Rhodes University

Do you recall that we had airports named JB Hertzog, Jan Smuts, DF Malan? In Pretoria there used to be a Roberts Heights which became Voortrekkerhoogte. Well today it is called ThataTswane. You recall someone called Beyers Naude? Well you know that he had been a high ranking official of the NG Kerk supporting the National Government’s policy of apartheid. After Sharpville in 1960 at Cottesloe he repudiated apartheid. He was turfed out of his church and ostracized and worse was banned for seven years, living a twilight existence, unable to meet with more than one person at a time, confined to the magisterial district of Johannesburg, having to get magisterial permission to go to Church or to a family picnic, a prisoner at his own expense. An old pariah if ever there was one.

In Johannesburg there was a major highway named the DF Malan Drive. Well very soon after 1994 what happened? I think God has a huge sense of humour. I’m sure they must have been rolling in the aisles in heaven – why because soon after 1994 DF Malan Drive became Beyers Naude Drive. The one who under apartheid was a repulsive caterpillar became a democratic dispensative, a gorgeous butterfly.

Mr VC, distinguished faculty, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for this great honour of naming one of the halls of this outstanding University after me. I am touched. But my preamble will have communicated a certain ambivalence. Yes I think heroes and heroines and all who have distinguished themselves in one way or the other should be acknowledged as has happened so wonderfully with remarkable stalwarts of the struggle. But I must enter a substantial caveat. Leaders especially in a political struggle could never operate as solitary individuals. Leaders don’t exist in a vacuum. They are leaders precisely and only because they have followers. It is a tautology. I mean what is a leader without followers? That thesis was proved conclusively in my own case. What would have happened if the so called masses, our amazing courageous people who ran the gauntlet of apartheid’s vicious troops? What would have happened had they repudiated me and my call for sanctions? Tutu would have fallen flat on his face thoroughly discredited. So I always say when I am given an award that I receive it in a representative capacity on behalf of the millions who gave me the great privilege of being their leader and so when you stand out in a crowd it is only because you are being carried on the shoulders of others. Not modest.

And we in South Africa must be very sensitive in the business of naming and renaming. No one organization did it all on its own. We had a magnificent coalition and we should celebrate this veritable rainbow alliance – so we should erect statues and also have streets and buildings – to the Sobukwes, the Steve Bikos, the Matlhere’s, Helen Suzman’s etc. It does not diminish anyone to acknowledge others.

We should not let it be a divisive exercise as has happened especially in KZN. We should show the magnanimity and the generosity of the spirit of people who testified before the TRC. Let us not rub people’s noses in the dust. Those who lost are part of our history: let’s not fill them with resentment. History is strange. Today’s victors can become tomorrows vanquished – their heroes and heroines names could so easily also be removed. Let us be conciliatory and magnanimous.