Watch: Nelson Mandela addresses Davos in 1999


Nelson Mandela speaking to delegates at the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos on 29 January 1999. Click image for a larger view. (Photo copyright World Economic Forum)

• Sello Hatang
CEO and spokesperson
Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory
+27 11 547 5600

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Fifteen years ago, on 29 January 1999, Nelson Mandela addressed global luminaries gathered at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, for the last time. It was his final year as president, and South Africa had been free for only five years. Yet much of what he had to say still resonates in South Africa, and in the global economy.

Mandela had spoken at Davos before, in 1992, two years before he became president. In 1999 he was able to look back on five years of democracy and reflect not only on the successes South Africa had achieved since the end of apartheid, but also its continued challenges. These lay not only at home, but also in a newly globalised world. Global economic integration had brought benefits, but also new risks of worldwide economic contagion.

At 80 years old, Mandela looked strong, dressed in a cream-and-gold floral print Madiba shirt – and welcomed to the stage with a standing ovation from the audience. He was introduced by World Economic Forum founder Klaus Schwab, who described him as “an inspiration to all of us”.

“I have had the opportunity of welcoming many heads of state in Davos,” Schwab said. “But when it comes to you, Mr President, it is a very special and a very cherished moment.”

Reflecting on the approaching end of the 1990s, Schwab added: “Mr President, you are most likely the greatest statesman at the end of the century. Your achievements form a guiding light, which all of us should consider as we build the 21st century.”

Watch the video

Nelson Mandela’s address to the World Economic Forum in Davos, 29 January 1999. (Mandela’s speech begins at the seven-minute mark.)

Read the transcript

Edited transcript of Nelson Mandela’s address to the World Economic Forum in Davos, 29 January 1999.

Let me begin by thanking you most sincerely for affording me the privilege of addressing the World Economic Forum in Davos for the last time as president of South Africa.

South Africa’s leadership has had a close and fruitful relationship with the forum over the past eight years. Such is our approach to the international business community that our new democracy never hesitated to accept your kind invitations to participate in this rigorous forum. I hope that by doing so we have been able to convey information about the challenges and the potential of our wonderful land.

We have been lauded, politely listened to and pilloried for some of the things that others and I have said on various occasions here in Davos. Indeed, I have vivid memories of this process during my visit here in 1991! It has taught us much and reinforced our belief in dialogue and interaction with the international community.

The success of the annual regional summits has confirmed us in this judgement. I would, therefore, like to use the occasion to invite you all to this year’s Southern Africa Economic Summit in Durban in June. While I will not be able personally to welcome and host you, I can assure you of South Africa’s warmest hospitality and of many opportunities to promote our mutual goals.

However, if you should during your visit see an old man by the road carrying a placard saying, “No Job, No Money, New Wife, Big Family”, please spare a thought! [Audience laughter]

‘The desire of good men and women everywhere’

What has stood out in all our interactions with you is your profound goodwill toward South Africa. I doubt if you know how much this means to us. To ensure a better life for all our people is a complex and difficult task. Your support strengthens our efforts and inspires us.

We know that this goodwill arises from the desire of good men and women everywhere that South Africa should succeed in reconciling our people, and that we should lay the scourge of racism to rest.

This requires strong democratic institutions and a culture of compassion. None of this is possible without a strong economy.

The challenges we face combine many of the great challenges that face our global society. We need social stability that is based on socioeconomic development. We must nurture tolerance, collective wisdom and democracy. Like all countries, we must provide real personal safety and security against criminality and abuse of human rights.

Who benefits from globalisation?

The fact that we face these global challenges at the precise moment that we have become free with the world’s support places special obligations on our new democracy.

Some people argue that we should focus on our own immense problems and leave others to their own devices. That would be to turn our back on those that helped to liberate us, often at great costs to themselves. It would be contrary to our morality, which will not let us desert our friends.

Who, in our interdependent world, can turn their back on people in other lands when press, radio and television bring us the graphic reality of abuse, death, genocide and senseless and destructive wars?

Is globalisation only to benefit the powerful and the financiers, speculators, investors and traders? Does it offer nothing to men, women and children who are ravaged by the violence of poverty?

To answer “yes” to these questions is to recreate the conditions for conflict and instability. However, if the answer is “no”, then we can begin to build a better life for all humanity.

Reflections on five years of freedom

South Africa knew from the outset that reconstruction and development would be even more difficult than the defeat of the apartheid system. I cannot report that we have succeeded in all our endeavours in South Africa. Yet a great deal has been achieved in the first five years of democracy, in the face of many difficulties.

The statistics of our progress are readily available to those that want them, so I will only cite two facts:

  • In 1994, 12-million people in our rural areas, some 30% of South Africans, lacked access to clean drinking water. Since then, 3-million have gained access to that absolutely basic amenity.
  • In 1994, two thirds (63%) of South African households lacked electricity. Today the figure is reduced to one third (36%) of households without electricity.

An audience such as yourselves will understand what these two examples indicate about our broad programme of socioeconomic improvement: the scale of the challenge we inherited; the progress we have made; how much more is still to be done.

You will appreciate that such improvement, if it is to be sustained, requires enduring changes in our public service, a stable and living democracy, as well as a dynamic and sustainable economy.

Partnerships to combat joblessness, crime and HIV

Because development brings great structural change that affects different interests in different ways, the achievement of our goals requires of us the capacity to mobilise a highly complex society in pursuit of broad national objectives. It means building a broad partnership of major social forces.

