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A need for Nation Builders And Peacemakers

15 May 2004

Desperately Seeking Nation Builders And Peacemakers

Former Race Relations Conciliator Gregory Fortuin received an emotionally charged standing ovation after delivering the key note address at Massey University’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences Graduation Ceremony. Chancellor Nigel Gould said this is unheard of at Massey and the response from a packed auditorium was indescribable.

Fortuin’s theme was the desperate need for Nation Builders and Peacemakers. At an international level Fortuin lamented the perpetual cycle of violence and praised joint Nobel Peace Prize winners F W de Klerk (South Africa’s last Apartheid President) and Mandela for choosing the path of Nation Building. Fortuin said that when faced with the world model of Nuremberg or “legislative revenge” Mandela chose “Truth and Reconciliation”

Turning his attention to New Zealand, Fortuin said he was “deeply saddened by the vicious diatribe that is threatening to blow this nation apart”. In response to the recent question of what sort of nation do we wish to be Fortuin said “I know that it cannot be a nation where we make dangerous generalizations about Maori being lazy or forever heading off to Tangi or Maori doctors being less able than their Kiwi counterparts. I know it cannot be a nation where we spit at or blow snot at the people we disagree with. Neither can it be a nation where we have contempt for the spiritual beliefs of others or dismissively degenerate into name calling. For sure our leaders need to be tough, but I struggle to see how calling people “blackfellas” or “haters and wreckers” contributes to nation building”.

A visibly moved leading Maori Academic, Mason Durie said “Your unique ability to confront international and domestic challenges with personal stories and in everyday language is a rare gift”

Fortuin concluded that Nation Building was not just about the BIG STUFF. “It must start at home...it must start with me. As you look around this room today and see the people who have helped and supported you along the way, let Nation Building start by honoring our families and friends. Let Nation Building continue by the role we play in our communities and one day when we have achieved our dreams and hold these so-called important stations in life let us never forget our small beginnings vested in our common humanity”

Gregory Fortuin's Speech

Massey University – College of Humanities and Social Sciences The Regent Theatre, Broadway, Palmerston North – 14 May 2004 Graduation Ceremony address by Gregory Fortuin.

"Desperately Seeking Nation Builders And Peacemakers"

Tënä tätou katoa - Greetings to you all. Chancellor Gould; to those starring in the leading roles here today, namely you the graduants, congratulations on achieving this milestone. To those cast in supporting roles from the Chancellor to the cleaners at Massey University, I acknowledge you and thank you for the privilege to participate. To family and friends who more often than not have felt like extras and props, I salute you for your role as encouragers.

Before I launch into my topic of “Desperately seeking Nation Builders and Peacemakers” allow me to reflect on a Prizegiving evening in my home town of Paarl as a 13year old in November 1967. I have no idea what happened to the certificates I received that night for Maths and Commercial maths, but one thing is forever seared in my heart. David, a fellow classmate took off his brand new School Blazer and offered it to me so I could look good in the customary photo. My widowed mum could not afford a school blazer for any of her 3 boys so we went without. David and I became best friends and very close associations were formed amongst the 24 of us who spent the last 5 years of college life as classmates – so much so that our Matric class of 1971 have had a reunion every 5 years – the 30th in 2001. The point I wish to make is that I hope your time at Massey has been more than just about your academic achievements…That you graduate here today not as academic buffalos, but as human beings enriched by your experience. That you will nurture the friendships you have commenced. You might make new friendships as you journey along, but you will never again be able to cultivate the same friendships as you have done at this stage of your life. Treasure it.

Last month I read a very powerful article called – “Giving up Pretence” by someone who was not one of my greatest fans as Race Relations Conciliator. Rosemary McLeod wrote: “My Maori student flatmate had behaved always as if he was just like us; he had never alluded to his background. At his funeral we discovered that we had never even pronounced his name correctly and we were entirely ignorant of the culture he had grown up in. We had accepted him as a handsome intelligent, creative person. But we had not fully accepted him because we did not truly know who he was. To fit in with us, I realise now he had denied a huge part of himself. We had not asked that of him, but the world did at the time. It expected intelligent Maori future leaders to behave like Europeans and treat their own backgrounds as backward irrelevancies”

That takes me to my key message today. This polarized world we live in is screaming out for “NATION BUILDERS and PEACEMAKERS”. Let me add some lines of my own to the few I borrow from my friend Ron Nickel: “From Cambodia's ghastly killing fields to the silent silhouette of horror of the Death-camp at Auschwitz, from the blood-soaked soil of the genocide in Rwanda, to the trauma of brutality and massacre in Bosnia and Kosovo; from the murderous hands of the dictator of Iraq to the contemptible atrocities of the sanctimonious liberators; from the cowardly gunning down of innocent women and children for not stopping at a military checkpoint to the merciless beheading of Nick Berg in Iraq or Daniel Pearl in Pakistan; from the horrifying cycle of violence in the Middle East to the bitter resentment that fuels the fires in Northern Ireland; from crime-ravaged urban streets to the dungeons of depraved justice; from the dispossessing stench of refugee camps to the perfumed glamour of beauty and fashion; from the garbage-dump villages of the Philippines to consumer-bloated marketplaces of Wall Street; from cowering eyes of defenseless victims to the tyrannizing stare of men possessed by power -- the cry is for something that will be well understood by all those at this College of HUMANITIES. It is a cry for the restoration of our human dignity – a cry for a light to break into the black night of our inhumanity, inequity and injustice. It is a cry that you and I might decide to ignore, but it is a cry we will never escape.

