It is a pleasure for me to attend this luncheon of the Portuguese community as I have done many times in the past. I feel that I am among good friends here, and it is because of our friendship that I never hesitate to take time out of my busy schedule to meet with members of this community. It is important that we do not miss any opportunity to come together, for as we do so we build value, not only for ourselves, but for our province and for South Africa. Our friendship is based on a shared commitment to transform our circumstances and bring greater prosperity and hope to all our people. We are the people of goodwill, and together we must decide how to set our sails according to the winds of prosperity.

For many years, I have entertained a conversation of mutual benefit and exhortation with the Portuguese community in South Africa, as well as with the Portuguese Government. Last year I had the privilege of being invited as the guest of honour to the opening of the first international airport of Madeira. I was pleased at the opportunity to rekindle my friendship with the President of Madeira, Dr Jao Jardim, on that occasion, and to further explore the potentials for exchange between my country and his. There is still much good to be harvested from that dialogue and from the ongoing interaction between this community and the greater community of KwaZulu Natalians.

As we meet today to share our experience of South Africa’s present climate, and discuss ways of moving forward to build our country’s prosperity and our people’s hope, I believe we will find great benefit in speaking candidly and openly. Let us address the real issues without fear of sounding like doomsayers, for although the economic and social climate of our country and this province seem somewhat bleak, our collective desire to improve things may surely bring a more healthy future yet. I have no doubt that we harbour within our various South African communities the potential to establish a future of prosperity and hope. Our task today is to find the keys to unlock the potential of our people.

I am pleased to open this dialogue with the Portuguese community in KwaZulu Natal, as an extension and a continuation of the long relationship we have shared in the past. I have come to know this community as being part of my own family in KwaZulu Natal. Indeed, this community is perhaps more African than any and you understand Africa like none. Your roots are deeply sunk in the soil of this continent and I believe that your perspective of our socio-economic conditions may be closer to the truth. Therefore, I feel tremendous value in engaging this conversation with community leaders and businessmen, and other members of the Portuguese community.

On many occasions I have spoken of the need in South Africa to embrace our diversity of cultures and historical backgrounds as an element of our greatest strength. We have a unique advantage of being able to draw on the individual experience of many different peoples within our shared history. The unfolding of South Africa’s democracy and the efforts to rebuild our nation, has been witnessed from many angles, and there is value in sharing the knowledge and insights we have gained to form a more comprehensive picture of where we are and where we are going. I do not wish to labour the point that our diversity is indeed our richness, yet I feel it important to restate that the Portuguese community maintains a vital role both in our country’s history and in her future.

Having made this point, I wish to speak about my own perspective of the South African climate which has developed over years of participation in government and political leadership. When I addressed members of the business community in Madeira last year, I spoke of the initiatives we are taking to build a new South Africa and received a most enthusiastic response. It is my hope that as we foster a dialogue with business leaders around the world, that a true and balanced image of South Africa may be expressed. If this is to be achieved, it would be irresponsible to dwell on the negative aspects for very long. As I mentioned before, in our own backyard we have volumes of potential which cannot be overlooked when we measure the probability of our eventual success.

The Portuguese community in KwaZulu Natal may become a bridge between South Africa and Portugal, stimulating exchange and the development of our already good relations. This community is uniquely placed to become ambassadors of good news to Portugal as you carry the message that the generally accepted negative perceptions of South Africa do not adequately or even truthfully portray this country. In many countries throughout the world, the problems of South Africa are highlighted at the expense of the potentials. Very little is said, and often very little is actually known, of the true potentials which exist within our nation. It is vital that we convey the good news in all our dealings around the globe, and let them know what we are made of.

Yet the question remains, why with all this potential are we not seeing a rapid growth within our economy and the development of our people? I believe the answer lies in a lack of faith. South Africans do not trust in the future. Projections are made from where we are now, without taking into account a potential explosion of input, commitment and determination, and the future looks bleak. There are skills in South Africa, but skilled people are not willing to invest in their own country because it seems a little too hard or a little too costly. I know that the cost of doing business, particularly in this province, is increasing. I also know that the difficulties experienced have grown. Yet we cannot throw in the trowel and stop building just because it gets too hard.

I am committed to seeing the circumstances in my province turned around, with communities empowered to shape their own destiny and mould their own futures. The lack of confidence many of our people are showing is a disease which must not be allowed to spread. Lack of confidence undermines every effort one can make and preordains the failure of every venture. Indeed, while confidence without skills is simply irresponsibility, skill without the seasoning of confidence produces nothing. It is essential that those who have the skills and capacity are moved into action, and refrain from hanging back and waiting to see if things will get any better.

The Portuguese community is a community of entrepreneurs, which is just what our country needs. With an injection of entrepreneurial ventures, backed by skills and confidence, our ailing economy will surely recover. When I look at the hindrances to this objective, I recognise the necessity of allowing people to become the engines of development of their own futures. One’s future cannot be prescribed, for then the vision dies. It is difficult to operate with confidence when one perceives that the future is moulded by hands other than one’s own. Yet it is easy to trust yourself because you know where the limits lie and how far you can stretch the boundaries of your own ability. Therefore, we must allow people to develop their own ventures and embark on their own journey of discovery.

It is my fervent hope that we may establish in KwaZulu Natal a new climate in which entrepreneurship is without constraints. I am determined to build a province in which entrepreneurial skills may flourish and explode the growth of our economy and the development of our people. This cannot be done from any one quarter alone, but must be a shared effort which we engage from a common foundation, a shared vision. Let us create a KwaZulu Natal way of doing business. As we work together, we will gain the power to change the way things presently seem and shape them to what we believe they ought to be. Through a shared effort, we can harness the potentials in our province and even halt the scourge of HIV/AIDS.

We need to look at the long-term objective of turning circumstances around by whatever means necessary in the present. In my dialogue with the Portuguese community I have often heard concerns raised about education. I recognise that this is one area which demands urgent attention in KwaZulu Natal. There is indeed a crisis in education, but things are nevertheless improving. They will continue to improve for as long as necessary until the standard of education in KwaZulu Natal is up to par with our vision of a future where not one single child is submitted to the bondage of ignorance. Our Government in this province will continue to prioritise education above any other need, for it is a nation educated and skilled which rises from the doldrums of ignorance and into the dawn of enlightenment. This is our priority and this is our vision.

Together let us seek the impetus and the courage to take up the challenges before us. I can imagine no better motivation for working hard to change this country other than that this is our country. Let us take pride in South Africa and in our province of KwaZulu Natal for it is here that we live, work and play. It is here that we come together to break bread and share in the joy of good friendships, solid partnerships and a close-knit community. It is here that we encourage one another to make our contribution, to exercise our skills and extend our efforts. Here, in the heart of this province, this community is ready to translate the spirit of goodwill into the tangible reality of a better tomorrow. I urge you not to let this opportunity slip by. The time will never be riper for the input and empowerment of the Portuguese community. Together, let us ensure that the benefits of confidence, skill and goodwill are harvested in their season.