Address by President Nelson Mandela at Presidential and Premier Education Awards ceremony, Johannesburg

23 November 1996

Master of ceremonies;
Minister of Education;
Premiers and members of provincial executive councils;
Education leaders;
Distinguished guests;
Ladies and gentlemen,

When these awards were launched a year ago, pressing commitments elsewhere prevented me from sharing the occasion. So it is a great pleasure to have this second opportunity, while this project is still in its infancy, so to speak. I am proud to be associated with so noble an effort, to honour contributions to our most critical investment.

In honouring valiant efforts to improve education standards from outside government, the awards are aimed at encouraging initiative among all South Africans to build a better life ourselves in partnership with government.

Our nation clearly no longer needs convincing that it will take more than government to tackle the challenges, the legacies and difficulties, of the past. But, mourning the past does not create a better future. Thus, all South Africans need to ask themselves the question: what are we doing to change things for the better?

Today, one year down the line, those involved in this project should ask: What new partners have we acquired? What impact have their contributions had in promoting better education?

Throughout the country community organisations have seized the opportunity to take direct responsibility for their children's education. They are involved in school governance and raising funds and resources for schools.

Major companies are responding positively to education challenges and to our call for partnership. They are building schools, classrooms, and libraries. They are paying for additional teaching staff, donating teaching media, renovating schools and providing bursaries to needy students. In the work-places, many companies have introduced innovative basic adult education programmes for employees.

Non-governmental organisations continue to provide valuable educational resources and services.

Nation-building has indeed become a shared national responsibility among all of us.

Each and every effort is noble and deserving of recognition. But today we honour a few of the most outstanding examples.

You have done our nation proud. You asked for no appreciation or recognition even when you deserved it. I am sure there must have been moments when you wanted to give up, but the cries of desperate millions kept you going. We salute you for that.

Government, for its part, regards education as a major national priority.

We are busy creating an system that will make quality education, including adult basic education, accessible to all South Africans.

At the same time urgent needs are being attended to. This year along R279 million Rand was allocated specifically to the Culture of Learning programme. This programme funds school renovations and promotes attendance. It encourages parents, students, and the broader school community to contribute to discipline, maintenance and improvement of schools.

To address the major classroom backlog, R1 billion was allocated this year alone for the national school building programme. An amount of R300 million was also set aside by the Education Ministry for study aid purposes.

Various provinces are establishing youth or community colleges, also known as finishing centres. These are specifically aimed at completing the secondary education of out-of-school youths to matric or equivalent. For many they bring an opportunity to catch up school-time lost in the turmoil of apartheid's dying days.

But whatever resources the state invests in the education of our children, we can never win this battle alone. That is why the nation acknowledges your gallant contributions. We celebrate your achievements so that others may emulate your example.

In honouring you tonight, we join the multitude of adults who, because of you, can now read and write: the children who now have proper creches instead of being left all day in a room or garage; disabled people who are now fully functional members of society instead of being left on the margins. We join them in saying that your hard work and commitment have made a difference in the life of our people.

Keep up the good work. The awards are a pledge that in government you will always find a committed partner.

Let us join hands to invest in our people. By investing in education we are investing in a secure and prosperous future.

I thank you!

Issued by: Office of the President

Source: South African Government Information Website