Remarks about Human Rights at the University of Capetown

(in progress) faculty, students, distinguished guests and friends. And greetings to the people of the new South Africa. It is an honor for me to join you at this great citadel of learning. The University of Capetown is known the world over.

And I am especially grateful to be here with your Vice Chancellor, whose contributions to education, medicine, anthropology and the struggle for human rights makes her a role model not only for young people in South Africa, but for young people throughout the world.

Little could have prepared me for the swell of emotions I have felt on this visit to your country. When I was last in South Africa for President Mandela’s inauguration with the Vice President three years ago, I was moved beyond words by what I felt to be the spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation that seemed to embrace this land. Today, my heart is stirred anew by the patience and perseverance with which South Africans are united to build a strong and lasting democracy.

The human zeal for freedom, as you know so well here, is a remarkable thing. Just think, in the last 10 years we have seen men and women unlock the bonds of tyranny and seek their own destinies all over our planet. From the Czech Republic, where a velvet revolution peacefully loosened decades of iron fisted rule and paved the way for a newly democratic central Europe; to Estonia, where men and women yearning for democracy literally sang their way to freedom; to Mongolia, where nearly a century of domination and oppression at the hands of dictatorship could not suppress the popular will for self expression and self rule. And today on the continent of Africa we find country after country becoming a touchstone of democracy and freedom.

History has taught us that no nation and no continent has a monopoly on tragedy and evil. We have learned from instances too numerous to count that human beings of all backgrounds, persuasions and geographies have an equal capacity for depravity. But so, too, have we learned that from disaster and calamity can spring the noblest acts of courage,selflessness and human decency.

Who could have imagined just a short decade ago that the blood and tears of Uganda would soon give way to the embrace of peace and democracy? Who could have imagined that years of civil war in the Horn of Africa would lead to the birth of a new democratic nation called Eritrea and that women freedom fighters would help to lead the way? Who could have imagined that a country like Mozambique, whose people had known nothing but war and civil strife would itself become an example of national healing and unity?

Yet nowhere has the triumph of the human spirit, the power of love to conquer hate been greater than in South Africa. The spirit of reconciliation has enabled your nation of diverse peoples to overcome 40stubborn and violent years of apartheid and begin the difficult journey to democracy. Just think of the progress we human beings could make if that same spirit of reconciliation echoed in all corners of the world in the streets of Belfast, the killing fields of Burundi, the countryside of Bosnia.

You, the people of South Africa, are teaching countless others that as interdependence is the inescapable condition of humankind,so is tolerance the greatest weapon for peace.

When he spoke on this campus 31 years ago, Robert F. Kennedy reminded us that it is from numberless, diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. And it is those acts by individuals, as much as any action by your government, that will determine the success of your new democracy.

South Africans and Americans live in countries which represent great experiments in multiracial democracy, experiments that depend on the human hearts’ deepest reservoirs of goodwill and forgiveness, and the human spirit’s capacity for progress. The consciences of both our nations have been seared by racial inequality and injustice. And, yet, often against great odds our people have searched inside themselves and found ways to forgive the wrongs of an ugly past to create a future of promise and reconciliation.

In his second Inaugural Address delivered at the end of a civil war that claimed more American lives than all other conflicts in United States history combined, President Abraham Lincoln urged a divided nation to forgive, heal and unite around a common humanity. This is in part what he said: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive onto finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan; to do all which we may achieve and cherish, a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.” Surely American history would have been different if President Lincoln had lived to lead us on our journey of truth, forgiveness and reconciliation.

One hundred years later another great American, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., lent his words, actions and moral weight to a nonviolent crusade for civil rights that moved our country ever closer to the ideals of democracy. Dr. King declared that “Darkness cannot drive out darkness;only light can do that. Hatred darkens light; love illuminates it.”

Here in South Africa the message of reconciliation and forgiveness has found many eloquent messengers whose names are well known to you and to the world. Among them, President Mandela and Archbishop Tutu. But the success of this great experiment in nation building depends ultimately on each citizen people whose names never appear in the newspaper, but whose acts of courage and belief are just as sure to guide South Africa’s future. As President Mandela once explained, we are all warmed by the same summer and chilled by the same winter. And it is recognition of that common humanity that shall bind us into a nation.

To date, we Americans find inspiration in the generous and forgiving spirit that has won you this democracy. And we find inspiration in the democratic institutions that have come to light here in just a few short years. We find inspiration in your progressive new constitution,which is being distributed around the country this week; and especially the rights it enshrines for women and children. We find inspiration in the work you are undertaking in every sector of society to build your new nation. We have an old saying in America, that “idle hands are the devil’s work.” From what I have seen in just a few short days, the devil will have no help here. South Africa is a country that is too busy to hate.

In all of these ways your experience in South Africa reminds us just how precious freedom, peace and democracy are and how we all have a stake in their success around the globe. I hope that you, too, can find some inspiration in America’s experience. For we Americans offer you a reminder, that democracy is a complicated business, as complicated and hard to manage as human nature itself. We have been striving to perfect democracy for more than 200 years, without any assurance that we will ever fully succeed. And, yet, we keep working at it because nothing is more precious to us than the freedoms our ancestors struggled to win and struggled to preserve.

Now South Africa is building a multiracial society, rooted inhuman rights and nourished in the fertile soil of reconciliation and forgiveness. And I have been privileged to witness some of your efforts. Yesterday I had the chance to join Archbishop Tutu at a meeting of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission here in Capetown. In the most ordinary of conference rooms people are undertaking the most extra ordinary of efforts. They are working to help complete South Africa’s healing. They are seeing to it that South Africans fully understand their past so that they may also create a future in which every citizen finally has the opportunity to live up to his or her God given promise.

As important as it is to weave history into your memory, it is just as important to be sure that we weave all people into the work of building this democracy. And I would say a special word on behalf of the involvement of women, for neither this democracy nor any other can flourish if half the population is unschooled, unskilled, unfed, unhealthy or unheard. It is clear that you and South Africa know that.

In Soweto I met a principal at a primary school who was working overtime to get much needed resources for her students; a teacher who will not rest until every child in her class has mastered the basics of English; a woman at an orphanage a few miles from the school who gave up her own job to keep that home for abandoned children open when the government cut off funding in 1977. She was motivated by the belief that every child deserves love, a sense of belonging and the simple necessity of a safe place to sleep.

In Johannesburg I met with women social workers,psychologists, law enforcement experts and police, politicians and grassroots activists who are working to end the plagues of domestic violence and child abuse which afflict not only your country, but mine and many others. And let me say that we around the world owe thanks to the women of Africa for focusing international attention on domestic violence and putting it on the agenda first at the United Nations Conference on Women in Nairobi and later in Beijing.

But perhaps the best illustration I have seen of how women are rooting democracy in South Africa is found in a patch of land here in Capetown that I visited yesterday. It’s a brown, dusty place once occupied by squatters. Understandably, the women there were not satisfied with their situations. They wanted to do better for themselves and their children. So after hearing about a housing program that worked with poor women in India, they formed their own local housing and credit association. Before long, they requested and received information from government officials about how to lay a foundation for a house. They put in a sewer line. With money saved for the association and some support from the government they bought shovels and wheelbarrows, paint and cement. And together they worked and worked and worked. Today they have completed 18 houses and they are building more.

Now, some of you may be wondering, what does a house building project for squatter women have to do with democracy. But as the women themselves sang in a song for me while I was there, “strength, money and knowledge, we cannot do anything without them.” And here in South Africa you are showing the entire world that democracy will succeed only if every citizen black, white or colored; man, woman or child not only enjoys the full political, economic, social and civic power that he or she is due,but also engages in the task of nation building.

That is the task before all of your citizens. Whether you are in government or business, whether you teach, whether you minister,whether you farm it is to help translate one of the greatest political triumphs of this century, really of all history, into social and economic conditions that mean better lives for all South Africans. Forty years of institutionalized inequality and injustice are hard to overcome. Yet I have seen, even in this brief stay, men and women of all races and beliefs who are joining together to make this democracy work. They want to ensure that children are afforded the education they need to pursue their dreams,that women are not relegated to the margins of society, that relations among racial groups are expanded and strengthened, that the climate is right for businesses to prosper here, that all South Africans are free of violence and crime in and out of their homes, and that every man, woman,and child is treated with the respect and dignity they deserve.

President Mandela and his government should be applauded for pursuing a program of reconstruction and development that seeks to make the transformation of democracy complete on all fronts. They are working hard to erase inequities in health care and education, to assure that woman have a voice in charting the future of their country, to reduce crime and strengthen the economy and give people the tools they need to succeed in a democratic society.

Yet we from America know that this is a long task before you. I want you to know that, as Americans, we celebrate your accomplishments and we want to be your partners in securing your democratic future. To that end, President Clinton has pledged an additional $19 million through the United States Agency for International Development to assist President Mandela’s teacher training initiative and $87 million in USAID assistance this year for housing, health care, and business development initiatives.

One of the most tangible signs of our new partnership is the bi national commission chaired by our Vice President and your Deputy President. Last year they signed an agreement to cooperate to fight crime. As a result, the United States is providing funding this year to assist South African law enforcement agencies with criminal justice expertise and training.

We are working together to improve the business environment by lowering taxes and tariffs so that bilateral trade can thrive, creating jobs for both the people of South Africa and the United States.

South Africans and Americans are also learning from each other, through education, medical, and cultural exchanges at colleges and universities, as well as fellowships at some of our leading scientific institutions. In addition to funding from USAID, many of these programs are supported by American corporations, foundations, and universities.

And let me deliver today another indication of our support for the work that you are doing here in this country. Today I am privileged to announce that the United States is expanding support for thec ampaign to eradicate polio in Africa by the year 2000. Initiated by the World Health Organization’s regional office for Africa, the Kick Polio out of Africa campaign is a partnership in the truest sense. It involves national and local governments, nongovernmental organizations, businesses,bilateral donors. It is led by your President. And thanks in part to his leadership, extraordinary progress was made on this front last year.

Now the United States is committing an additional $16 million through USAID to assist in this vital effort to bring better health to the people of Africa. With us today are representatives from key organizations in this important partnership: the World Health Organization, Rotary International, and UNICEF. In our hemisphere we have succeeded in eradicating polio, and now we wish to assist the people of Africa in eradicating polio on this continent as well.

Each of these and the many other investments between our countries reflect our belief that the future of this country and this continent are inextricably linked to the futures of countries throughout the world. It reflects our belief that peace and prosperity can and will prevail if we all work together. Most of all, it reflects the faith we have in you and in the democratic path you have chosen to follow at this difficult time of transformation.

That said, I must add, there are no panaceas. There are no quick fixes in the march to democracy and a truly free market economy. Democracy’s success in South Africa will not depend solely on free elections, open markets, or government policies. It will not depend solely on foreign investment. It will depend ultimately on the internalization of democratic values in people’s hearts, minds, and everyday lives.

For those of you who are students here at this great university, perhaps your experience here can serve as a guide. Universities, after all, are where we who are lucky enough to attend them learn more about the importance of personal responsibility and community. They are training grounds for individual freedom and incubators of ideas. They are repositories of free speech and free thought. And they are a collective meeting place for individuals of very different backgrounds,different attitudes, interests and aspirations. They are places where we test the balance between individual and community rights, where we struggle to find the balance between “me” and “we,” where we assume responsibility for ourselves and others.

This university has always been a vanguard of change; now you have a chance to help create a new South Africa. And you also have a chance to help shape the course of history. The world is watching, and the democratic world stands with you. It has been given to you as to few other peoples in history the opportunity to hold in your hands your own futures and the futures and dreams of countless millions of others.

May God bless each and every one of you and all the people of this great country as you work to realize your individual and shared destinies. Thank you very much.

Question: (Inaudible.)

MRS. CLINTON: I think this is an extraordinary moment in time for any of us who are women, and particularly if we are fortunate enough to have the blessings of good health and education and to feel that we are able to make the choices that are right for ourselves in our own lives and as they impact our families and our societies.

I think that we have more opportunity than we’ve ever had,but so much of whether or not we seize that opportunity depends on two factors: first, how well prepared we are to accept responsibility for our choices and the consequences of our choices; and how supportive and enabling those around us, including families and the larger society,happen to be. So although we have made considerable progress, moving toward a point where individual women will hopefully have the chance to make those choices that are right for them, there is still a great deal of work to be done, in my own country as well as around the world.

Those of us who were fortunate enough to go to Beijing know that the majority of people who live in absolute poverty in the world are women, often the sole support of children; that women do most of the hard work in our world, oftentimes without any income being generated or even any recognition of their economic contributions both inside the home and outside the home and that is true in advanced countries as well as developing ones.

