OFFICIAL OPENING OF THE
RESERVOIR HILLS : FEBRUARY 17, 2002
The Divine Life Society, under the leadership of Swami Sahajananda, has proven itself a servant of the people of KwaZulu Natal, creating through its humanitarian efforts a higher quality of life for many of our people. From education to feeding schemes, from craft centres to skills training, the Society has worked in our communities for years to meet practical needs and offer the opportunity for human growth. I feel that as we make the personal journey to discover more about one another as diverse peoples of South Africa, we expand inner horizons which allows such growth to happen. It is only in reaching out for one another that we may build bridges across the divide of ignorance and suspicion, and only in coming together that we may realise how little there truly is that separates us. I have had a long and enriching relationship with Swami and the Divine Life Society of South Africa. The record of the Divine Life Society in improving the quality of life of the poorest of the poor in our communities speaks for itself. For decades, I have spent time at this Ashram and my daughter, Mandisi, stayed in the Ashram for quite a long time.
I have had the pleasure of attending many of the functions held by the Divine Life Society, marking each milestone in the life of this organisation with due celebration. I have also had the privilege of speaking to Swami Sahajananda and sharing with him my vision for the future of our country and my concerns for our present situation. On each occasion, I have gathered a greater insight into the spiritual values and inspiration of the Divine Life Society. Its learning and teachings have assisted me greatly in reaching a fuller appreciation of the divine nature of the gift of life. Our life experience can indeed be an expression of divinity if we accept to grow spiritually and gain the enlightenment of spiritual achievement. I feel that this teaching is universal and opens a path which is of great importance for our youth to walk in their formative stages. I am very indebted to the contribution that the Divine Life Society has made to the rich religious and spiritual matrix of our Province and in my own life.
When Swamiji first wrote to me extending an invitation to attend and officiate at today’s opening of the Sivananda Display Centre, he emphasised the educational aspect of the Centre, not only for school children but for whomever wishes to visit this place. I have now had the opportunity to view the display myself and I appreciate what Swamiji meant when he said that this educational display is inspiring. This place underlines the spiritual dimension of education, where learning takes place through inspiration, intuition, admonition and guidance, rather than through the inculcation of revealed truth or the mechanical transfer of information. This place has been beautifully constructed and I congratulate all those who have been part of putting the display together. In further correspondence from Mr Pradeep Ramlall of the Board of Management, mention was also made of Swami Sivananda’s commitment to education as a tool of sustainable human development. This is perhaps Swami Sivananda’s belief and commitment which holds the greatest value not only for the religious growth of our communities but for the whole of our country.
Throughout my career in politics and public life I have championed the cause of education for liberation. This is in fact the banner under which I worked throughout the years of apartheid when many other components of our liberation struggle relegated education to a secondary position, demanding liberation first. I understood then as I do now, that human beings cannot free themselves from the shackles of wrong thinking, which are ultimately more binding and more destructive to the human spirit than political or social oppression, without first acquiring the leverage of knowledge. For this reason, even today in our politically liberated, fully democratic South Africa, I continue to champion education and training as a means to freeing our people’s intellect and spirit.
However a new dimension now emerges in this ongoing struggle for emancipation through education, and its emergence is becoming more and more compelling by the day. This is the dimension of extending the very notion of education to encompass the appreciation of human values and of all that which is necessary to rebuild the moral fibre of our communities and our country as a whole.
Educating people in the appreciation of values and true moral conduct is not something that can be done through the scholastic method. It requires not only critical judgement but a heart and soul which have both been formed and have grown to appreciate our existence as a divine gift which participates in the divinity and mystery of life itself. We need the contribution of all people of goodwill and all religious leaders and institutions devoted to human growth and upliftment, to bring about this regeneration of the moral fibre of our country. I believe that our country is blessed by its religious diversity and the contribution of all the people of goodwill remains the surest way to herald an African Renaissance by opening our people’s experience to embrace centuries of culture, history, art, language, geography and science, beyond the narrow limitations of our own context. We need to learn to grow.
I understand that the artistic portrayals on display in this Centre, accompanied by sayings of Swami Sivananda, have the purpose of giving the mind a focus that is both kind and peaceful. And yet, I feel that peace of mind and spirituality on the one hand and critical thinking and personal judgement on the other, are not a contradiction in terms. Teachings, perspectives or assumptions may flow into our mind through a passive existence and then are subjected to critical analysis and, if necessary, reviewed. This is a process of learning and training that is essential in a thinking man or woman.
The scholastic academia believed for centuries that when two thoughts are mutually incompatible, one must be discarded as the other is embraced, and it was when romanticism became prevalent that it was realised that a synthesis of conflicting ideas is often possible. This echoes so closely the path of spiritual growth! I say this because I trust that those visiting this Centre will find themselves thinking, considering what is written and analysing how it fits into their own world view, but most of all will find the inspiration to go beyond the words to reach for the message, beyond the metaphor to seek the ever-escaping final truth. In this sense the display centre will then offer the opportunity for an educational experience.
I feel that South Africa needs more and deeper spirituality to forge and bind a new nation in spite of the differences and diversity of our people. Tolerance is the most important virtue that our country should practice in all its communities and aspects of social life. I consider it a privilege but also an onerous responsibility to be a leader of people, knowing that when I speak I may influence the lives of men and women. It is for this reason that I have always been careful with my words, speaking the truth even when the truth does not echo the voice of popular politics. Through our tragic and turbulent past, I have never spoken words that incite the violent uprising of man against man, yet I have often had to speak consoling words to the widows, the brothers and the children who are left behind when violence took my people. My words have always been cast in the tone of reconciliation, and I have made many sacrifices for the sake of establishing peace among the men and women of South Africa. I feel that our differences have divided us for too long and the time is long overdue for us to talk about our differences so that we may begin celebrating them.
Acknowledging differences does not mean quarrelling. However, neither does it mean accepting that what is good for you is good for you, and what is good for me is good for me, so if we just steer clear of talking about our differences or agree to pretend that they do not exist, all will be well. South Africans seem to be afraid of highlighting our differences, for fear that our past may rear its ugly head again. However, it would be a serious mistake to swing to the other end of the scale and pretend that our differences do not make us different, in an attempt to create a form of shallow unity. We need perhaps to agree to disagree, acknowledging that we are a diverse people whose views will not always coincide. This is the basis for a healthy dialogue, in politics, relationships or business. Coupled with respect, our South African dialogue must be founded on openness and honesty about who we are.
If I may be allowed to draw from a different context, the English bard, William Shakespeare, penned the following words of advice:
I feel that this gives evidence of our shared basic comprehension of human good. Out of every context of human history, culture and society, come basic principles of how to operate within the fellowship of other people. Those who capture these principles in elegant words and lead us to contemplate our own lives, and even improve our character, should rightly be honoured among us. I believe that we should never reject out of hand the words of those who have studied the ways of man, simply because we lack a foundation in the speaker’s culture or traditions. There is too much commonality in the collective spirit of mankind for us to believe our experiences are so very different.
On this occasion, I will limit my words, knowing that the man who is slow to speak because he is listening, is more wise than he who speaks hastily just to be heard. As a thinking man, I appreciate the opportunity to ponder our similarities and celebrate our differences. As a man of faith, I thank God that we have so much to learn and so much to teach one another. As a man in politics, I pray that we may begin to embrace our diversity as the bedrock of healthy political debate. As a man with vision, I look to the future of our country with unfailing hope that we may complete the task of reconciliation and build a spiritually stronger people who respect and value the need to work with a common goal.
In this Province, our most immediate goal has become the task of saving lives. No one can be unaware at this point of the ravaging effect HIV/AIDS is having on our people, particularly in KwaZulu Natal. It is here that the highest incidence of HIV infection is found, and it is here that around 40% of women giving birth are HIV positive. The Premier of this Province has taken bold steps to ensure that we do not pass a death sentence on to our babies, by instructing a roll-out campaign of Nevirapine distribution to all KwaZulu Natal’s health facilities. I trust that every person of goodwill will offer their support to this campaign and to our Premier, who is acting on the need to save lives first.
I understand that the Divine Life Society recently engaged His Majesty the King in a dialogue on the issue of HIV/AIDS. It is my hope that every building block of our society will begin to discuss this issue with the aim of helping to stop the pandemic.
This is a disease that affects individual people, and from there impacts on broader society in manifold ways. It is therefore a fight that must be won in individual hearts as decisions are taken to act responsibly, and from there the fight will be won in our broader society. In the immediate future, further bold steps will need to be taken to address the consequences of HIV/AIDS, not least of which is the growing number of AIDS orphans and the impact on our economy of a decimated labour force.
There are many opportunities for us reach out for one another and learn to live in a better way. I wish to thank the Divine Life Society for the practical good it is doing within our communities and encourage each of us to likewise express our faith through good works. Good works do not make us good men. But because we are called to be good men, let us walk worthy of our calling in doing all that we may do for our fellow man and for the future of our country. May the Lord ever bless Swamiji's work for his fellow man and all devotees of the Divine Life Society and disciples of Sri the Most Reverend Swami Sivananda.
With these words, it is my privilege to declare the Sivananda Display Centre officially open. I thank you.