Today we celebrate an event which shall be remembered in Melmoth as the opening of a new chapter in the life of this community. The opening of the Melmoth library comes at a time when the priorities of South Africa’s transformation are subtly shifting to embrace the need for human development. In the past six years since our country’s first democratic elections, we have moved away from oppression to create an entirely new constitutional and institutional framework. The legality of equality, democracy and freedom is established. Now we are faced with the challenge of bringing the reality of South Africa on course towards economic prosperity, social upliftment and genuine liberation.

The opening of this library expresses the fact that the heart of Melmoth beats to the rhythm of the development of our country. The way forward has been mapped as a journey towards an African Renaissance, and we must ensure that we can all achieve our destination together. If some are left behind in ignorance and inability, we will have failed. The fulfilment of the dream of an African Renaissance demands that it be inclusive rather than exclusive, and outward-looking rather than inward-looking. We need to raise the level of our people’s education, experience and exposure. We need to develop skills and enhance vocational training. In this way, we may all come on board to create a more productive and more prosperous country.

Raising the standard of our education system is a priority so that we may ensure that knowledge becomes the foundation of our young people’s lives. Such an effort can be likened to preserving the health of a tree’s roots, so that the entire tree may flourish. Yet we are also faced with the challenge of nourishing the many branches whose growth has been stunted while the health of the roots went unchecked. The legacy of apartheid’s unjust denial of education to so many of our people is a generation of adults who cannot find employment for lack of skills, and cannot rise above their abject conditions because of a lack of knowledge.

It is a tragedy that some components of the liberation movement chose to blindly pursue the armed struggle at the expense of education. During that time, many children were given guns, instead of books, and took up stones rather than pens. Today, with the opening of this library, we are beginning to rectify some of the damage which has been done. Today, we are placing books back in the open hands of our children. To the older generation, many of whom never received a proper education, we are opening a whole new world which may at last be experienced in a changed South Africa. This is a momentous occasion and one which deeply touches my heart.

This library is, however, merely a door through which each resident of Melmoth shall need to walk on their own two feet. This place may remain a passive and empty monument in which books are kept, or it may come to life offering a wellspring of information, knowledge and opportunities. The choice lies in every individual’s heart and I urge each of you to choose to enter. The pursuit and achievement of education, information and knowledge is active and takes an effort of will and a discipline of spirit. Only if one chooses to come here, only if one chooses a book, only if one chooses to read that book and allow it to shape a new perception, can this library exercise a positive result.

Not every book is instructive, but every book offers a new way of looking at our world and human relations. For many people, South Africa has become a place of despair and fear. There is a narrow perspective trying to fit itself over the eyes of our people. Many see life only in terms of crime, unemployment, lack of opportunity, poverty, dysfunctional social interaction, and hopelessness. For too many South Africans, that is the hard reality of life. Yet there is a terrible danger in allowing this perspective to settle. When we let go of hope, faith, trust, enthusiasm, patriotism and laughter, we will have tolled the bell that marks the failure of South Africa.

There is therefore great value in seeking a new perspective and viewing life through the eyes of another. The books in this library will open a world which few have ever experienced. Some will display our country as it has never been seen. Some will show a country with which we can identify, but which the author experiences in a different way. Others will add adventure with tales set in distant countries. Some will offer fiction, but others will teach history. In each of these there is something of value which may enrich our own experience of life, the world, and our country. Today, the community of Melmoth is receiving a treasure house of information.

Having grown up among the poorest communities of this Province, I know that books are seldom found in the shacks and homes of our people. Yet today I cannot imagine a home without any books. My own life would be immeasurably impoverished had I not had access to the wealth of information in the written word. Certainly, I would never have achieved what I have. Still, I know that access to books is not enough. One must fall in love with reading and absorb knowledge all the time. I am reminded of the saying that you often do not choose the books you read, but rather the books choose you. I believe in retrospect that this may be true, for books have a way of changing one’s life, until the way one lived before one read, can no longer be called to memory.

Like a church or a school, a library may become one of the centres of community life. It is a free service to the community, requiring only that members respect its property and the rules of lending periods. We are privileged to live in a country where one may walk into a building and choose something to take home and read at no cost. In this sense, libraries are perhaps the truest expression of South Africa’s desire to make information accessible. The opening of the Melmoth library speaks of this community’s potential to open up new opportunities for its people. This is a project from which everyone may benefit. The news of this library’s opening must spread like wildfire throughout Melmoth so that soon it will be filled with people silently reading, exploring new horizons and embarking on written adventures.

My greatest hope for this library is that it may expand with the changing needs of the present. In today’s world, information has become electronic and the Internet is shaping the future of how we learn and interact. I hope that the Melmoth library, as the centre of information distribution, may investigate the opportunities for Internet access. I firmly believe that the book shall never be replaced by computer chips, for there is an intrinsic aesthetic and practical value to words printed on paper and bound together. Yet there is also value in exploring every avenue of information accessibility if we are to raise the quality of life for all our people.

The Internet allows for global communication, which is simply a modern version of the interaction we have all known in listening to elders, speaking to knowledgeable people and seeking advice from friends. We must move with the times if we are to keep up with the rapid pace of progress. As I have often said, computers will leapfrog us into the future. Yet it profits little if we are able to use a mouse, but unable to assimilate basic information. We must develop a culture of reading, reading, reading. In this way, we will be training our minds and preparing ourselves to be active participants in the global village.

Reading will never be obsolete. Few experiences touch us to the heart by entering through our minds. This is the special quality of books and it is an experience which the opening of the Melmoth library is bestowing upon this community. As I unveil this plaque today and declare this library officially open, I wish to impress upon all of us gathered to witness, that the power of knowledge lies always within our grasp. It is up to us to reach out and touch it. With these words, I declare this library officially open.