Address by President Nelson Mandela at the Blue Train Gala Dinner and Charity Auction

27 September 1997

Minister Sigcau;
Madame Mayor of Cape Town
Distinguished guests.

One way or another, the 1,600 kilometre journey from Pretoria to Cape Town seems to have played a significant part in my life.

In 1963, I was brought to Cape Town from Pretoria for my first acquaintance with Robben Island. On that occasion, the mode of transport was the back of a police van which drove all day and all night.

One year later, my second introduction to Robben Island, after the Rivonia trial, was hardly more dignified. My fellow travellers and I were flown from a Pretoria air base in an ancient military Dakota, a bumpy and unpleasant ride that left us shaken up.

And then I took a long, long rest on Robben Island, when I didn't do much travelling.

These days I shuttle between our two capital cities by jet plane, a trip which takes no more than two hours.

In the last two days, I have made the trip again. And I have to say, although it took much longer than the police van or the Dakota, or in particular today's fast jets, I enjoyed it very much more and the company was much more charming.

This time, as you must know, I was a pampered guest, along with some very distinguished people whom you see here tonight, on the occasion of the launch of the new Blue Train. It was a wonderful experience and I congratulate Transnet and Spoornet and its dedicated staff on their achievement.

I am confident that our friends from the international media will be equally impressed by their first experience of the new Blue Train on its return trip to Pretoria. Some of them are here tonight, and I welcome them most warmly.

I was particularly pleased that our journey allowed our honoured foreign friends to get a first-hand awareness, which a jet plane can never provide, not only of the beauty of our land, but of the many remarkable peoples who have joined hands to form this new nation.

All our journey, we were overjoyed at the warm welcome we received, especially from the children.

I am enormously encouraged by this unique experience. The Blue Train is going to be one of the flagships of our tourist industry as it become one of the mainstays of our economic growth.

By the year 2000 we expect one Rand in every 12 of our gross domestic product to be earned by tourism. The new Blue Train signals South Africa's commitment to quality and excellence in our approach to foreign visitors, our determination to succeed in the competitive market-place of the world.

It is an affirmation of this beautiful city of Cape Town as one of the premier tourist destinations in the world. And it expresses more eloquently than words the partnership among all our cities, including Cape Town and Pretoria, in the effort to build a better life for all.

To travel through any developing country is also to be reminded of what needs to be done to overcome the legacy of the past. Every contribution to sustained growth will help in the years ahead to produce the resources and the jobs for reconstruction and development.

But we also have immediate needs. The burden of our past weighs most heavily on the most vulnerable sections of our society, in particular our children.

I am therefore gratified that Spoornet decided that the launch should benefit our Children's Fund, which I established to help repair some of the ravages that our recent history has visited on our youth. Its task is to work with other organisations and institutions as part of a national effort, and in particular on the most urgent needs.

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation