Harding: December 11, 2002

Christmas is a special time of year, not only because it is a time of gifts and celebrations or even cakes and holidays. But rather, it is a precious time because in this season we turn our thoughts away from ourselves and towards other people, expressing the love of Christ through our giving. Even those who feel they have nothing to give are filled with kindness, caring and friendship which can be given away freely. A gentle word, a heartfelt compliment, a sincere embrace; all these are gifts we have for the giving. Today as the blessing of Christmas comes to this school, I want to ask each of you to consider what you have to give, and to give it not just to your friends, but to those who are most in need. This is the true spirit of Christmas.

I am honoured to be in the company of two exceptional people, our former President Nelson Mandela and Ms Oprah Winfrey, who are shining examples of the spirit of giving and of goodwill. The sacrifices which our former President made throughout his life for the sake of our country and its people are forever recorded in history. I am honoured to have shared with him the struggle for the liberation of South Africa. We maintained correspondence throughout his time as a political prisoner, and his courage inspired my own heart to continue working and press through the most trying circumstances to attain our goal of freedom. I often tell President Mandela that he and I are of the same age, only ten years apart. The age of struggle which our generation endured has its fruits in what we are able to pass on to you, the future of our nation.

I believe Ms Oprah Winfrey’s name is synonymous with compassion throughout most of the world. She has a wide spirit, capable of embracing many different cultures, people and challenges. I am yet to see a challenge that cannot be well met with sufficient goodwill. Goodwill is not a passive caring, but an active outpouring of whatever we may give, whatever we may say and whatever we may do to assist others to live a life of dignity, contentment and possibilities. Through her work, Ms Winfrey has opened doors in many lives towards this higher ground. I believe that her presence in our country is able to generate a new wave of goodwill towards giving and helping and growing. She has commented on the great spirit of South Africans. I feel that perhaps she is recognising something personal, something intimately known. Within her heart and within our people there is the irrepressible will to transform the present reality.

As we come here today, I am aware of the ties that bind us. We share a vision and an understanding of where South Africa could go and what she could be for all her children. We understand that the empowerment of women and children through education and upliftment is essential to our future well being. We understand that food security is perhaps one of the greatest challenges we face, capable of determining whether we survive as a nation, or we perish. Likewise we understand the urgency of combating HIV/AIDS and changing the paradigm of our nation from rejection towards compassion for all those who suffer under this tragedy. We share the conviction that without a vision, people perish, and we have each worked consistently to lead the way into a vision that can be fulfilled. Being in such company, I feel humbled, yet deeply thrilled. It is a blessing to know one does not stand alone. At times the price of leadership is solitude as one breaks the ground where others will go. As I look to my left and to my right, however, there are others like myself, likewise breaking ground, likewise working up ahead for the sake of those still struggling.

Today my delight is doubled, for I am also in the company of young ambassadors of South Africa. You, the children of this school and this region, are the reason we do what we do. Whatever great things have been done by great men and great women, I encourage you to believe that you can do more. There are leaders in your midst. There are ground breakers and history makers among you. Never let your circumstances dictate where you will go or what you can do with your lives. Set your sights higher. We are here to tell you, each one of you, that you are precious. Within each of you are the seeds of greatness. Only you have the choice to nourish those seeds or to let them die. If you choose greatness, I am honoured to have met you so soon.

As we celebrate Christmas together, I just want to remind you that whoever helps someone in need is already great. Whoever shares and loves, whoever speaks the truth boldly and with compassion, whoever gives instead of keeping, whoever becomes less to make some else more, these people are the great ones, the ones whose lives have made a difference.

May we all be such as these. With this as my prayer for our future, I wish you a very merry Christmas indeed.