Address by President Nelson Mandela at the renaming of the Ahmed Timol School, Azaadville

29 March 1999

Master of ceremonies;
Ladies and gentlemen;

I am very glad to be able to spend even this short while with you. It is always a special pleasure to be with teachers, parents and my favourite kind of people, the youth.

Few things in life are as painful as losing one's child. Anyone who doubted that, had only to listen to the testimony of Ahmed Timol's mother as she told her story to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The memory of the suffering, frail woman, like thousands of other mothers who appeared before the Truth Commission, still brings us as much pain as the inhumanity of her son's death.

Like most of you, I did not know Timol personally. But all of us, I'm sure, wonder who he would be if he were alive today.

Would he have been a father and a teacher himself and perhaps have taught at this very school?

What we can say with certainty, is that Timol was a brave young man who believed in freedom and justice, and who fought for non-racialism and democracy.

Timol would have been proud to be citizen of a democratic South Africa, where all our cultures and religions are guaranteed by the constitution. He would have rejoiced in the fact that we are on the eve of our second democratic elections. He would surely have been amongst the first to register and to mobilise others to do so, so that they can make their voice heard in the elections on 2 June.

Living in Azaadville he would have been proud of a community that is a thread in the rich tapestry of South Africa's diversity; of this school with its large enrolment of students from underprivileged areas; and of a community that played a role in relief for the residents of Swanieville in times of distress.

He would have encouraged the community to be active in the building of the new South Africa, and not to sit back and wait for government to do everything. Democracy brings us the opportunity to have a say over our lives, and we should do everything possible in partnership with government to tackle the problems of crime, poverty and injustice that still prevail. Timol would have encouraged those with skills to share them with the less privileged.

Timol the teacher would have approved of our new education system which provides education for all children equally. But he would have also wanted those who have opportunities his generation never had, to study hard in order to become productive members of society.

There are also things that he would have fought against, such as corruption, theft and unaccountable leaders.

Many youngsters today know little or nothing of the proud legacy left by our heroes. He would have wanted the youth, all of you, to be firm in your knowledge of where you come from.

Few of today's young people have experienced first-hand the cruelty of apartheid repression. We hope that renaming this school after Ahmed Timol will help you understand the courage of those who opened the way for all of us who are free today.

We hope too that what you learn today about Timol will lead you to find out about others like him, like Looksmart Ngudle, Imam Haroun, Neil Aggett and many more who died because they dared to challenge the inhumanity of apartheid.

They sacrificed careers and livelihoods, and sometimes even life, so that we all could one day live with dignity. They would want you to learn about the strong alliances, since the time of Ghandi and Dr. Xuma, between the different sectors of the oppressed - African, Indian, and Coloured - and the support of democrats from the White community.

They would want you to know that our democracy is a product of all the people of South Africa who reached out to one another across the divisions of centuries.

That tradition is alive today in the rebuilding of our country, as men, women and youth from every community and political party are increasingly joining hands to work for the objective of a better life for all that Timol fought for.

Ladies and gentlemen; We thank all those who persevered in this project: friends, family, the school governing body, teachers and the community. Ahmed Timol's mother asked that a school be named after her son. Had she lived to see the bright young faces I see now, she would perhaps have felt that her son did not die in vain. I am sure that all the children at this school, knowing that, will strive to live up to the memory of Ahmed Timol.

The best way that we can honour his memory is by ensuring that our democracy remains strong and that it does bring a better life for all. As a nation, we are already bringing down the walls that keep us from this goal. Each of us must do whatever we can to bring delivery of services to those who were denied to them before. Each of us should make our contribution to creating jobs and to reconciling our nation.

It is a great privilege to have the task of unveiling the plaque that bears the new name of this school. Let us remember Ahmed Timol in our striving together to make a reality of the hopes he shared with us.

Issued by Office of the President

Source: South African Government Information Website