DURBAN JUNE 7, 2002
Having participated in the prayer meeting which launched this project, it is now my pleasure and privilege to meet today in celebration of the successful completion of the Jimmy Carter Habitat for Humanity Blitz Build. It is a pleasure to express to all the participants not only my personal appreciation but also the gratitude of the Government of South Africa and of our people. To everyone who has been involved in seeing this project through, I wish to say congratulations. I feel that this important event marks a victory for South Africa’s families and communities and a resounding victory of goodwill. As the result of a collective effort to mobilise communities and ignite a vision of improved conditions, the culmination of this project is as much a new beginning as it is a completed task. From here, faith can grow on the tangible evidence that ordinary people can indeed do extraordinary things.
I wish to thank former United States President Jimmy Carter for his involvement in ensuring this project’s success. As I mentioned when we gathered to pray for the work of building houses in some of South Africa’s poorest communities, former President Carter adds lustre to any cause he pursues, and to this one in particular. The cause of eradicating substandard housing and homelessness speaks to our noblest sensibility as sons and daughters of the living God. Here, where there is an ocean of need, real progress has been made towards helping out and helping up those who are burdened by adverse circumstance. This particular Jimmy Carter Work Project has changed lives, not only of those who will be receiving adequate housing for the first time, but also the lives of those who have seen reality emerge from a seeming dream.
We salute President Jimmy Carter who is an international ambassador of goodwill and a shining expression of the American spirit at work in the world and at its very best. Since its inception more than two centuries ago, with steadfast and consistent commitment, the United States has made enormous efforts and paid huge prices, not only in financial terms but also in the dire currency of lives, to promote freedom and liberty throughout the world. The United States has by far the most massive programme of international aid in the world, not only in respect of the formal programmes conducted by its government, but also taking into account innumerable programmes conducted by its many universities, NGOs, religious groups and even individuals with means. There is a massive flow of assistance which stems out of America to reach out into developing countries.
I deeply appreciate that the assistance which flows out of the United States is not limited to financial contributions. It also exports part of the American spirit which is what made the United States the great, free, prosperous country it has been for the past two centuries. This is the spirit of optimism, self-help and self-reliance which allowed its first pilgrims to build the first houses on the new shores of Massachusetts and continued to inspire the spirit of subsequent generations of Americans as the new frontiers of the country moved forward and into new territories. This project brings some of that spirit into our own communities, infusing in our people the courage to dream, the spirit to dare and the confidence to try.
I further wish to pay tribute to another former President, President Kenneth Kaunda, who has also participated in this Humanity Blitz Build. He more than any other Head of State in Africa paid a high price for our liberation when he provided a sanctuary for our people and their leaders in South Africa. His commitment to the second struggle for our liberation from economic oppression continues. What is admirable is that both these men of God are involved in this project because of their commitment to the Gospel of Christ. It is wonderful that Mr Habitat himself, the Reverend Millard Fuller, and his better half, have been personally involved in this project. It is wonderful, my brothers and sisters, that all of you have travelled such long distances to demonstrate the law which our Lord said was above all other, of loving us as your neighbours as you love yourself.
Building a house is man’s greatest assertion of his self-reliance and individuality. It is a gigantic step for many of our people which they often do not undertake because they lack self-confidence. Perhaps we need more of the spirit of the American pilgrim and frontier people. We need to open in our own land a new frontier in which the struggle against poverty, hopelessness and despair is fought also with the weapons of optimism and confidence.
I believe that one of the greatest obstacles to change is the inability to believe it can happen. It is true that many of our communities need only to be mobilised by a shared vision and the belief that it can be achieved in order to change their circumstances dramatically. It is for this reason that I have always advocated self-help and self-reliance, together with collective goodwill, as a means of community development even within our poorest communities. Time and time again I have seen the results as those who have nothing but their will and capacity for hard work, build classrooms, clinics, community centres, houses, hospitals and sports fields. I have seen communities turned around simply because, as a starting point, they believed it could be done.
This is truly a small-scale version of what can be achieved throughout our country if we could mobilise South Africans with a shared vision and collective goodwill. There are values which we all desire in our nation, such as moral regeneration, security, economic prosperity, human growth and development and true reconciliation. Yet what we speak about our nation is often the contrary of these values, for many South Africans somehow struggle to see beyond the criminality to envision how crime could be eradicated, or beyond the disintegration of our social solidarity to see how our moral fibre could be strengthened. South Africans may have one of the most tenacious spirits I have ever seen, but I believe we must be wary of allowing despair to erode our vision little by little.
The South African vision has been expressed in the Blitz Build. It is a vision not only to see an acceptable standard of living for every South African, but to see every South African becoming involved in creating that acceptable standard of living. I have often remarked that the new South Africa must be built on the efforts of all, for the benefit of us all. I feel that the Blitz Build project has given a sterling example of how diverse people can work together to achieve results. The real victory of this project is that it gives South Africans a positive starting point from which to dream. Seeing these houses and knowing they are built by ordinary people, South Africans may be able to see beyond the present difficulties to envision change.
We should not under-estimate the value of the miracle which has been brought about by empowering people. It is a miracle which resounds high in the glory of the Lord, for He said: [Matthew Ch 25 v 35-40]
Today we have the opportunity to look back on this past week and count its successes. I am excited to note that the goals established from the outset for this project have been met, within the predetermined time-frame. I believe this is the result of prayerful planning and a good vision. But it is also the result of real hard work. I wish to thank every individual who laid foundations, built, painted, repaired, assisted, mobilised assistance, planned or supported the success of this project. The full value of what has been achieved will surely only be seen in years to come, but the immediate impact on our communities is tremendous. These houses will provide more than shelter. They will restore to those who occupy them a sense of dignity.
From the first time I met former President Carter in 1979, I recognised in him an unshakable sense of dignity which he somehow imparts to all those around him. The manner in which he approaches issues and people leaves one with the distinct impression that he has heard and understood the unspoken cry beneath the voiced need for assistance. I believe he recognises shared humanity, regardless of economic disparities, social diversities, geographic distance or cultural foreignness. He has approached South Africa with that same compassion mingled with fiery determination which has always delivered results. And again, his work has imparted a sense of dignity and hope.
I am honoured to be among those afforded the opportunity to officially thank the Jimmy Carter Habitat for Humanity Blitz Build team. On behalf of a people whose vision is being restored, I thank you for proving that change is possible and change can be achieved. Wherever you may go next, I pray that God will go with you and grant you such tremendous success there as we have seen here in South Africa. I thank you.