So I hope that women as we move toward this new century will support one another in all of our various aspects of life; that we will not be tricked or seduced into a position of undermining other women’s accomplishments and other women’s opportunities; that we will work for a change in our societies, where appropriate, to have the kind of legal and other protections that are necessary; and that every one of us will do what we can to make sure that little girls are given the same opportunities in every society as little boys. It makes sense. We don’t have the human resources to waste. And we need to be sure that we enable all citizens of every country to live up to the fullest of their potential and make the contribution they are capable of making to their society.

And so I hope that the 21st century will see so much progress on this point that by the 22nd century we won’t even ask the question anymore. (Applause.)

Question: Mrs. Clinton, you and I share an alma mater you started a tradition that I would be glad to be a part of that the students speak at commencements. What did you take from your Wellesley experience that you use in your everyday life that you try to pass on to other people?

MRS. CLINTON: Both the questioner and I attended Wellesley College, which is a women’s college outside Boston, and I feel very fortunate that I attended that college for many reasons. One, because it gave me four years of relative seclusion on a beautiful campus to study and learn and interact with my classmates and the faculty, and yet a big city, Boston, with lots of other universities and men was nearby. (Laughter.) In my view, the best of all possible worlds. (Laughter.)

And it also gave, I think, all of us who took those four years out the confidence that is sometimes drained out of even eager women in university experience that undermines their feeling that they can make their contributions because, from the moment they enter university I’m sure it’s not true here they are battered about by the expectations for social success and relationships that make it more difficult for them to concentrate on what it is they’re studying and learning, and to find their own path as clearly as they would like. And we did not have those kinds of distractions or difficulties.

And I think that the role of women’s education is still one that has to be looked at very carefully around the world. There is a role, I believe, for single sex schools for girls and for boys, at all levels of education. And I think a school a college like Wellesley stands as a very good example of the continuing commitment that must be made to women’s education. Even though all of our other fine and competitive universities are now available to women, there is still something very special about that environment, and I’m very grateful every day that I attended there. (Applause.)

Question: (Inaudible.)

MRS. CLINTON: We’ve had a long and difficult debate in our country about the role of welfare and the idea of a social safety net in the United States. And I have, along with my husband, worked in both the public and the private sector for many years on the challenges presented by the welfare system as it operated in the United States. When my husband was the Governor of the State of Arkansas, he worked very hard to provide people who were on welfare the education and training that they needed to be able to compete in the job market and was successful in helping to move a number of people off of welfare.

He has recently signed a piece of legislation that will end what we call the “welfare entitlement” and turn back to individual states the responsibility for implementing welfare policy. This was a very controversial decision in many quarters in the United States. But let me briefly describe what I see as the reasons why the President signed that legislation.

First of all, there is very little doubt in our country that the current welfare system, before this legislation was signed, was not working for a significant number of people who were trapped on welfare. There were large numbers of people, particularly women who had gone through a divorce and were left with very few financial resources, people who had other kinds of misfortune, who would be on welfare for a short period of time and then off. In fact, the average time that the vast majority of people stayed on welfare was two years or less.

But there was a group of people caught in welfare dependency second and third generation where, for reasons that had to do with all kinds of social and economic and even psychological changes, they were unable to break out of that welfare dependency. So there was no doubt that the system had not worked for them.

And the President believed that we had to make drastic changes in that system in order for people to be motivated to understand how they had to help themselves. He also believed that in our country we’ve had many people say that communities and churches and other institutions would be more helpful to people on welfare if the government didn’t provide an automatic check. We are going to find out whether that’s true or not. And the President has been working very hard to persuade businesses and various levels of government to hire people off of welfare. He’s been working to persuade churches to, in a sense, mentor families on welfare.

So he has set as a challenge to America: If you are serious about caring for your fellow man, if you are serious about ending welfare as we know it, then you have to be involved. There are no more excuses. We can no longer say, well, we hate the welfare system, and all those people who are on it are people that we just don’t understand. Now there is no more welfare system, except as we create it. So it is a bold and challenging step we have taken, and we will watch it very carefully to try to make sure it works to the benefit of the people it is intended to help.

Question: (Inaudible.)

