Your Royal Highnesses
Your Excellencies Heads of State and Government and Leaders and Members of delegations
Chairpersons of the African Union and the African Commission
Secretary General of the Commonwealth
Esteemed Members of the Order of Mapungubwe, the Hon Nelson Mandela and FW de Klerk
Your Excellencies, Ambassadors and High Commissioners
Speaker of the National Assembly, Baleka Mbete
Chief Justice Arthur Chaskalson
My mothers, Epainette Mbeki, Albertina Sisulu and Adelaide Tambo
Fellow South Africans
The bright autumn sun smiles down on our people as we mark South Africa’s Freedom Day, inaugurate the President of the Republic and celebrate our country’s First Decade of Democracy.
We feel immensely honoured that on this happy day we have been granted the privilege to host the distinguished leaders and representatives of the peoples of the world who are with us here at this seat of our democratic government.
All our people extend a warm welcome to all our guests, as well as our deep-felt gratitude to you all, that you put aside everything to lend weight and dignity to our celebrations.
We are determined to ensure that no one ever has grounds to say he or she has been denied his or her place in the sun.
Your presence among us when we confronted the apartheid crime against humanity gave freedom the possibility to emerge triumphant. Your presence among us today expands our joy that freedom’s opportunities have given us the possibility to begin the long walk to a life of dignity for all our people.
For too long our country contained within it and represented much that is ugly and repulsive in human society. It was a place in which happiness could only break through in short ephemeral bursts, briefly streaking across our skies like a dying comet.
It was a place in which to be born black was to inherit a lifelong curse. It was a place in which to be born white was to carry a permanent burden of fear and hidden rage.
It was a place that decreed that some were born into poverty and would die poor, their lives, in the land of gold and diamonds, cut short by the viral ravages of deprivation. It was a place where others always knew that the accident of their birth entitled them to wealth. Accordingly, these put aside all humane values, worshipping a world whose only worth was the accumulation of wealth.
It was a place where to be born a woman was to acquire the certainty that you would forever be a minor and an object owned by another, where to be a man was to know that there would always be another over whom you would exercise the power of a master.
It was a place in which squalor, the stench of poverty, the open sewers, the decaying rot, the milling crowds of wretchedness, the unending images of a landscape strewn with carelessly abandoned refuse, assumed an aspect that seemed necessary to enhance the beauty of another world of tidy streets, and wooded lanes, and flowers’ blossoms offsetting the green and singing grass, and birds and houses fit for kings and queens, and lyrical music, and love.
It was a place in which to live in some places was to invite others to prey on you or to condemn oneself to prey on others, guaranteed neighbours who could not but fall victim to alcohol and drug stupors that would dull the pain of living, who knew that their lives would not be normal without murder in their midst, and rape and brutal personal wars without a cause.
It was a place in which to live in other neighbourhoods was to enjoy safety and security because to be safe was to be protected by high walls, electrified fences, guard dogs, police patrols and military regiments ready to defend those who were our masters, with guns and tanks and aircraft that would rain death on those who would disturb the peace of the masters.
For too long our country contained within it and represented much that is ugly and repulsive in human society.
It was a place in which those who cried out for freedom were promised and rewarded with the gift of the cold and silent grave. To rebel for liberty was to invite torture, prison, banishment, exile and death.
To say that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white, and to say that those classified as sub-human would fight to ensure that those who held them in bondage continue to live in the country of their birth without fear and without rage, was to invite the wrath of the masters.
It was a place in which those who were enraged knew that to kill those who promised freedom for all was to rid the world of the anti-Christ. To achieve their purposes that they considered holy, they did not think it wrong to murder children or to accumulate weapons of mass destruction, with a little help from their friends.
They thought it right that they should turn our country into a mighty and feared fortress, a base from which to launch armed raids to take away the freedom that Africa had won, to remove governments that would not compromise with racist tyranny, to place in power those who were willing to be intimidated, bought and corrupted, to kill and reduce whole countries to a wasteland, everywhere burning, burning, burning.
For too long our country contained within it and represented much that is ugly and repulsive in human society.
We have gathered here today, on Freedom Day, because in time, our people, together with the billions of human beings across the globe, who are our comrades-in-arms and whom our distinguished guests represent, decided to say – an end to all that!
When these risen masses acted to end what was ugly and repulsive in our country, they also made a statement that we who are now free, have an obligation to honour the trust they bestowed on us.
It would have been impossible for us to respect that obligation if the majority of our people had not decided to turn away from a past of division into mutually antagonistic racial and ethnic groups, choosing the path of national unity and reconciliation.
We chose what seemed impossible because to have done otherwise would have condemned all our people, black and white, to a bloody and catastrophic conflict. We are proud that everyday now, black and white South Africans discover that they are, after all, one another’s keeper.
We are determined that where once we were the terrible exemplar of racist bigotry, we should now and in future testify to the possibility of building a stable and viable non-racial society.
