Address by President Nelson Mandela at a service of the Langa Methodist Church, Cape Town

14 February 1999

Rev Nkomonde;
Members of the Congregation;

As President, I have had the privilege of attending various conferences of religious bodies, including last year the conference of the Methodist Church. That is always an inspiring and encouraging experience. But it is even more so when one can share a moment like this with a congregation. It is a special honour and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for once more inviting me to be with you.

It is here in the community, where men and women live their faith in their daily lives, that we can understand what a powerful force religion is in our society. It sustains the spiritual and moral values that bind us together, in all our diversity.

Throughout generations of oppression, dispossession and discrimination, religion gave countless people the determination and the commitment to resist inhumanity. Many drew from religion the courage to survive the pain and the burden of the darkest time in our history.

We recall how religious bodies took on the responsibility for the education of millions of South Africans when the government of the day denied it to us. We remember how during our years in prison our church and other religious communities tended to us, bringing spiritual care and encouragement through the chaplains who visited us; and caring for our families when wee could not do so.

Today we face new challenges, even greater than what we overcame when we freed our country from the system of apartheid.

From the destruction of a past based on racial domination and discrimination we are building a society in which every one shall have the dignity of equality, opportunity and freedom from poverty. We are creating a society in which none need fear oppression by another; a society at peace with itself.

Democracy has brought us the opportunity to meet this challenge. It is not an easy task nor will it be a quick one, to put right the legacy of hundreds of years.

It means changing a state and other institutions that were created to serve the interests of a minority. It means overcoming the neglect of the education of the majority of South Africans.

Attitudes formed literally over centuries must be changed; divisions enforced by harsh laws and custom must be bridged. Above all the poverty and social inequality created by apartheid must be eradicated.

When we speak of democracy we speak of a form of government which is concerned with meeting the needs of the people, and especially the poor. I know that you as a congregation share that concern.

In these first years of freedom we have therefore paid special attention to the delivery of basic amenities of modern life to those who had been denied them; water; electricity and telephones; health-care, decent housing and proper education.

It is with joy and a sense of pride that we see how the lives of millions are changing through these efforts.

But this is only a start. We are called on in all the sectors of our society, and in every walk of life, to join hands and redouble our efforts to unite and heal our nation; and to lift the burden of poverty from all our people.

It is for this reason too that we urge community leaders to do everything possible to ensure that everyone registers for the forthcoming elections. By doing so, and by taking part in the election we will add new strength to our democracy and therefore increase our ability to deliver services; to create jobs and to bring crime and corruption under control.

In Parliament last week we discussed the need for an RDP of the soul. These last years have shown how deep the poison of an inhuman system seeped into the fabric of our society. We have been distressed to learn that amongst those who fought for freedom are people who have turned out as corrupt or self-seeking, if not more so, than those they replaced.

The best efforts of government to bring lasting change for the better will fail if we do not repair the moral fabric of our society. Greed and disrespect for others, a lack of community feeling and social responsibility - these are spiritual efforts to build a new society in which we can live in harmony with one another, in peace and prosperity.

As religion fortified us in resisting oppression, we know that it can help strengthen us to carry out the mission that history has given to our generation and the next - to make a reality of our hopes for a better life for all.

I thank you for your support and your friendship, and I wish you well.

Thank you

Issued by: office of the President

Source: South African Government Information Website