Opening Address of Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory and Commemoration Project, by Nelson Mandela, 21 September 2004, Johannesburg

Ladies and Gentlemen

Comrades and Friends

Thank you for attending this function at the invitation of an old man.

What you have just witnessed could be described as one old man giving another old man two old notebooks. And let me at once thank Mr Card for returning these items to me. However, I want you to see the symbolic significance of this event. Under the apartheid regime it was a common practice for the authorities to take documents from

those they regarded as enemies. Sometimes they used these documents as evidence in court cases. Sometimes they used them in various forms of intimidation. Sometimes they simply destroyed them. For all of us who were part of the struggles for justice and freedom in this country, committing information to paper was a very risky business. We had to be careful about how we did this, and careful about what we kept and where we kept it. (I obviously wasn’t careful enough with the notebooks!) This reality in itself was a form of intimidation. And one of the results is that today there are relatively few archives documenting the thinking and the inner processes of the liberation movements.

So we invite you to see these notebooks as more than just the working documents of a prisoner. They represent the hope that we can recover memories and stories suppressed by the apartheid regime. Mr Card might easily have decided to destroy the notebooks, or sell them to a wealthy collector in this country or from some other country. We remind you that there are many people who once worked in apartheid structures who today have documents in their

cupboards or their garages or in a safe place overseas. That is part of our unfinished business of dealing with the past and ensuring that restoration takes place. Mr Card is to be commended for his contribution to restoration and reconciliation.

In our view the work of archives in the South Africa of today is potentially one of the most critical contributions to restoration and reconciliation. All of us have a powerful moral obligation to the many voices and stories either marginalised or suppressed during the apartheid era.

Today we are launching the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory Project. It will be run by the Nelson Mandela Foundation in a partnership with the Constitution Hill project. We want it to be part of what we have called the processes of restoration and reconciliation. The two notebooks given to me today by Mr Card will be the first

acquisitions for this Centre of Memory. It is our hope that from these small beginnings it will grow into a vibrant public resource offering a range of services to South Africans and visitors from all parts of the world. We want it to work closely with the many other institutions that make up the South African archival system. And, most importantly,

we want it to dedicate itself to the recovery of memories and stories suppressed by power. That is the call of justice: the call that must be the project’s most important shaping influence.

The history of our country is characterised by too much forgetting. A forgetting which served the powerful and dispossessed the weak. (Of course there are other forms of forgetting. As a very old man now I have been forced to make friends with forgetting.) One of our challenges as we build and extend democracy is the need to ensure

that our youth know where we come from, what we have done to break the shackles of oppression, and how we have pursued the journey to freedom and dignity for all. We will fail our youth if we leave them in ignorance of what has given them the opportunities they now enjoy. At the same time, for those of us who are older and

have lived through the transition from apartheid to democracy, the processes of remembering offer us healing and a means of respecting the many comrades who made it possible.

This is what archives are about. This is what we want the Centre of Memory Project to be about. We will be grateful for any assistance in helping us to achieve this objective.

I thank you.