Shared journeys and colonial pasts: Helen Clark presents special address at UCT

16 September 2002
FRESH FROM the rigours of the World Summit on Sustainable Development, the New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark delivered an exclusive address at UCT on September 6.

Articulate and confident when addressing both the packed Kramer lecture hall and the press afterwards, Clarke began her talk by paying tribute to the University. "I am aware that UCT upheld a vision of a non-racial university as apartheid closed in on South Africa after the Second World War– I am also aware you have moved on to play a critical role in preparing your students to meet the challenges of democratic South Africa. Your lamp of learning – the symbol on your crest – has burned brightly across the decades and I know it burns today."

Clark went on to provide an in-depth examination of New Zealand's economic, political, social and cultural renaissances. Along the way there were glimpses of the country's colonial past, its journey as a multicultural nation with "an explicitly bicultural foundation", and of how New Zealand had addressed lingering issues from its past. The Prime Minister also described the economic strategy the country had adopted to boost its levels of sustainable growth and living standards.

"In some respects the journey of modern New Zealand has been influenced by our relationship with South Africa," she noted. "But key events in our past brought us together and the legacy of those events has meant that each of us in our own way has had to come to terms with how very different people can live alongside each other in conditions of peace and mutual respect."

Referring to the colonisation of both countries, where distinctive settler communities had taken root to marginalise the indigenous inhabitants, Clark traced the countries' first links to the Anglo Boer War, when NZ troops had fought alongside the British. The links had continued through another British legacy: rugby. "Indeed so powerful was the rugby connection that it became the defining characteristic of the relationship between our two countries," she said. As apartheid had grown (with South Africa's subsequent "honorary white" label for Maoris to enable the All Blacks to continue touring the country), many in NZ had become blinded to its consequences by the desire to keep the rugby link.

This had taken its toll on social cohesion in NZ. "In 1984, the New Zealand Labour Party came to power and set about undoing the harm to New Zealand caused by its identification with apartheid South Africa. New Zealand became a voice in the Commonwealth for change."

Referring to the transition in South Africa, Clark called Nelson Mandela's release from prison a "triumph of the human spirit". "In a world crying out for leadership, it is important not to underestimate the significance of South Africa's voice," she added, "Mandela's wisdom continues to be sought and his counsel listened to. President Mbeki's leadership in the New Partnership for African Development is essential to its success."

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