and is an inspiration to all those who want to believe in better days.

Dear Mr Mandela, it is an honor for me to present to you, on behalf of my father and of the members of the board, the first Ousseimi Foundation Prize for Tolerance.