Address by President Nelson Mandela at a rally on being granted the Freedom of Uitenhage

14 September 1995

Provincial Premier Raymond Mhlaba;
Dr Siva Pillay, Chairperson of the Uitenhage Transitional Local Council;
Fellow South Africans.

The people of Uitenhage do me a great honour by conferring on me the freedom of your town. For yours is a community which knows how precious freedom is and how much it costs to obtain it.

This town experienced the worst of apartheid repression. But because of the steadfastness of its people it came out on top.

It was here that one of the first forced removals of a great number of people took place during the sixties. But you defied racism and returned to your land. It was that organised defiance that the apartheid regime sought to suppress in the Langa massacre ten years ago, followed by yet another large-scale forced removal. They did not succeed, and today we can gather here together, free and united.

What makes the Uitenhage community a shining star is that your resistance always had a sense of direction. You were among the first to destroy the puppet apartheid local councils and opened the way for democratic structures. In 1992 you pioneered negotiations to establish a more representative local authority to manage your affairs until November this year when you will elect a democratic council.

What we see in Uitenhage is not just an example of how people can fight for freedom against all odds. We also see how a town can turn its eyes to the future, and use its freedom to join hands across all sections of society. Out of a once divided town you are working to build a new, truly South African community, united and working for a better life for all.

You were amongst the first to establish a warm working relationship between business and community structures. The partnership between the community Volkswagen management, and workers provides a example that should be emulated around the country. The way in which this partnership has now broadened to include government in the Community-Based Public Works Programme is most encouraging. It is precisely this spirit of partnership and the readiness to share responsibility that will make a success of reconstruction and development. It is this spirit of Masakhane that will make the RDP work for you.

It is therefore most important that the improvement in payment for services that has taken place should be maintained. Quite a number of residents are still failing to pay for services. This should not be. Your TLC even has provisions for negotiating tariffs with the unemployed and disabled. There can be no sustainable services without payment. If the practice of non-payment persists, then all the golden plans for the area will remain a dream.

There are many other challenges ahead, amongst them the need to help our country achieve the economic growth required to make a better life for all our people.

As a democracy we are now part of the competitive world market. To sell our products and to attract investment we need to find ways of building up the skills among our work force. A number of foreign companies have indicated willingness to invest in our country. Earlier this week we signed an agreement with Chancellor Kohl that will help attract more German investments. Such companies will want to bring modern machinery that require expertise and new working practices.

Growth and investment also require a climate of stability. The Labour Relations Act, one of our most important pieces of legislation, will provide a framework in which employers and workers can work jointly to create that kind of climate. Ladies and gentlemen; the local government elections are upon us. The success or failure of our democracy will be tested at this layer of government. If local authorities fail to improve our lives, that will equally be a failure of provincial and national governments. There is nothing that the higher layers of government can do if local government is incompetent.

Now, at last, we have a chance to elect capable representatives and democratic councils that will help rebuild our lives. Let us not waste the chance. Let us emerge from the elections with the best possible councillors for Uitenhage.

But before you can vote in November, you must register. The Government has extended the voter registration date so that even those who missed the June deadline can register. You have a chance until 25 September. Grab this opportunity and register for the sake of your community. You can't hope for a better life if you don't register.

For the elections to succeed, there must be thorough voter education. The government will do its utmost in this regard but we also appeal to community leaders and organisations of civil society, as well as the mass media to repeat the commendable work they performed before last year's elections.

Dear Friends;

Here in Uitenhage you are laying a sound foundation for a bright and prosperous future. You must build on it and refuse to be diverted. Our future will be what we make of the opportunities that we have today. No one can build a better Uitenhage than the people of this town.

Once more, may I thank you for allowing me to join you as a citizen of this town. I hope to emulate the heroism and steadfastness of the residents of Uitenhage and live up to their established reputation.

I thank you all.

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation