ACCEPTANCE SPEECH BY MAMA SOPHIE WILLIAMS DE-BRUYN AT THE 4TH ANNUAL UBUNTU AWARDS HOSTED BY DIRCO

I feel deeply humbled by the honour bestowed upon me, as I am conferred with the O.R. Tambo Lifetime Achievement Award this evening. 

I must say programme director, when I received the letter from DIRCO informing me of my selection as the recipient of this prestigious award, I felt deeply deeply humbled,  more so, when I reflected on the previous four Icons who received this award before me. 

They are Mme Ruth Mompati, Ambassador Billie Modise, the late Johnny Makatini and Mam’ Winnie Mandela. As you know, these are distinguished struggle luminaries, whose guiding principles were loyalty, integrity and service to our people. 

I am happy to report to this auspicious event, that when I visited Mam’ Winnie Mandela in hospital, where she was recovering. She was in her element as we reminisced, the by-gone struggle days. She was in high spirits and was speaking passionately, I could feel her spirit touching me and both our emotions knew no bounds.

I have had a close relationship with each of these luminaries and I can assure you that from our shared experiences, that their sole objective, was for the equal advancement of all the people of South Africa.

Our awareness from very early on was that for all people of the country, continent and world to live free and fulfilled lives, we had to dedicate our own lives to the noble work of advocating for freedom, justice and equality.

As I stand here this evening, I do so fully aware of the enormous work that still needs to be carried out to eliminate the inequalities of our times. I am also concerned that some of our successes have been reversed in certain areas of our development. I am deeply concerned about the ongoing violence and abuse against women and children.

Addressing these challenged calls for working together with a robust, fully engaged, younger generation of leadership. We will continue to support, direct, guide and advise this leadership, to the best of our ability, strength and health in order to chart our way forward as a nation. 

Today I accept this most Prestigious Award, in honour of the women and men who served and continue to serve our country, who have fought in the name of freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law, to make not only South Africa, but the continent and the world, a better place. 

I accept this award particularly on behalf of some of the Unsung Heroines. I would like to mention a few: 

Late Comrade’s  Yetta Barrenblat, Ellen Maseko, Joyce Moodly-Mohammed, Blanche Le Guma, Hettie September, Mam Florence Maphosho, Lily Diedericks, Kate Moolala, plus the twenty-two (22) trained nurses and mid-wives, from all parts of South Africa, who left  the country, clandestinely  to serve in the Tanzanian hospitals. This is when the esteemed, founding father of Tanzania, the late President Julius Nyerere, appealed to our country’s great son, Oliver Reginald Tambo, for assistance to manage, their hospitals, clinics, and to upgrade their skills and train the Tanzanian staff, following the withdrawal of the British Colonialists from Tanzania. 

As we bask in the glory of our liberation and bathe in the goodness and warmth of our democracy, we are this evening reminded of the sacrifices made by our people to ensure the democratic changes set out in the Freedom Charter, are realised.

Coming back to the award, on reading the letter from DIRCO, the words GLOBAL CHAMPION OF HUMAN RIGHTS and UBUNTU stood out for me.

These words took me back to the early years of the struggle and life in exile. During this period our very existence and safety, was in the hands of friendly countries on our continent and abroad. Without this show of solidarity, our struggle for liberation would not have succeeded and that is why even today, we as a country believe in international solidarity. 

The principle that OR Tambo and the African National Congress espoused in exile comes directly from the Freedom Charter which OR shared in his United Nations address in 1963, following which he added:

“That statement, which declares South Africa to belong to all who live in it, is a concession on the part of the African people, but it is a demonstration of the willingness of the African people to live in South Africa with everybody who wants to live there on the basis of absolute equality – no racism, no racial discrimination, no superior race, no inferior race. On that basis South Africa belongs to all who live in it.”

This characterised his work in exile and laid the foundation of a democratic South Africa’s foreign policy.

Our Madiba, who we are honouring this year, also strongly believed in international solidarity. In his address at the International Day of Solidarity with Palestinian People in Pretoria in 1997, he stated:

“It behoves all South Africans, themselves erstwhile beneficiaries of generous international support, to stand up and be counted among those contributing actively to the cause of freedom and justice”. 

In highlighting this call from both our former presidents, I urge all of us, especially our young people, to never turn your back on any nation or people who are persecuted. Or who are ostracized for simply wanting to achieve freedom and respect for their human rights; doing that would be to deny the core values of our nationhood.

Ubuntu. As Africans we all know what this truly means, not the loose way that this word is often used. Ubuntu, is based on the ancient African philosophy that promotes and celebrates the success of the group, above that of an individual. And acknowledges our one-ness with each other.

Personally, these two phrases have guided my life and that of my family. 

After being forced into exile, like many compatriots we lived and waged the struggle in Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya and in Italy, and after 1994 in Amman, were my late husband, Henry “Benny Nato” De Bruyn, was appointed Ambassador to the The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan

Our children lived in other countries too, where they were allegeable to study. In all these countries, they received nothing but genuine welcome and generosity

In the spirit of Ubuntu, my husband and I, as well as other comrades became parents to many young people who fled South Africa alone especially after the 1976 uprisings. We guided, directed and advised them. Our home became a home to many who wanted to experience a homely atmosphere, and living in this communal way really enriched our lives and those of our children.

In conclusion Programme Director, I have often been asked to share my skills and experiences which began before the Women’s March, continued into exile and then back to into South Africa with the unbanning of the ANC and our democratic elections. 

I would like you to know that my children have established and registered the Sophie and Henry De Bruyn Foundation, which will soon be publicly launched. Programme Director one of its focus areas will be to support women and children in vulnerable communities nationally. This work around support to women and children is my personal pursuit and ambition.

The future I envision for our country, is one in which all of us South Africans, and Africans across the continent and the globe,  unite behind a common interest to uplift our people and to bring peace and prosperity to all of our peoples. 

Once again my deepest thanks to the Ministry for hosting this auspicious event and for honouring me in this special way. I also want to thank the panel for the choice they made, that the OR Tambo Lifetime Achievement Award, be conferred upon me in this centenary year that we honour our Legends, Madiba and our Grand Lady Mam Albertina Sisulu.

My gratitude also goes out to my family, my late husband and to my Son Angelo and my daughters Danielle and Sonja who have supported me all of my life, in all my undertakings. I feel so blessed to be a South African and I appreciate and love all of you who make this country so great! 

Thank you very much and God Bless you!

Posted in Viewpoints.

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