Address by President Nelson Mandela at the official opening of the International Convention Centre (ICC), Durban

8 August 1997

Your Highness, King Goodwill Zwelithini;
Premier of KwaZulu-Natal and members of the Provincial Government Cabinet Ministers;
Mayor of the Durban Metropolitan Council;
Distinguished guests;
Ladies and gentlemen

It is a great honour to join you tonight in this celebration of achievement; in this celebration of new opportunities.

In constructing this magnificent new International Convention Centre, the people of Durban have shown foresight, determination and initiative. They combined enterprise with a boldness unique to this province, to create something that all South African can be proud of.

When the idea of developing an international conference centre in Durban was first raised, in 1991, it required unusual vision to see beyond the pressing problems of those pre-election years. To talk then of investing some R270 million of ratepayers' funds into a convention centre whose lifeblood would be a steady flow of foreign visitors, might have seemed folly. It required an all-too-rare confidence in the future of our country to foresee that by now South Africa would be an honoured member of the international community of nations.

The decision to proceed with the plan was an investment in our democratic future in more ways than one. It was taken when the former Durban City Council and representatives of non-statutory organisations came together, to lay the basis for a transition to non-racial government. They shared the conviction that South Africans could and would create a normal society. And they agreed that urgent steps would be taken then, rather than later, to help ensure a more prosperous future for all who lived in the region.

Many who helped form the ground-breaking consensus are with us tonight. They continue to work for a new and prosperous society, some as democratically elected representatives in National, Provincial and Local government; and some in the local business community.

They are here tonight, and all of us are here to join them in celebrating this special occasion. They are a tremendous force of example within our society and we salute them.

This occasion also highlights the impact this investment will have on the economies of Durban, KwaZulu-Natal and indeed South Africa.

That we have cause to celebrate is indicated by the 45 conferences already booked through to the year 2008. And we can be sure that many of the 50,000 or more delegates to those conferences will not be coming alone to Durban.

Though the residents of this city will feel the most immediate benefits, especially those engaged in tourism activities, the effects will spread much wider. The impact will be felt in the province's tourism industry and further afield as delegates and their families take the opportunity to visit our country's attractions.

The ICC Durban project therefore brings significant new opportunities for our country as a whole. Tourism, with its potential for job-creation and foreign exchange earnings, is one of the priority sectors of our economy. This centre adds strength to the industry's infrastructure.

As a meeting venue of world standards, the centre will most certainly attract conventions from around the world. In particular, it can help us attract our share of the multilateral conferences that are held in Africa each year.

The same qualities that were needed to give us this national asset will be called on to ensure its success.

It will require skilful and effective marketing, in a joint effort by the city and national agencies.

It will require local initiative in exploiting and developing all the linkages that enhance the region's potential as a successful convention destination.

This includes the links with the Port of Durban, with the proposed King Shaka International Airport north of Durban, and with the growth and skilled management of KwaZulu-Natal's eco-tourism attractions.

KwaZulu-Natal's greatest asset and opportunity vests in its people. Its rich history as part of Africa's unique experience, and its diversity of cultures ad traditions, should be shown to the world. Its special relationship with India brings an immense opportunity for new tourism from the East. Its historical links with important centres in Europe add value to its attraction as a conference and holiday destination.

All this reinforces South Africa's rapidly expanding multi-faceted links with the world. It is one good reason among many that Durban's sister city, Cape Town, and indeed South Africa and Africa, deserve, this time round, to host the 2004 Olympics.

Ladies and gentlemen;

Realising all the opportunities that the centre brings, depends on the political parties and the people of KwaZulu-Natal sustaining their courageous and effective bid to bring lasting peace to the province.

The people of Durban have shown their capacity and their determination. Tonight as we celebrate their achievement, let us also make a pledge, as citizens of Durban, of KwaZulu-Natal; and of South Africa as a whole: to join hands, locally, regionally and nationally; to work together as government, business and community, in order to make a success of this magnificent international conference centre.

It is now my honour to formally declare ICC Durban open.

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation