The Liberty Medal Ncc Logo


Acceptance Speech

F. W. de Klerk
President of South Africa

July 4, 1993
Independence Hall
Philadelphia, PA

President Clinton, honorable senators and congressmen, Mr. Mayor, other dignitaries.

It is appropriate that two South African leaders should be here in Philadelphia on Independence Day. And it is symbolic that we who are so greatly honored today represent two political forces which have decided to break out of the cycle of conflict and to join hands in the quest for peace and democracy.

Philadelphia was the birthplace of the great democracy of the United States of America. Today, is the birthday of your nation. South Africa congratulates the American nation. At this very moment, we in South Africa are giving birth to a new democracy and a new nation.

Far from here in distance but not in spirit, the representatives of 26 South African parties are locked in negotiations on the future of that new nation. They are wrestling with the same issues that your Founding Fathers negotiated and debated. For almost 11 years, high among these is the question of federalism and the appropriate balance between states and the central government.

Another is the care that should be taken to devise checks and balances which will prevent the misuse of power. Yet another is the role which a bill of rights should play in protecting individuals and minorities, with a constitutional court acting as the watchdog of liberties. These are questions with which the framers of your Constitution wrestled. We intend to succeed, as your forefathers did, in bringing forth a constitution and a bill of rights which can ensure liberty, justice and security for all our people.

It is significant that during the past week, our negotiators have reached substantial agreement on many of these key issues. On this basis, we as a nation are now poised to move forward and to take the next step in the process of the birth of our new nation. The preparations for our first national election in which all South Africans will participate – these preparations will include the establishment of a transitional executive council, an independent election commission, and an independent media commission. Their purpose will be to ensure that the coming elections will indeed be free and fair.

It is also fitting, Mr. President, that this ceremony should be taking place in the City of Philadelphia. This city was founded in the quest for liberty, so that William Penn and his followers could enjoy their right to one of their most precious liberties: freedom of worship.
We in South Africa wish to expand and protect the freedom of our people in all spheres. We wish to secure them free institutions as their birthright – now and deep into the future.
It is appropriate for us to be here today because the Liberty Bell which rang in Philadelphia over 200 years ago, has been heard all over the world. The United States was and is an inspiration to democrats wherever they are.

We in South Africa hope that the process which we have begun in our country will, in the same way, ring out across Africa and provide hope and inspiration to the rest of Africa – a continent which is at present struggling to provide greater prosperity and freedom to its people.

Finally it is appropriate and fitting that this ceremony should be taking place in Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love. This city was founded on the spirit of peace and reconciliation. Ladies and gentlemen, we in South Africa hunger for the spirit, we thirst for reconciliation. After so many decades – indeed, centuries – of confrontation, we are binding up the wounds.
A new nation is being born. We are laying the firm foundation of mutual respect. The great cultural and ethnic variety that characterizes our nation is becoming a source of pride and strength, instead of a reason for division and enmity. We are making peace.

We need – in the words of my co-recipient, Dr. Mandela – to throw out our weapons into the sea. We need to take a strong stand against the unreasoned passion, the intransigence and the unyielding prejudice represented by radical elements on the left and right.
We need to reconcile our differences through reason, debate and compromise. All this, the multiparty negotiating forum is achieving slowly but surely.

President Clinton, ladies and gentlemen, it is in this spirit that I accept The Liberty Medal. I want to publicly congratulate the co-recipient, Dr. Mandela. He is worthy of this medal. The two of us have found it possible to work together. And through working together, also with other leaders, we are going to succeed in brining peace, justice and democracy to our country.

In accepting this, I do not do so on my own behalf (but) together with my compatriot and on behalf of all South Africans, who have dedicated themselves to the search for a peaceful and negotiated solution to the problems of our country. I also do so on behalf of eminent leaders of the past and present not with us today…who also sought peaceful paths to freedom, liberty and justice. And as head of state, in all humility, I do so on behalf of all South Africans – supporters and opponents alike – who hunger for the peace, reconciliation and freedom which are symbolized in this ceremony.

I thank you. I thank you all for having made this possible. It is, accordingly, a great honor for me to accept The Liberty Medal.