Address by President Nelson Mandela at the Greek Chamber of Commerce and Industries of Southern Africa Man of the Year Awards, Kempton Park

19 November 1994

Master of Ceremonies;
Deputy Minister Lianis;
Deputy Minister Sifounakis;
Ambassador Tsamoulis;
Distinguished guests;
Ladies and Gentlemen.

I thank you most sincerely for allowing me the pleasure of being with you tonight, your first award ceremony since our country achieved democracy.

High office has its share of burdens. But in a democratic nation of many cultures it also affords opportunities for sharing with communities the special occasions on which they come together. When the occasion has the purpose of recognising distinction in members of a community for their contribution to the public life, then the moment is one of particular warmth, happiness and pride.

Tonight's awards are mainly for achievements in business, the principal concern of the Greek Chamber of Commerce and Industries of Southern Africa. The Greek community has contributed to the economic life of South Africa, on a scale far beyond its size. It has over a few generations gone from being identified principally with one occupation to being an inseparable part of our business community in every sphere. This is a result of hard work and by dint of enterprise. It is a product of the high value your community places on education and training.

As your other awards reflect, the achievements extend to every walk of life. Amongst our most distinguished lawyers, scientists, historians and artists are people known both for their pride in belonging to the Hellenic community and for the contribution they make to South Africa's public life. To that extent and in many other ways, the Greek community has contributed and continues to contribute to our nation's identity and to the achievement of our aspirations for a better life for all.

This wide involvement speaks of the success of a relatively small community in becoming part of the mainstream of our society. You have done so through the organised preservation of your culture, religion, traditions, and through your attachment to the values of education and family life. It is attributes such as these, which make us proud of the fact that our country has drawn together strands from all over the world in a harmonious nation.

The Greek community in South Africa has often had to preserve and defend its identity in conditions of adversity and oppression, discrimination and prejudice. Regarded at times in the past as transient guests in this country, Greeks in South Africa have proved they are South African, part of the majority even while maintaining their own identity.

The tradition which defines Hellenism is one on which we all draw. To Greece the wold owes some of the most inspiring evocations of the democratic ideal. This includes the culture of peace among nations and the pursuit of excellence which find eloquent expression in the Olympic ideal. I myself drew much sustenance during my years in prison, from the literature of Ancient Greece.

Democracy and non-racialism provide conditions for the flourishing of the Greek community in South Africa. No longer forced to count yourselves as members of a minority within a minority, assured that your culture is safe and your religion protected, you are free to identify with the majority of your fellow citizens, confident that your traditions are regarded with admiration and respect.

It is fitting that on an occasion when we recognise past excellence, we should look forward to the challenges that lie ahead.

The reconstruction and development of our country, aimed at improving the lives of especially the poor, depends for its success on sustained economic growth. To that end the Government of National Unity has committed itself to economic policies which create an environment in which business can thrive. The challenge for all those represented by your Chamber is to seize the opportunities which have been created and thereby contribute to the building of our country.

This requires boldness in investment decisions. It entails utilising your wealth of experience to build partnerships of mutual benefit with those excluded by past policies. Through such partnerships you could pass on the skills which have taken your own community from the economic margins into the mainstream, and help empower the nation as a whole.

We are heartened by the presence here tonight of the distinguished Deputy-Ministers from Greece. We welcome you to South Africa and hope you enjoy your stay. Our government is determined to expand trade and investment links with Greece. Discussions are in progress to that end. The environment fostered by our transition creates the conditions for productive investments in South Africa, increased trade, cultural and other links between our two countries.

Greece showed its concern for the well-being of all South Africans through the support it gave in the efforts to end apartheid. The establishment of democracy in South Africa opens the way for a new and productive partnership. I hope that I will be able to visit Greece soon, to help cement our relations.

For our government the challenges are great indeed, and much depends on how we face them. We are committed to economic discipline and prudent use of our nation's resources. We understand that a climate of stability, safety and security is essential for the success of our socio-economic programmes. We are firm in our commitment to deepen the culture of human rights and ensure that all South Africans live a life free from fear and insecurity.

Indeed, with the first session of our first democratically elected Parliament, a firm foundation has been laid for building a better life for all South Africans.

These are goals which no government can achieve on its own. Working together, South Africans from every community and every walk of life can reach them. In that way the ideals embodied in the traditions you cherish will become a living reality for all South Africans.

May I conclude by quoting the words of a leader of the Hellenic Community of Pretoria:

"We are a hard-working people, but when the time for play comes, there is nothing to beat a good Greek party."

I hope that to-night will be no exception!

I thank you

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation