“Leaders must have an open eye for windows of opportunity that allow them to take bold steps,” said former South African President Frederik Willem de Klerk at Honorary Degree Ceremonies at the University of Haifa.
“In the beginning of the 90s a historic window of opportunities opened up before us. We knew that the circumstances will never again be so favorable. Leaders must have an open eye for windows of opportunity that allow them to take bold steps”.
These are the words of Former President of the Republic of South Africa and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Mr. Frederik Willem de Klerk, who received the University of Haifa’s highest accolade, the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, honoris causa, at a festive ceremony on Tuesday, May 27, 2014. The event was part of the University’s 42nd meeting of the Board of Governors. (To view the complete address, click on President’s de Clerk’s photo at left.)
“We had to acknowledge the fact that the apartheid policy was bad for the people of South Africa, and that we had to make a change”, said De Klerk, who brought apartheid to an end in South Africa. He received a standing ovation from a crowd of hundreds that filled the Hecht Museum Auditorium at the University that night.
De Klerk, who responded on behalf of the eight honorary degree recipients, said that in order to bring about historical changes, a number of factors must be met. In the case of South Africa those factors were the government’s understanding that the racial segregation policy had failed and that it was morally unjustifiable, as well as the role that Nelson Mandela played in leading to a non-violent political change.
Even the dissolution of the Soviet Union at the time helped to make clear that only democracy will lead to prosperity. He also noted that leading the change would not have been possible had the attempts been made ten or twenty years earlier. “History moves at its own pace: sometimes in a painfully slow way, and sometimes very rapidly. The role of the leader is to identify these shifts and act at the right time”, he said.
“With all humility, I would like to dedicate this honorary degree to all South Africans, whose courage and belief in a better future enabled such a change”, said De Klerk. He also mentioned his hope that the lessons learned in South Africa, about conducting non- violent negotiations and the ability to recognize windows of opportunity, will be of use to other countries dealing with conflicts.
“The University of Haifa contributes to creating tolerance in a multicultural society”, he concluded. De Klerk received the honorary degree in recognition of his courage and belief in the equality of all human beings, and for his ability to go against the stream – unique qualities which enabled him to bring an end to the apartheid policy in South Africa.
Along with De Klerk, seven other people received the honorary degree: Prof. Stefan Reif, in recognition of his lifetime achievement on behalf of the preservation, research and accessibility of the ‘Cairo Genizah’; Prof, Julia Kristeva, in recognition of her exceptional scholarship and academic vision that combines intellectual, social and humanistic perspectives; Actor Chaim Topol, In recognition of his unique contribution to Israeli culture, particularly to the theater and the cinema; Lady Irene Hatter, in recognition of her commitment to making education accessible to underprivileged young people; Dr. Ernst Strauss, in recognition of his efforts to advance education and scientific learning throughout the world; Prof Celso Lafer, in recognition of his academic excellence in the area of the philosophy of law, and for his efforts to strengthen diplomatic connections between Brazil and Israel; and Uri Lubrani, in recognition of his long-term contribution to the security and achievements of the State of Israel.
For more complete bios of Honorary Degree recipients, click here.