Considering the condition of South African society a few short years ago, I believe that we have made great progress in this regard. What is deeply encouraging is the way in which civil society is becoming actively engaged in transforming our society, in particular to deal with the most difficult challenges we face.

Our recent Jobs Summit brought business, labour and the development community together with government to work for job creation.

Business actively assists in our critical battle against crime. The religious community has come together with political parties to give a lead with government in the moral regeneration that will help fight corruption and crime. Farmers and farmworkers are working with the police and army to combat rural criminality.

Last year this World Economic Forum gave a global lead to the international business community in the fight against HIV/Aids. I am pleased to be able to report to you that late last year a national Partnership Against Aids was launched in South Africa, by Deputy President Thabo Mbeki, bringing together all sectors of our society, including the private sector, to combat this epidemic.

Such partnerships of social forces give our society a resilience and stability that keep it on a steady course, whatever the vagaries of political mood. This environment allows government to take a longer view and consistently apply sound and sustainable economic policies.

In the stormy seas of the world financial markets, our medium-sized ship has taken some storm damage but continues to sail under its own power.

Economic integration of Africa

However, like all trading nations, our own growth depends critically on growth in the world economy. When we can least afford it, the current crisis has had a very real impact on our growth rate, as it has across the world. Though still positive, our growth rate is nearly 3% below our initial projections for this year. Stability in the world economy and, more important, a return to growth in Southeast Asia, Latin America and Africa are vital.

Our own long-term structural development also depends on all of southern Africa and Africa achieving the same, and on our building economic ties and development cooperation among ourselves.

We are making sure but steady progress overcoming the colonial legacy of poor links, including transportation links, between our economies. Cross-border cooperation with our neighbours to promote investment and development grows by the month. We will make progress this year toward a Free Trade Agreement in the Southern African Development Community.

But much as we have advanced in these and other ways, continuing conflicts are hampering development. The gains we are making could be jeopardised, not only in the countries directly involved but more generally, such is the interdependence of all our countries.

African renaissance and the world economy

Africa is beyond bemoaning its past for its problems. The task of undoing that past is ours, with the support of those willing to join us in a continental renewal. We have a new generation of leaders who know that we must take responsibility for our own destiny, that we will uplift ourselves only by our own efforts in partnership with those who wish us well.

In short, now that Africa is free, we can embark on the realisation of our long-held dream of the rebirth of our continent, of reconstruction and development.

One of the greatest effects of this African renaissance will be the reintegration of the African economies into the world economy, no longer as dependent participants. One dimension to this reintegration is the unfolding of the complex processes that I have reflected on above. These processes will have to emanate in Africa.

The other dimension raises a profound and fundamental question, as to whether the world economy in its current structure will allow this reintegration. This question is seldom asked, since it is the weaknesses in Africa and the developing world that are usually put under the spotlight. But it is an essential question.

For Africa to reintegrate, its economies must industrialise and modernise, and their success in doing so will depend on the framework within which this occurs. When Southeast Asia and South Korea, and later some Latin American countries, successfully followed an export-oriented path to industrialisation, a new orthodoxy was established on industrialisation that relied on the globalised marketplace.

For many, globalisation was no longer seen as a complex historical process but as an economic policy panacea.

‘A grand and destructive irrationality’

Today, however, we have seen how global financial turmoil can stall industrialisation – and even de-industrialise in some cases. Finance in abundance derived from very high levels of development is destabilising industrialisation processes where they are needed most.

Profitable as this may be for individual market actors, it is a grand and destructive irrationality for those countries and their peoples whom it sets back on the development path.

And it introduces instability in the global system whose effects ultimately no economy can escape.

This must be addressed.

Trade protectionism in the North

It is, however, not the only obstacle to the development of the South. Despite liberalisation of trade, there remain areas of protectionism in the developed countries. In agriculture, for example, Europe seeks to protect its rural communities by capturing markets that are the true competitive advantage of the South.

In the steel industry, to take another example, the North seeks to protect old industries that will never be able to compete with the modern resource-based production of the South. This restricts an obvious avenue to modern production in Africa.

These matters must be addressed in the multilateral fora if we are to ensure that Africa is able, through its own efforts, to reintegrate into the world economy. They form part of those changes to the economic, social and political world order which are needed if we are realise our dreams of a better world for all humanity. They are a part of what is necessary if the next century is to be, as it must be, the century in which Africa again takes her rightful place in the world.

You will, therefore, understand why this old man, to whom you have granted the privilege of bidding you farewell in the twilight of his public life and at the turn of the century, has raised such very practical matters of unfinished business.

‘My heart full of hope’

It has been my great privilege to fight a struggle for freedom that the world adopted as its own, and which has been victorious in my lifetime. I have had the honour of representing a people who won the admiration and respect of all nations by reaching out to each other and finding common ground across a divide that seemed unbridgeable.

In these last years I have experienced the complexities of governing a nation that seeks to overcome a legacy of social deprivation, and I am profoundly aware of how much is still to be done. I have witnessed the enormity of the task, still to be completed, of redirecting international institutions and systems in such a way that the prodigious capacity of the world economy shall satisfy the basic needs of all people.

Knowing that I leave the governance of South Africa in strong and wise hands, and that there is a new generation of leaders in the world who have recognised the possibility of realising our dreams of a better world, I approach the end of my public life with my heart full of hope.

I thank you for your attention, and wish you well in your efforts.