Address by President Nelson Mandela at dinner on 10th anniversary of appointment of Chief Rabbi Harris, Cape Town

6 November 1997

Master of Ceremonies;
Chief Rabbi Harris and Ann Harris;
Distinguished Guests,

When Cyril Harris came to South Africa ten years ago, he came to a deeply-divided society. He came to a country locked in a painful and costly struggle to bring an end to an inhuman system.

To commemorate this decade of his ministry to our Jewish community is also to celebrate inspiring achievements by our whole South African nation.

Chief Rabbi Harris is the spiritual leader of a community which has played an indispensable part in our national life. In years to come when the history of our transition is written, his name will be amongst those South African leaders who lent a hand in the efforts to establish democracy; to heal divisions; and to start the process of building a better life.

The Chief Rabbi and Ann Harris lost no time in preaching with vigour the moral imperative which forms one of the pillars of the Jewish faith - that all are equal in the eyes of God; that discrimination on grounds of race, colour or gender is contrary to that faith.

And together they have become symbols of Jewish involvement in the re-birth of our country.

Their commitment, we do know, has much to do with the establishment of your community's Tikun initiative which mobilises resources to help address the legacy of discrimination and disadvantage; and with the thriving of projects to impart literacy and other practical skills.

The Chief Rabbi's dedication to building bridges between faiths, including his exceptional contribution in the field of religious broadcasting, has added impetus to forging a new South African identity which draws strength from its rich diversity.

In nurturing their own traditions as part of the broader South African heritage, by strengthening the values and ideals that define them, each of our communities reinforces the nation as a whole.

The two Jewish beneficiaries of tonight's function epitomise your determination to strengthen your South African roots.

And the fact that our Children's Fund will also benefit from this evening's celebration reaffirms your commitment to improving the lot of the disadvantaged in ways which promote self-reliance and active participation in improving the lives of our people.

This combination of concern for community culture and care for all the people of South Africa is at the heart of our new constitution. Our basic law safeguards cultural communities and religious freedom. It gives all of us the security and the freedom to be who we really are: members of a unique community and at the same time citizens of the new South African nation.

This is an achievement for which we can all take credit, for we have all contributed to it. Our Constitution would not have embodied these ideals had every sector of South African society not been committed to them.

It is living proof of the fact that negotiated solutions can be found to even the deepest problems, when leaders act to create the conditions for the good men and women who exist in all communities to join hands and work together for common goals.

And it embodies our people's experience that none can enjoy peace and security while others are denied their legitimate rights and aspirations.

Because of our history, and like all those throughout the world who yearn for peace, South Africa's hopes are lifted by signs that the Middle-East peace process may once again move forward. All of us would be dismayed at the squandering of the legacy of those visionary leaders of the Middle-East who gave birth to the process and nurtured it; who re-awakened hope amongst all the people of a region that has suffered such long and painful conflict.

South Africans can take pride in having achieved the peace and security which allow us to draw on the resources of every sector of our society, and work together for the good of all.

We stand on the threshold of a bright future. To realise our dreams we need the talents, the vision and the drive of our Jewish community.

May I therefore ask you to rise and join me in toasting Chief Rabbi Harris, one of the foremost amongst our New Patriots, and a leader of a community which will always be an essential part of our nation.

Issued by: Office of the President

Source: South African Government Information Website