Address by Nelson Mandela at Heritage Day celebrations, Pretoria

24 September 2002

Heritage Day is one of our most important national days in terms of building our nation and consolidating our national identity as one of unity within diversity.

I therefore feel particularly privileged in being able to join you at this Heritage Day celebration, aptly called "Celebrating our Heritage, History and Creativity".

I am here particularly to bring my congratulations to all who were involved in the Heritage Competition, "Our roots are speaking", that formed part of this celebration. We salute the students and teachers, or learners and educators as you call them these days, who participated in the competition.

It is an honour for you to have been selected as provincial winners and we share with you in the excitement as you await the announcement of the national winners tonight. But no matter who the eventual winners are, we wish to congratulate all of you and through you the rest of the learners and educators who had participated in this important event.

I am told that the themes you dealt with were what it means to be an African, our diverse heritages, our unity in diversity and, above all, national reconciliation.

These are weighty and important issues in our national life, but they are clearly issues occupying the minds of our learners. Through this you are showing the way to the rest of your generation about what it means to be a South African and an African.

You are showing us adults that the youth of today is indeed capable of taking on the responsibilities and challenges faced by the citizens of our treasured land. You are demonstrating that our youth is indeed the most precious treasure we have; that it is through them that we shall preserve and creatively build on our heritage. It is what we take out of our heritage to build our future that is important about these occasions of heritage celebration.

And I cannot talk to our youth about our national future without at least mentioning the gravest threat to that future, viz. HIV/AIDS. Once more, it is within your ability to join the war against HIV/AIDS and to safeguard our heritage and ensure our future.

I hope that you enjoy the rest of this wonderful evening, and that you take the message back to your friends and family: we must work together to realise the dream of a united, harmonious and prosperous South Africa that belongs to all who live in it.

I thank you.

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation