Address by President Nelson Mandela at the celebration of his 80th birthday

19 July 1998

Friends and fellow South Africans,

One of the advantages of old age is that people respect you just because of your grey hair and say all manner of nice things about you that are not based on who you really are.

During these past few days, and tonight, I have been quite overwhelmed by the expression of good wishes. I feel very humbled by this, and I thank you all.

It is a great joy to be able to share our celebrations through television and radio with the people of the country that gave me my birth; with the continent whose struggles shaped me; and with the world that has identified with our people's deepest aspirations.

Such an occasion does have its sad side. It brings to mind the many men and women who gave so much to ensure that we should be free. We remember them, knowing that the monument to their sacrifice is not yet complete.

There is so much to be thankful for. But if I were to speak of one thing in particular which brings me joy on my eightieth birthday, it is the way in which the people of South Africa are uniting around shared goals. As President I have the privilege of seeing what is happening across our land. When I see how people of every community and background are working together, then I sometimes feel that until now I did not really know my country.

This is what gives me hope for the future, even though we face many difficulties and some serious problems.

I know that even as we celebrate, none of us will forget the purpose that brings us together tonight: to recommit ourselves to the task of eradicating poverty and the burdens that afflict especially the most vulnerable sectors of our society - children; women; the aged; the disabled and those without home or family.

If I were to be granted one wish on this occasion, it would be that all South Africans should rededicate ourselves to turning this into the land of our dreams: a place that is free of hatred and discrimination; a place from which hunger and homelessness have been banished; a safe place for our children to grow into our future leaders.

I greet you all, and thank you from the bottom of my heart for what you have done, and for who you are. I am confident that the future of our country is in good hands.

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation