On 7 June 1990, France welcomed Nelson Mandela.
I remember how very moved the French people were when they welcomed to Paris the man who had been released three months earlier after more than 27 years in chains.
The symbol of a people’s pride, the symbol of resistance to racism and the contemptible apartheid regime, Nelson Mandela was able to experience France’s empathy with and commitment to his ceaseless fight for freedom, human rights and dignity.
One year before the abolition of apartheid, driven by the strength of his convictions and his commitment, this relentless fighter for freedom and equal rights tirelessly pursued the same goals: the reconciliation of his people, South Africa’s reintegration into the African family and the community of nations, the establishment of a democracy and a destiny that had been rediscovered.
Twenty-two years after this historic visit, which was reciprocated by President Mitterrand’s visit to South Africa in 1994, our attachment to and respect for Nelson Mandela have not wavered. They’ve been strengthened by a new responsibility: the responsibility to remain faithful to the values to which this extraordinary personality devoted his life. Bolstered by this shared awareness, the French and the South Africans must work together in order to meet the challenges of the 21st century.
This is the goal that drives us on this anniversary, which is all the more meaningful to me because the fight against apartheid was one of my life’s first enduring commitments./.