Address by President Nelson Mandela at the first Triennial Conference of the Methodist Church of South Africa, Durban

17 July 1998

Presiding Bishop Mvume Dandala;
Distinguished Guests;

When I met with you at your annual conference in Umtata in 1994, we were all still celebrating the fresh victory of democracy. At that meeting we took stock of the challenges ahead that we would face together. Our main priorities then revolved around writing a constitution to protect the social, economic and political rights of all South Africa's people.

As a nation we had survived an unfortunate period in the life of our country, where the most terrible oppression was justified by some people on the basis of their Christian faith. Other living faiths were denied an opportunity to contribute on an equal footing to the life of our people.

Our new constitution has laid the foundations for a healthy inter-religious relationship by guaranteeing the right to freedom of religion, in a society where the oppression of one by another must forever be a thing of the past.

What South Africa needs now is not only good government and good laws. We need people who are committed to making this the country of our dreams. And we need religious people who live their faith.

Today I am 79 years and 364 days old. My life has been a long journey. I am grateful for the learning during my early years which laid the foundations for my life. I thank my mother and uncles who sent me to Sunday School and to the Mission Schools where I was nurtured. Although youth is supposed to rebel against a strict church, I look back fondly on the instruction I received at Clarkebury and Healdtown. The values I was taught at these institutions have served me well throughout my life.

These values were strengthened during our years of incarceration when this church, along with other religious communities, cared for us. Not only did you send chaplains to encourage us, but you also assisted us materially within your means. You helped our families at a time when we could not help them ourselves.

Religious organisations also played a key role in exposing apartheid for what it was - a fraud and a heresy. It was encouraging to hear of the God who did not tolerate oppression, but who stood with the oppressed.

We will always salute the resolve of those who stood firm for justice and righteousness. Many a religious community suffered because they stood for truth.

We must never let this happen to our nation again. Our task must be to constantly remind ourselves of our history and of our vision for the future: to build a democratic culture in which all have the freedom and opportunities to improve our lives.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has played a crucial role in exposing the evil that bedevilled our land for so long. Many our people are still bitter and find it difficult to forgive. Just laws are not enough to lead our people to new life. True reconciliation will come about when those who were divided confront their past, join hands and overcome the legacy of poverty. In the same way our freedom will only gain real meaning if it brings real improvements in the lives of people.

As the government of a young democracy we have made considerable progress in bringing basic facilities within reach of all people and we are proud of that achievement. But we know it will take a long time to reverse the destructive legacy of over three hundred years.

It will also require the combined efforts of all our people, some who must share their knowledge and skills; some who must contribute by building schools and hospitals and others who must be creative and participate in their own upliftment. We need a culture of hard work, of learning, and of innovation. People must become job creators rather than only job seekers. Our children must be helped to make the best of their opportunities, even where facilities are not ideal.

Religious communities have a vital role to play in this regard in the struggle against apartheid, so too you should be at the forefront of helping to deliver a better life to all our people. Amongst other things you are well placed to assist in building capacity within communities for effective delivery of a better life.

This better life is not only about delivering jobs, houses, education and health services. It is also about eliminating anything which threatens our hard-won gains.

It is about making South Africa a safe place to live in. Crime is a menace that disturbs any country. It hampers our efforts to build a society in which everyone's rights are respected. While even one person feels insecure in our land, we will not rest. Government is doing its best but we face huge obstacles even from within our ranks. When we speak of crime we are also referring to the corruption which is undermining our efforts to build a better life. What is most distressing is that of those who plunder public resources for their own benefit include former fighters for freedom as well as those from the former apartheid machinery.

Overcoming crime and corruption and our other problems in the field of education, unemployment and poverty, requires every person to become part of the solution instead of simply being a spectator. In our schools and our places of worship, people should be encouraged to share in creating the atmosphere our land needs. As religious leaders you are responsible for creating a climate of honesty, responsibility and discipline. As a society we should all reject those who steal bread from the mouths of little children or from the elderly or the poor.

We count on the religious fraternity to help us restore the moral values and the respect for each other that were destroyed by the inhumanity of apartheid.

Finally, please allow me to congratulate you on the mission stalls you are displaying here. It is heart-warming to see the efforts my church is making to touch the lives of our people, particularly the poor. This already is for us a sign of what must be: all our people rolling up their sleeves so that all may reap the fruits of their freedom.

I thank you!

Issued by: Office of The President

Source: South African Government Information Website