MRS. CLINTON: (Laughter.) Hope springs eternal. (Laughter.)You know, I have thought a lot about this, because (laughter and applause)strictly as a student of political science (laughter) I am curious as to why it is apparently easier for women to ascend to the highest ranks of national leadership in parliamentary systems. I met the speaker of your house yesterday here in Capetown, a woman, and I have met women prime ministers and presidents around the world who come out of a parliamentary system. And I have no real answer to this, but a few suggestions which reflect how difficult it is in our country, I believe. In a parliamentary system, whether it’s Margaret Thatcher or Indira Gandhi or Golda Meir or any of the other countless women in this century who have succeeded to the highest political position in their societies, they worked in a parliamentary system where the men and women with whom they work get to know them as a colleague and get to appreciate their strength and weaknesses.

And so, during that period of time in which they are involved in political life in their country, they get to be judged by their own merits as a parliamentarian, as a leader of a party, and they have a very small constituency, in effect a constituency of their fellow party members in the Parliament who choose them as their leader based on very personal knowledge. They do not have to go out and sell themselves to the entire country and face all of the myriad of questions that women in public life are often subjected to, because their constituency is one which they know and have helped to shape over time.

In contrast, in the United States, because of our system it’s absolutely true, anyone can run for president, which is a wonderful openness about what we have in America, but it’s also true that everyone,then, must go out and essentially persuade the entire electorate with very little personal knowledge. One gets to know someone over the television,over the mass media; they don’t have the kind of working experience that will exist here in your parliamentary system, so it’s very difficult for women to overcome many of the preconceptions and stereotypes that the public holds about them because of this lack of personal experience.

Now, having said that, I do hope and believe that sometime within the next 20 years we will have a woman president. It is possible that one or more women may run in the primaries in their parties in the United States, in the election coming up in the year 2000. There are some very well qualified women who have served as governors, served in the Congress, served in the cabinet of various administrations, both Republican and Democrat, so I think that we will see women emerge and subject themselves to the electoral process. And I’m hoping that eventually we will see a woman in the White House and then I will follow with great interest how her spouse is treated. (Laughter and applause.)

Question: (Inaudible.)

MRS. CLINTON: A wonderful question for a university audience, because certainly you don’t pick the time of history in which you live; that is something that is thrust upon you, just as you don’t pick your parents. There are some things that you are stuck with, for better or worse. (Laughter.) But if you believe in the spark of humanity and opportunity and life that lives in all of us, then no matter what your beginnings nor what time you live in, you have opportunities to shape your own life and hopefully contribute to the life of your society. And I cannot think of a more exciting time to be a young person than right now in South Africa, black, white or colored. The opportunities are extraordinary to break down old barriers, to subject yourself to new experiences, to sit with people you have never sat with before, to look each other in the eye, to learn what you have in common, to agree to disagree, to build this democracy on those individual acts that will really make it possible for it to withstand whatever difficulties lie ahead, and to do so not only individually, but through organizations religiously based organizations, university based organizations, economic and social ones to be players in this extraordinary effort of reconciliation and reconstruction that you are engaged in.

I think the same is true in a lesser degree even in our own country today. It is not a time of the civil rights movement or the Vietnam War, but America stands on the brink of its own difficult decisions about how we will treat one another, how we will engage in building our own communities for the future. And for young people who have more at stake in what happens in the 21st century, it is essential that you get the best possible education that will enable you to make your contributions and to keep your minds open to change, to continue to learn,and that you approach whatever you do with a dose of humility that is hard enough in life and difficult even more in youth (laughter) that we do not have all of the answers, that experience can teach you some things, and to take lessons from those who have gone before.

So I would hope that maybe in ways that are different from some of the great movements of the past, and certainly here in this country those who were involved in the struggle against apartheid, those who helped to forge the links that enabled you to break through in a peaceful way to the democracy that you now have, will do more to involve young people in that building process and that those of you who are students will look for ways to make your contribution.

I feel so strongly that we are on the brink of such enormous possibility in the world right now. I have no idea which way it will turnout. There’s no guarantee that we will make the right decisions in the United States or in South Africa or anywhere else. But if enough people of good will continue to stress what we have in common with one another and the eternal values that stand the test of time, then I’m hoping that we will have a critical mass, the world over, to keep moving us slowly,fitfully, toward a future that really will live up to the ideals that we brought to our struggles in the United States and that you have brought to yours here. And I wish you and all of the students here the opportunity to participate in that great endeavor. (Applause.)

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