Saturday, 13 June 2015

A kernel of morality

[What follows is an excerpt from a speech delivered by Nelson Mandela on 13 June 1999, his third-last day as President of South Africa:]

There must be a kernel of morality also to international behaviour. Of course, nations must place their own interests high on the list of considerations informing their international relations. But the amorality which decrees that might is right can not be the basis on which the world conducts itself in the next century.

It was pure expediency to call on democratic South Africa to turn its back on Libya and Qaddafi, who had assisted us in obtaining democracy at a time when those who now made that call were the friends of the enemies of democracy in South Africa.

Had we heeded those demands, we would have betrayed the very values and attitudes that allowed us as a nation to have adversaries sitting down and negotiating in a spirit of compromise. It would have meant denying that the South African experience could be a model and example for international behaviour.

In many ways, our modest contribution to resolving the Lockerbie issue will remain a highlight of the international aspects of our Presidency. No one can deny that the friendship and trust between South Africa and Libya played a significant part in arriving at this solution. If that be so, it vindicates our view that talking to one another and searching for peaceful solutions remain the surest way to resolve differences and advance peace and progress in the world.

We look forward with joy and anticipation to the full re-entry of Libya into the affairs of our continent and the world.


  1. How painful it must have been for Mandela to watch the 2011 murder of Libya, with the false representation of the Lockerbie disaster playing a part in gaining the support for the attack.

    "But the amorality which decrees that might is right can not be the basis on which the world conducts itself in the next century."
    By 'can not' he of course meant 'should not be allowed to'.
    As 'Might is Right' would be a very fitting headline for this century so far, even more so than for the last one.

  2. A fascinating speech. Unfortunately for the world and the Middle East, his words were to be much ignored. Might indeed became right, and still is. Destabilisation of regimes unfriendly to the US, renditions galore, drone killings without borders, mass surveillance of US citizens and those of the UK, refugees sweeping across continents to arrive on Italian shores and onward to the "civilised" nations who created those same refugees. The world has need of more Mandelas. But where will we find them?

  3. Seen through the lens of 16-year hindsight, that is irony and tragedy wrapped up in one inexpressibly painful package.