Ripple of Hope

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RFK Speeches' list

  1. University of Cape Town, NUSAS Day of Affirmation, June 6th, 1966
  2. Stellenbosch University, Simonsberg Residence, June 7th, 1966
  3. University of Natal, Durban, June 7th, 1966
  4. Johannesburg Bar Council, Johannesburg, June 8th, 1966
  5. University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, June 8th, 1966

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Robert F. Kennedy
Stellenbosch University
South Africa, June 7th, 1966

        We have, you and I, many differences of view and opinion. I have a great respect for the fact that you invited me here despite these differences. And I take comfort and encouragement from it as well.
        For the essential difference between free men and the subjects of totalitarianism is that free men can give voice and expression to their beliefs; they can engage in the great dialogue on which the Western tradition has been built. So I am glad to be here at Stellenbosch - at this town and university which have played such a great role in South African history.
        Here Adam Tas began the fight against the exploitation of the East India Company, and earned a new middle name. From here the fathers of the Voortrekkers took the first steps on their long and lonely road: to leave this green and pleasant place must have been hardship in itself – and a measure of the sacrifice that men will make to achieve their independence and a future for their posterity.
        It was in the name of freedom that our forefathers —yours and mine —struck off the chains of Europe and sailed uncharted oceans three centuries ago. It was in this name that three times we together poured forth our blood and treasure —twice in the world our fathers left, and once on the frontiers to the East. And so we will stand again, as our children will stand in their turn; for, as Goethe tells us:"He only earns his freedom and existence who daily conquers them anew."
        If we — all of us — are to conquer anew the freedom for which our forebears gave so much, we must begin with a dialogue both full and free."
        In the world of 1966 no nation is an island unto itself. Global systems of transportation and communications and economics have transformed our sense of geography, and outmoded all the old concepts of self-sufficiency. Whether we wish it or not, a pattern of unity is woven into every aspect of the society of man.
        We all owe our very existence to the knowledge and talent and effort of those who have gone before us. We have a solemn obligation to repay that debt in the coin in which it was given — to work to meet our responsibilities to that greater part of mankind which needs our assistance — to the deprived and the downtrodden, the insulted and injured.
        Those men who gave us so much did not ask whether we, their heirs, would be American or South African, white or black. And we must in the same way meet our obligations to all those who need our help, whatever their nationality or the colour of their skin.
        And if we live in the shared blessings of knowledge and progress, we live also in the shared dangers of a hazardous globe. Worldwide contest of ideology, along with awesome developments in the speed, the range and the impact of modern weaponry, have made the very idea of isolationism obsolete.
        No longer can a spectator be certain that the blood and mud of the arena will not some day engulf him as well. No longer can any people be oblivious to the fate and future of any other. And no longer can any nation — no matter how wealthy or well-armed— be as free as it once might have been to ignore a far-off war or warning, to shrug off another nation's crisis or criticism.
        Communist nations or others may build a wall of stone or a curtain of bamboo. But they cannot build a modern society without exposing their citizens to the ideas and ideologies of other systems. No nation is more opposed to communism than the United States. We reject its theory that human beings exist for the benefit of the state, that the state is more important than the individual or the family. We reject totally its restrictions on freedom of the Press, of protest, of speech, of movement, of exercise of the political process. But the United States is not afraid to hear the voices and viewpoints of communism. We do not jam their broadcasts or exclude their scholars or repress their books.
        At times in our history, we have reacted too hastily and harshly to the fear of threats from within and without. But any times of suppression have been times of fear and stagnation, the years when the locust has eaten. We do not intend to repeat those years— even now, in the midst of a war in Vietnam. For we will not abolish the substance of freedom in order to save its shadow.
        No nation would have so little confidence in the wisdom of its policies and its citizens that they dare not be tested in the free market place of ideas. Societies concerned with the importation of ideas are those which fear what Jefferson called "the disease of liberty."
        I am here in South Africa to listen as well as talk, less to lecture than to learn. Whatever our disagreements, neither your country nor mine is under any illusion that there is only one side to any issue, or that either of us can coerce or quickly convert the other to share our point of view. But asserting disagreement without debate is as meaningless as asserting unanimity without discussion. Let us find out where we disagree — and why we disagree — and on what we can agree.
        If history is a guide, a future Prime Minister of this nation may now be sitting in this room. But all of you, whether Prime Minister or not, will have a major role to play as educated people in the twentieth century.
        What kind of world is it, waiting there for you?
        It is a world of change— unparalleled, unsettling, dizzying change. The certainties of yesterday are the doubts of today, and the folly and mockery of tomorrow. Every problem we solve only reveals a dozen more of increasing complexity.
        Your country and mine have created wealth unmatched in the history of man; but we have not yet learnt to turn that wealth to the service of all our people.
        Your country and mine gained freedom from colonial domination, and set an example for 70 nations around the world, but we have not yet learnt how to help those new nations to achieve the economic, social and political progress which their people demand and deserve.
        Your country and mine, and dozens of others, have achieved a terrible capacity to destroy our enemies, and five nations have found the secret weapons that can destroy the world; but we have not yet learnt to prevent these weapons from destroying the very societies they were designed to protect.
        In your country and mine, we fought for and achieved freedom for some of our people; but we have not yet learnt, as Thomas Paine said, that "no man or country can be really free unless all men and all countries are free."
        And in every continent — from Jaipur to Johannesburg, from Point Barrow to Cape Horn — men and women are claiming their right to share in the bounty which modern knowledge can bring, in the justice which men have sought from biblical times onward. They look to us for help and hope! And the real question before you — as before the young people of any country is whether we will help give them that future.
        We must begin with the light of reason — with fact and logic and careful thought, unblinkered by the shades of prejudice and myth. In this fantastic and dangerous world, we will not find answers in old dogmas, repeating outworn slogans, fighting on ancient battlegrounds against fading enemies long after the real struggle has moved on. We must change to master change.
        Yet the very education which equips you for service to mankind also prepares you for a place in society far removed from the problems for whose solution you are so desperately needed.
        As the skilled and professional people of South Africa and the world, you will be largely removed from contact with the hungry and the deprived, those without ease in the present or hope in the future.
        It will require a constant effort of will to keep contact, to remind ourselves everyday that we who diet have a never ceasing obligation to those who starve – and to work to meet that obligation.
        It would be simpler to follow the easy and familiar path of personal ambition and private gain. It would be more comfortable to sit content in the easy approval of friends and neighbors instead of risking the friction and controversy that comes with public affairs. It would be easier to fall in step with the slogans of others than to march to the beat of an internal drummer – to make and stand on judgements of your own.
        But Goethe told us that Faust lost the liberty of his soul when he said to the passing moment, "Stay, Thou art so fair" There would be no surer way for us to lose our freedom and the true meaning of our heritage than to make that same mistake.