Address by President Nelson Mandela at the prize-giving for the 72nd Comrades Marathon

16 June 1997

One of the greatest challenges in life is to turn our dreams and ideas into reality.

In 1921 Mr Vic Clapham wanted to do something in memory of the young men who had lost their lives in the First World War. He turned his dreams into the Comrades Marathon. Perhaps not realising that it would become an annual event that now unites people from all over the country and further afield.

Many people, from South Africa and countries throughout the world, dream of completing Comrades. The runners who receive Comrades medals have risen to the challenge. They have turned their dreams into reality through planning and training, as well as their sheer effort today. They can be proud of having completed the toughest ultra-marathon in the world.

Let me share one of my childhood dreams with you. When I was a young boy one of my favourite pastimes was stick-fighting. I was a very good stick-fighter and dreamt of becoming the best stick-fighter ever. Despite the fact that I spent many hours practising, I never did realise that dream.

Those runners who did not make it to the 'finish' line will naturally be feeling very disappointed. But your disappointment will not last for very long. You will either resolve to be back to try Comrades again next year or your dreams will take you in another direction - one to which you will perhaps be better suited.

The Comrades Marathon Association had the idea of turning the Comrades Marathon into an event which could also benefit those who are less privileged. This idea became a reality at Comrades '96 when over R293 000 was raised for the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund.

I would like to thank the Comrades Marathon Association, sponsors of the pledge programme, the media, runners and their supporters, most sincerely. This was a tremendous achievement.

I am greatly indebted to you for assisting in what is a personal dream for me, to provide practical help for disadvantaged children and youth.

This year the association between Comrades and the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund has even more significance. Today is also Youth Day! A day in which we honour the young people who are the future of this great nation.

It is a cruel fact that there are many children and youth in our country who suffer considerable hardships. Many are homeless, abandoned or abused. Many are disabled or have life-threatening diseases. Many are without adequate education because of poor past schooling.

Our Children's Fund provides a way in which all people, including myself, can make our own direct contribution to alleviating the plight of our children and youth in dire need.

By pledging your support on Youth Day to the NMCF/Comrades Pledge Programme, you will help prepare young disadvantaged people in South Africa for a brighter tomorrow.

Thank you! May the association of the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund and the Comrades Marathon continue for many years to come!

Source: South African Government Information Website