Mandel photo

This week the world says farewell to perhaps the greatest human being of our time.  Nelson Mandela, known affectionately in South Africa as Tata Madiba, died peacefully on 5th December at his home in Houghton, Johannesburg.  Madiba has a special relationship with the IGU since he opened the Durban Regional Conference in 2002 and was the recipient of our most prestigious honour: the Planet and Humanity Award.  We reproduce here the citation for that award, presented to him at the Opening Ceremony by the then IGU President, Professor Anne Buttimer, as well as the speech he made in acceptance.  We wish you well, Mr Mandela, your humility and capacity for forgiveness will surely live one forever.

Presentation of the International Geographical Union’s Planet and Humanity Award to Nelson Mandela, Durban, 4 August 2002  Anne Buttimer, President: “The International Geographical Union is honoured and overjoyed to present its Planet and Humanity award to Mr Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, Madiba. As a leading humanist and statesman, in championing human rights and freedom for the oppressed, Mr Mandela’s immense and selfless contribution to the welfare of humanity, is acknowledged globally. His honours are many, including the Nobel peace prize. His curriculum vitae provides many lessons to scientists and politicians about our responsibility for the stewardship of society and the natural environment of our planet Earth. Only a few of his political and humanitarian achievements can be highlighted here:

  1. Your willingness to undergo suffering for the alleviation of human oppression
  2. Your visionary and resilient engagement in socio-political activities that eventually led to the democratization of South   Africa
  3. Your commitment to the alleviation of poverty and championing of human dignity, and
  4. Your unwavering belief in youth as the cornerstone of nation building.

Mr Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, Madiba, your profound sense of justice, humility and warmth, and your sterling qualities of leadership, indeed render you an ideal and deserving recipient of the IGU Planet and Humanity medal for 2002. On behalf of the international community of geographers, I personally thank you for the inspiration, the courage and the challenge which you continue to offer us.  Siyabonga.”

Response by Mr. Nelson Mandela: The President of the International Geographical Union, esteemed members of the Union, our international visitors, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen:  my grandchildren, including Dr Ben Ngubane, the Minister of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology, and Mike Sutcliffe there, they have to keep on reminding me that I have now lost power and influence. I should remain with my grandchildren. I hope they will revise their opinion after this occasion – because a man who has lost power and influence cannot be honoured by such an organization! And it is with a special sense of humility that we stand here to receive the Planet and Humanity award. We are aware of how much correspondence and intervention it took to finally secure our presence here this afternoon.  We need to indicate that the effort it entailed to finally conclude the discussions about our participation had nothing to do with an unwillingness to accept this prestigious award, or an attitude of playing “hard to get”, as the colloquial saying goes.  We ourselves, as well as our office, long ago indicated to our Minister of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology, that we would be extremely honoured to receive the award. The vagaries of leaving official office and having to establish home as an unemployed pensioner, contributed to the uncertainty of not knowing where and in what condition one would be when the event comes around at last. Employed people and those in office can never imagine how chaotically unscheduled the lives are of those who find themselves in the idleness of retirement and pension. We are very happy that out of that chaos, our office could contrive to have us here, at this most prestigious event and occasion. I am a simple country boy, and I remain astounded and overawed by the awards and honours that people, for some incomprehensible reason, decide to bestow upon us.  A colleague of mine often asks me how it is that I remember so distinctly people I have met, days on which events have occurred, and the details of occurrences.  My consistent and truthful reply to him is the following:  I am a simple country boy, unacquainted with all of these marvelous and strange things of the world. Every time I encounter people, things and events, they remain indelibly stuck on my overawed mind. I left the country in April 1941, and many people may wonder why I call myself still a country boy.  But although I left the country in 1941, the country has not left me.  This visit will be such an occasion that I will never be able to forget, and it is furthermore an occasion that takes me back to concrete memories of and present-day knowledge about my origins as a country boy.  When I go to the place and area of my birth, so often as I do, the changed geography of the place strikes me with a force that I cannot escape.  And that geography is not one of mere landscapes and topography, it is the geography of the people.  Where once there were trees and even forests, we now see barrenness.  I can no longer walk those distances, but until a few years ago, I would traverse the miles of land I knew as a child and young man, and one was saddened at the poverty of the people – poverty lived out in the geography of the place.  It is the geography of women and young people, walking miles and miles to find the paltriest pieces of wood for fire to cook, and make a meal, and to keep a shelter warm. The trees and forests were destroyed exactly because our people were so dependent upon them, as sources of energy.  And in turn, people are today cold and in want of energy for cooking, cleaning and basic comforts because the trees and forests are destroyed.  I walked and I saw in the land of my youth, women walking, but walking in poverty and destitution.  The streams of my youth that were places of beauty and inspiration were now clogged up and dirty.  I saw the descendants of the mothers of our people bowing down to secure with their bare hands the cleanest of the dirty and dangerous water in those streams and pools. How would they get that water clean enough to use it for household purposes? I often ask them.  They would boil it, they reply, if only they had wood or other sources of energy to do so. I was taking a walk a few days ago in my country village, and I came across a stream which was polluted and where the water was moving very slowly.  And then I found three women fetching water.  And I asked them, “What are you going to do with that water?” They said, “We are going to use it for domestic purposes.  We are going to cook with it, drink it, clean ourselves”. I said, “But the water has tadpoles moving around, it has algae, this green stuff that covers stagnant water”.  And I said, “Up there, you see people washing their bodies and their clothes.  That water comes here”. They say, “That is our life”. And then I asked this question:  “What do you do with this water before you use it?” They say, “We do nothing.  We use it as it is”. And then I asked a foolish question. I was born in that area and I am supposed to know the conditions, but for me twenty-seven years of prison life was sufficient to make me forget about the living conditions of my people. I then asked the question, “Don’t you boil it before you use it?” They all exclaimed simultaneously. “Boil it with what?  Look up, right up to the horizon, there is not a single tree. We have no electricity. With what must we boil it?  We use cow dung, and that gives more smoke than heat”. I felt humiliated because I should never have asked that question, but I did. The alternatives seem clear:  use what they have and suffer the consequences. And the consequences were and remain cholera and other environmentally induced diseases. On the 9th of May, I was in New York and I met one of the most powerful businessmen in the world, who has supported us in the past, and built a school and a clinic.  And when I formed the

[Nelson Mandela] Foundation, he invited me and my wife to his place in the United States of America.  He then gave my wife five million dollars, and gave me ten million.  And his partner gave my wife seven-and-a-half million, gave me seven-and-a-half million too [for charity work in South   Africa]. Now I said to him, “I want you to build forty-five schools in the countryside in South   Africa, because there are vast areas in the countryside where there is no school, where there is no clinic”. He said, “No, I concentrate on health. I propose building so many clinics in your country.” And we had an argument. I said, “No, clinics are alright. But in the countryside the situation, the thinking of the people, is that the sangomas are more reliable than the clinics, modern clinics. We therefore want an educated core of people who are going to campaign in the countryside to say, These clinics are much better than sangomas. So that’s why I want you to build your forty-five schools.” We couldn’t resolve the argument. He said, “No, I am prepared to respond, but only in the field of health”. “Well”, I said, “let me go back and go to consult”. I came back home and I consulted the Minister of Education, Professor Kader Asmal. He overruled both of us, and he said, “No, there are many schools throughout the country without water, without sewerage, where the school children have to go to the Veldt to relieve themselves.  They have nothing to clean themselves so they use grass and then their fingers are soiled. With soiled hands, without washing because there is no water, they go and handle food. Bread, sandwiches, hard meally pap, meat, fruit, and in that way cholera spreads”. And then Professor Asmal said, “What we want is the installation of water in all the schools. And it’s going to cost a lot of money”. Well, I have written to the businessman to say, this is what the man who knows this field thinks we should do. No schools, no new schools, no new clinics, but water for the schools that are there, because that will go a long way in preventing cholera. These conditions I have seen repeated all over our country, our continent, and the developing world. We accept the honour you bestow upon us today, not as an honour in the usual sense of that word. We accept it as an acknowledgement of our common lack of honour, as humanity, for the manner in which we are destroying our mother planet and the chances for our children to have a sustainabl