We are greatly encouraged that our General Elections of a fortnight ago confirmed the determination of all our people, regardless of race, colour and ethnicity, to work together to build a South Africa defined by a common dream.
As we engaged in struggle to end racist domination, we also said that we could not speak of genuine liberation without integrating within that, the emancipation of women. This very amphitheatre where we sit is home to a monument that pays tribute to the contribution of the women of our country to the struggle that made it possible for us to meet here today to celebrate our 10th Anniversary of Democracy.
Our last General Elections confirmed the women as the largest number of voters and the strongest voice in favour of the fundamental social transformation of our country. No government in South Africa could ever claim to represent the will of the people if it failed to address the central task of the emancipation of women in all its elements, and that includes the government we are privileged to lead.
Three-and-a-half centuries of colonialism and apartheid have more than amply demonstrated that our country could never become governable unless the system of government is based on the will of the people.
Despite the fact that we are a mere 10 years removed from the period of racist dictatorship, it is today impossible to imagine a South Africa that is not a democratic South Africa. In reality it is similarly impossible to meet any of the enormous challenges we face, outside the context of respect for the principle and the practice that the people shall govern.
Nobody in our country today views democracy as a threat to their interests and their future. This includes our national, racial and political minorities. This is because we have sought to design and implement an inclusive democratic system, rather than one driven by social and political exclusion.
We are determined to ensure that no one ever has grounds to say he or she has been denied his or her place in the sun. Peace and our shared destiny impose an obligation on all of us to create the space for every South African to make his or her contribution to the shaping of our common destiny.
Endemic and widespread poverty continues to disfigure the face of our country. It will always be impossible for us to say that we have fully restored the dignity of all our people as long as this situation persists.
For this reason the struggle to eradicate poverty has been and will continue to be a central part of the national effort to build the new South Africa.
None of great social problems we have to solve is capable of resolution outside the context of the creation of jobs and the alleviation and eradication of poverty. This relates to everything, from the improvement of the health of our people, to reducing the levels of crime, raising the levels of literacy and numeracy, and opening the doors of learning and culture to all.
For a millennium there were some in the world who were convinced that to be African was to be less than human. This conviction made it easy to trade in human beings as slaves, to colonise countries and, today, to consign Africans to the periphery of global human society, as a fit object for sustenance through charitable donations.
Necessarily, the great journey we have undertaken has to be, and is about redressing the harm that was caused to all Africans. It is about overcoming the consequences of the assault that was made on our sense of pride, our identity and confidence in ourselves. Through our efforts, we must achieve the outcome that we cease to be beggars, and deny others the possibility to sustain racist prejudices that dehumanise even those who consider themselves superior.
We must use our human and material resources and the genius of our people to build an economy that addresses their needs, that gives us the means to end the wretchedness that continues to define some as being less human than others.
We share this and other goals with the rest of our continent and the African Diaspora, as well as the billions across the globe who continue to suffer as millions in our country do. Nothing can separate us from these masses with which we share a common destiny.
Rather, we must and will at all times strive to strengthen our links with them, together to determine what we must do to solve our shared problems. We are greatly inspired that having achieved the goal of the total liberation of Africa from colonial and white minority domination with the defeat of the apartheid regime, our Continent acted to establish the African Union and initiate its development programme, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development.
Our common task is to ensure that these historic initiatives succeed in their objective of taking Africa forward to the victory of the African Renaissance. Democratic South Africa will play its role vigorously to promote the achievement of this goal.
Our joy today, when we celebrate an African achievement, is tempered by the reality that we live in a troubled world. None of us can be indifferent to the violence that continues to claim lives in various countries in the Middle East, including Palestine, Israel, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. We cannot be indifferent to the acts of terrorism that took away many lives in Nairobi, Dar-es-Salaam, New York, Madrid and elsewhere.
Neither can we escape involvement in the struggle to confront the negative outcomes of the process of globalisation, the growing impoverishment of billions across the globe, and the failure of the multilateral institutions, including the United Nations, to respond quickly and effectively to the needs and aspirations of those who are poor and do not dispose of immense power.
Today we begin our Second Decade of Democracy. We are convinced that what has been achieved during the First demonstrates that as Africans we can and will solve our problems. We are equally certain that Africa will record new advances as she pursues the goal of a better life for all. She will do what she can to encourage a more equitable and humane new world order.
Having served as the prime example of human despair, Africa is certain to emerge as a place of human hope.
On this historic day, the beginning of our Second Decade of Democracy, I extend best wishes to all our people for A Happy Birthday! To our friends from and in all parts of the world, we say thank you for being with us on this momentous day.
We pledge to all the heroes and heroines who sacrificed for our freedom, as well as to you, our friends from the rest of the world, that we will never betray the trust you bestowed on us when you helped to give us the possibility to transform South Africa into a democratic, peaceful, non-racial, non-sexist and prosperous country, committed to the noble vision of human solidarity.
The work to create that South Africa has begun. That work will continue during our Second Decade of Freedom. That struggle continues and victory is certain!