Address by President Nelson Mandela to the Sowetan Nation Building 10th anniversary, Johannesburg

30 June 1998

Premier Mathole Motshekga;
Editor and staff of Sowetan;
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It required profound vision for the Sowetan to conceive its Nation-Building Programme ten years ago when conflict in our country was still intense. It called for courage to launch it when everyday experience cried out that there was no space for such an initiative to take root.

I must therefore thank you for bestowing on me an honour which is in reality a tribute to all South Africans, for their achievements in joining hands across the divides of apartheid to build our democracy and to work for the good of all.

Many South Africans are still on their way home from watching our team play in the Soccer World Cup. Few events in recent times have evoked such passion in our country as Bafana Bafana's campaign. Quite rightly, we all expected our team to dazzle the world. Our expectations were not about football only. They also reflected a pride in a team that was competing with the best in the world.

Is this not the same people who, hardly six years ago, rooted for opposing teams for lack of anything they could call their own? While we still await the verdict of our forty million football experts, we know that we do have reason to take pride in the progress we have made on many fronts.

But we can never be complacent, because the legacies of our past still run very deeply through our society.

Nation-building must therefore first and foremost be about South Africans joining hands across all the racial and tribal distinctions to abolish poverty, unemployment, corruption, crime and civil strife.

It is about those who were previously disadvantaged seizing the many opportunities that freedom has brought to uplift themselves and contribute to the community.

It is about those who have acting on the understanding that in a sea of poverty, lasting safety and security will remain unattainable.

It is about those who had a headstart - whether by reason of privileged status arising from the previous dispensation or simply hard work - taking the initiative to bring resources and skills to efforts to improve the lives of the poor and downtrodden.

In encouraging all these things, the Nation-Building Initiative has done our nation a service.

For the media, nation-building also includes reflecting our progress in striving for these objectives; noting our shortcomings; and explaining our difficulties. This is not as a special ally of government but as an institution with a special role in the great partnership out of which our new nation is emerging.

As we analyse the persisting imbalances in our society we should not fail to acknowledge and encourage a relatively small but very significant group of business people who are bringing resources directly to assist finance our reconstruction and development programme.

A health care centre we recently launched in Umbumbulu was just the most recent of a series of joint projects by the government, the private sector and communities. When it is charged that reconciliation is a one way process to appease whites, we cannot ignore such projects which help to ensure that thousands of children all over South Africa no longer learn under trees. The very fact that this is a minority is all the more reason to praise and encourage them so that they recruit more to their pioneering work.

If we look at the matter of black economic empowerment, we are right to caution against the creation of a new elite which simply perpetuates inequality. But we most also not lose sight of the fact that against heavy odds, a pioneering entrepreneurial sector is emerging. The percentage of shares at the Johannesburg Stock Exchange in the hands of those previously excluded is still very small. But there is every reason to be proud that this stake, small as its is, has been accumulated in the short period since 1994.

In such ways is the world of business beginning to break the mould.

This is but one sector of our society. In every sphere we could tell of the proud start that has been made during our four years of freedom - and the distance we must still travel.

Our nation building efforts must undo the effects of three centuries and more of colonialism and racism. Many years will be needed to achieve the equitable redistribution of wealth to which we aspire. But having made a good start, the challenge now is to increase the pace of delivery to further better the lives of the people.

We can fact that challenge with confidence.

Our confidence derives from the fact that by joining hands South Africans have overcome problems others thought would forever haunt us. As we destroyed apartheid; so too can we defeat poverty and discrimination if we are united.

Our confidence derives from the fact that South Africa is a country rich not only in natural resources, but above all in its people. We need programmes to realise the potential which was so cruelly wasted by apartheid.

I salute the efforts of Dr Klaaste and all those who work with him at the Sowetan, to help build unity amongst our people and to realise their potential.

Your 10 years of Nation Building is something that all South Africans can be proud of.

I thank you.

Issued by: Office of the President

Source: South African Government Information Website