Address by President Nelson Mandela on receiving the Freedom of Grahamstown

16 May 1996

Your Worship Mr Mzukisi Mpahlwa;
Honourable members of the Grahamstown City Council;
Members of the National and Provincial legislatures present;
People of Grahamstown;
Ladies and gentlemen.

I feel humbled to be counted as one of this City's citizens. In Grahamstown's history are joined the extremes of our nation's journey to freedom.

This town was established as a centre of confrontation between expanding colonialists and indigenous people who were defending their land and property. Grahamstown was to be the main fort where the military might of the colonialists was concentrated.

For a century this City was turned into a theatre of war, as your forebears fought relentlessly to preserve their freedom. Those engagements produced legendary heroes like Makana and Ndlambe.

But over the years the community of this City has outgrown those hostilities. You have turned Grahamstown into a City of cultural heritage and academic excellence. With the gift of the Freedom of your City, granted in reality not to me as an individual, but to the people of South Africa as a whole, you affirm your dedication to peace and reconciliation.

Grahamstown is also the cradle of a free press in South Africa. The pioneers of press freedom kept its flames burning despite repressive legislation emanating from Governors-General in Cape Town. Today, with the entrenchment of that right in our new Constitution, those pioneers can rest peacefully knowing that that cause has finally triumphed. I know that Rhodes University will alsways strive to ensure that its journalism graduates hold on to this proud tradition.

Rhini is also the home of the National Arts Festival. Our central goal in rebuilding our society is to improve the quality of life of all our people. Along with the building of houses; creation of jobs; and improved education and health care; we are committed to the restoration and restitution of cultural assets and to creating conditions for arts and culture to flourish.

Under apartheid, historical sites, cultural collections, arts, and monuments related to the history of a few. The heritage of the majority was neglected, distorted, and suppressed. Although the Government is addressing the situation, this process must be tackled from the grassroots level up. The people of Grahamstown, as an advanced detachment on the cultural front, should take a lead in restoring the cultural heritage of the previously disadvantaged communities. The festivals which you host every year and other cultural projects based here can serve as foundation stones of cultural reconstruction.

Your Worship,

Despite its cultural richness, Grahamstown is one of the most economically impoverished cities in our country. Most of its residents are out of work. As the democratically elected municipality, you face the challenge of marketing the City so as to attract investments and develop its industrial potential. I was pleased to learn that the project to bring water to more than a thousand homes in Grahamstown East as well as the twenty million Rand housing projects, to build more than six hundred units are proceeding according to plan. Your municipality also deserves credit for the good work you are doing at Ethembeni Old Age Home.

The development of Grahamstown is the responsibility of all of us as residents. Rent boycotts and other actions that we used in the past against apartheid structures impact negatively on the community. We cannot use them against our own structures. Even the RDP projects already underway will come to nothing if people don't pay for services - the success of future projects depends on the funds generated today. Building a better life depends on the spirit of Masakhane.

Your City has gained a proud reputation for its institutions of learning and I hope that this tradition will be retained and improved upon. You have attracted students from all over the country and beyond its borders. It is my fervent hope that the recent disturbances will be resolved, sooner rather than later, through consultation and negotiations.

The Commission of Inquiry into Higher Education recently released a draft report and it is still receiving submissions from all interested parties. I urge all those concerned to approach this commission with their views and make a constructive contribution to the transformation process.

The adoption of the final constitution last week was a milestone in the democratisation of our country. Our democracy has come of age. I would like to thank all those who made submissions to the constitution-writing process. It was a joint effort. We all deserve credit for it.

Democracy in our country is coming of age. As government we will continue to pursue policies that are based on the needs and aspirations of all our people. As we proceed with the implementation of those policies, we will be relying on towns and cities like Grahamstown and the communities they serve.

Your Worship,

Once more I would like to thank you and your council and the people of Grahamstown for the honour you have bestowed on me today. I will always carry myself in a manner befitting a resident of Rhini.

I thank you.

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation