Address by President Nelson Mandela at the Christmas Choir Competition, Cape Town

31 March 1996

Dear Friends

It is a very special privilege and honour for me to attend this competition of Christmas Choirs. As with the Cape Coon Carnival during New Year I have immediately accepted your invitation and changed other appointments that I have had. It is through music that we express our deepest emotions - the joys and sorrows of our people - and our deepest beliefs. With your invitation for me to attend these festivities I feel that I have been invited into your houses and hearts. Therefore I say with a very warm heart to each one of you, thank you very much that I can I share in this occasion with you.

I can feel today the excitement and the zest for life in your communities and the very special way in which you give expression to your particular culture. It excites me that young and old are gathered here today. It is good that young people share with their elders the pride in a culture that helped preserve your community spirit through the dark years of oppression. It is this culture which helped you to maintain pride in your communities during the dark years of racism and oppression. I believe that in maintaining and developing events such as this will also help our communities against the pressure of social problems and poverty, that lead so many to desperation and crime.

The Christmas Troops and Cape Coons have through all the difficult years provided a channel for the development of a rich musical talent that would otherwise have been left untapped. Through your activities young musicians have been inspired and nurtured into becoming great artists whose names have become legends not only in the Cape, but throughout South Africa and the whole world, I think of musicians such as Abdullah Ibrahim, Robbie Jansen, Basil Coetzee, Tony Cedras and many others.

You are part of the living proof that the great diversity of cultures in South Africa, once used to divide us and keep us apart, is a source of great strength and unity. As I have said many times before: We are a land of many cultures, but one Nation!

Pride in the musical tradition of the Coloured community is part of South Africa's New Patriotism; our pride at being part of a South Africa that is overcoming the divisions of the past.

In 1994 the people of South Africa voted for democracy and took our nation for ever from its past of division and oppression. At that time many - including many in the Coloured community - still felt anxiety about what the future might bring. Those who wanted to perpetuate the divisions and the inequalities of the past tried to stir those anxieties into fearful support for themselves.

Now, two years later those fears have proved to be unreal. Now we are part of a society that treats everyone with equal respect and dignity, we can all see things for what they are. We have seen that by working together and seeking solutions in the interest of the nation as a whole, any problems we have can be overcome.

I am aware of concerns among the Coloured community that the programmes of government aimed at redressing the wrongs of the past are not always benefiting them as they should. If any employers say that government is for jobs to go by preference to Africans, this not true. All those who have been disadvantaged by apartheid have a claim. It is your duty and right to expose those who do not implement this policy.

Once again I want to ensure the Coloured Community that you have nothing to fear from democracy. On the contrary we have all seen the advantages that freedom and democracy bring for all. All our country's languages, cultures and religions are being respected and provided equal opportunities.

Last year, in November, voters took part in local government elections elsewhere in the country, and they reaffirmed their confidence in democracy and in the ANC. It was clear that the two years of democratic government convinced them that it was the right choice and the way to bring change.

In May it will now finally be the turn of people in Cape Town to create democratic local government. They will be able to choose local councils they can work with to tackle the real issues of making their areas better places to live in. This will be a chance to bring everyone together and turn Cape Town into a city that all who live in it can be proud of.

Events like this Choir competition shows the strength and vitality of Coloured culture. It is in your hands, together with all the citizens who live here, to build and develop Cape Town. When I look at your today, and I listen to the beautiful choir music, then I am convinced that all of us together will be able to secure a wonderful future for Cape Town.

Thank you.

Source: South African Government Information Website