Address by Nelson Mandela at National Awards ceremony, Pretoria

10 June 1999

Distinguished guests;

South Africans have much to be proud of as we approach the installation of our second democratic government.

What many hailed as the miracle of our peaceful transition has sustained itself in the ongoing life of our nation. For five years now, for the first time in the history of our country, we could justly say that the people governed.

In these first years of freedom our country, our government and our people have faced enormous challenges and problems. Certainly there have been mistakes and failures at all levels of government. In the end, though, what we have done as a nation has been remarkable.

We have brought peace to our country. Our people are united around a sense of common destiny as never before. Basic services are being delivered to all sectors of our population, to millions for whom they had been a mere dream.

Above all we have made great progress in restoring the dignity of all our people. No matter where one goes in the world today, one is proudly and warmly received as a South African, whatever one's colour.

Our successful second democratic elections demonstrated once more the strength of our nationhood and the depth of our people's commitment to democracy. This time around, the differences and tensions had more to do with technicalities and procedures that with the essence of our political order and our nationhood.

Such was our confidence in the strength of our democracy that we could confront one another vigorously in debate and in the various courts of our country. The Independent Electoral commission did us proud. It illustrated once more how national unity is being consolidated in institutions that safeguard the common interests of all of us, whatever political or other differences we may have.

We can face the future with confidence. As we set out to build a better life for all our citizens, especially the poor and the vulnerable, we do so on the foundations we have laid together in these five years.

And we look back even further to take inspiration from our common efforts to save and serve our country. it might have been the liberation movement that was in the first place responsible for freeing our country from the scourge of apartheid. We do know, however, that without the commitment of all sectors of our society, the widely forecast bloodbath could not have been averted. What the world admires us for, is the achievement of all of us.

When we confer national orders on a number of individual South Africans, living and posthumously, it is to honour our long held dream of nationhood and to celebrate a united South Africa, at last at peace with itself.

The preamble to our Constitution, fashioned and adopted by our people as the supreme law of our Republic, states that we: "recognise the injustices of our past; honour those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land; respect those who have worked to build and develop our country; and believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity."

The range of individuals receiving national orders today seeks to celebrate those precepts.

Each of the men and women who we recognise and acknowledge today has excelled, as an individual South African, in his or her chosen field. The award by themselves can never, and all of them collectively, represent the spirit of nationhood we honour today.

There are millions more other South Africans who could be honoured, in each of the categories of national awards, and we invite the nation to participate in this celebration as if everyone of us had received such an award. For that is in fact what is happening. All of us are being acknowledged for what our nation, in all its rich diversity, has brought about.

As my term of Presidency enters its last few days, I can only say how exceedingly privileged and honoured I feel to have been allowed by the circumstances of history to lead this remarkable nation, and to have been a part of its achievements.

My God protect our people.

God seen Suid-Afrika.

Hosi katekisa Afrika.

Issued by the Office of the President

Source: South African Government Information Website