It is against this backdrop that I am deeply saddened by the vicious diatribe that is threatening to blow this nation apart. Of course there are many legitimate issues. It is however our approach to addressing them that raises concern. The question was recently posed as to what kind of nation do we wish to be? Whilst working towards a sustainable solution, I know that it cannot be a nation where we make dangerous generalizations about Maori being lazy or forever heading off to Tangi or Maori doctors being less able than their Kiwi counterparts. I know it cannot be a nation where we spit at or blow snot at the people we disagree with. Neither can it be a nation where we have contempt for the spiritual beliefs of others or dismissively degenerate into name calling.” For sure our leaders need to be tough, but I struggle to see how calling people “blackfellas” or “haters and wreckers” contributes to nation building. For what it is worth, I believe we will not survive in this Treaty-based Pacific Nation of ours, unless we are one sovereign nation under one flag. We are however two primary peoples with many complementary peoples. We don’t have to be clones of each other, but we are all inextricably linked, by a common bond called our HUMANITY. What we need is harmonised diversity – many strings on one guitar making music together…..singing off the same hymn sheet…pooling our collective strengths for the betterment of us all. To get us there we cannot dismiss the important roles of the activists and the opinion leaders on either side, but we desperately need nation builders and peacemakers. I have no doubt I am looking at a few today. Let me hold up two examples of what I mean….Two men who jointly were the deserved recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize. The one was the right wing candidate who succeeded the obnoxious PW Botha as president of South Africa in 1989. In a momentous year for the world where the Berlin wall crumbled, Mikhail Gorbachov embarked on “perestroika” and students rose up in Tiananmen Square stepped an unheralded Nation Builder called Frederick Willem de Klerk….A man who in opening parliament in 1990 delivered one of the top 3 nation building speeches ever delivered in a South African Parliament….A man who dreamt about a nation in harmony and backed up his words with actions.

A few days later De Klerk unconditionally released his co-Nobel Peace Prize recipient Nelson Mandela from 27 years of incarceration. A man who in the pursuit of the restoration of the dignity of his people was found guilty of treason and labeled a terrorist not just at home, but even in New Zealand...A man who as a strong 46 year old African dared to dream about equal opportunity for all and looked justice De Wet in the eye in April 1964 and stated it was a dream he hoped to see realized in his life time, but if needs be a dream he was prepared to die for. In spite of the brutality, the torture, the isolation and the degradation this man when in the powerful position of president turned his back on the Nuremberg model of statutory revenge and chose the model of Truth and Reconciliation. When the overwhelming majority called for the dumping of the hated Springbok emblem symbolizing white supremacy, (We have a world champion in New Zealand called Precious McKenzie who was selected to represent South Africa at the Commonwealth games in 1958, but told he could not wear the Springbok blazer) Mandela appeared in front of 43million South Africans and the rest of the world, proudly sporting the Springbok-jersey at the 1995 rugby world cup. When many of us arrogantly assumed we would replace the Afrikaner Anthem “Die Stem” with “Nkosi Sekeleli”, he encouraged all of us to be inclusive…A man who joined hands with his jailors at his inauguration as President, not to gloat, but in the genuine spirit of national reconciliation and nation building.

Now only the naïve would make quaint appeals about sacrificing personal goals for queen and country. All I gently ask is that in the pursuit of your dreams you are mindful of the fact that the nation we wish to be will not happen by default, or as Dr King so elegantly said “we will one day give an account not so much for the bad deeds of a small minority, but for the deafening silence of us the majority”. Obviously not everyone can be a leader but everyone can (and should) be involved. Join a group that will suit your needs. Get to know someone outside your own social strata and comfort zone. Write a letter. Don’t let a small social humiliation of someone pass without comment, etc. etc. As I started, I wish to conclude on a personal note. I know the humiliation of calling the white farmer “master” whilst I worked in his vineyard picking grapes during the school holidays because we needed the money. I know the resentment of having obtained a University Exemption and a First Grade Pass in my Bursary year but being denied entry at the “white” University of Cape Town to study medicine because they had exceeded their quota of “blacks”. I know the heartache of having our land confiscated by the stroke of a ruthless regime. I also know the joy of taking my kids to where I was raised and responding to my son’s question as to whether I hated the 13 white families that now occupy the houses where my family and eight other families once lived. I know that I will remain my own jailor unless I learn to forgive. I am not talking about exonerating any perpetrators, (they will live with their own consciences) neither am I talking about obliterating my past, I am talking about knowing the power of having found a peace and dealing with my demons.

And so at the start of the new millennium, my 2 brothers and I with all our families went and gathered from their state homes the remnants of those eight families that lived in the outhouses on my grandmother’s property. We spent a marvelous day reminiscing at a resort in Cape Town. Suddenly an eighty year old aunty remarked “Gregory, I am so pleased that you and your brothers have not just done something with your lives, but you have remembered us”. I said “Aunty Anna, when we were just 3 so-called coloured kids without a dad, you were my mums and dads. Your kids were my brothers and sisters. God help me the day I forget my small beginnings. God help me the day I forget a widowed mum pushed two single beds together and she and 3 little boys slept on it.

Nation Building is therefore not just about the BIGG STUFF. It must start at home...it must start with me. As you look around this room today and see the people who have helped and supported you along the way, let Nation Building start by honoring our families and friends. Let Nation Building continue by the role we play in our communities and one day when we have achieved our dreams and hold these so-called important stations in life let us never forget our small beginnings vested in our common humanity.

GOD BLESS.

ENDS

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