I always welcome the opportunity to celebrate the achievements of my own people here in Mahlabathini. This place is close to my heart and I am determined to see its people forge ahead through whatever difficulties may face us, towards greater prosperity and greater hope. This twin-pillared vision may only be fulfilled by the two pillars of self-help and self-reliance. These words are familiar in our ears, for they are the philosophy with which we have tackled countless obstacles to community development and upliftment, and also won countless victories along the way. Every year, I am filled with pride as I attend the opening of the Mahlabathini Agricultural Industrial Show, for it is here that the undaunted spirit of a people goes on display in the tangible product of your labour. The visual feast we share on this occasion is a testimony to the hard work, perseverance, skill and character of the people of Mahlabathini.

This year, however, our celebrations are tempered by the tremendous difficulties we have all experienced. Farming has been fraught with problems this year. Everyone has lost cattle. Everyone has endured hardship. The cold and the poor pastures have brought suffering. It has been a time of belt-tightening and we feel it deeply. The Honourable Minister Narend Singh has spoken on this matter extensively. In dealing with this difficulty, we must look towards the themes that we have always discussed in this venue and draw a new reality out of our discussions. Our first priority is to grow enough food to eat, to ensure that we remain self-reliant. As in years past, this show is today the venue where we may discuss techniques, ways and means of meeting this first priority.

On this occasion, I wish to thank our Honourable Minister Narend Singh, KwaZulu Natal’s Minister of Agriculture, for his commitment to fostering growth in this area of our Province, as in every other area across KwaZulu Natal. I applaud the good work he is doing and I wish to take this opportunity to mention how well KwaZulu Natal fares under such dedicated leadership. In this Province, we face enormous difficulties and obstacles to growth, not least of which is the problem of limited financial and logistical resources, a problem that has been with us for as long as we can remember. It is essential then that we should elect leaders like Minister Singh who have the ability to look beyond the obstacles to the goal of what we may achieve if we set our hearts to trying.

This Province is blessed with great natural resources, and just as nature has taken from us this past year, it has also given plentifully and generously in years past. Such times will come again as this season of hardship turns. Our people have lived off the land for generations and have always produced from the soil and the plants enough to feed themselves, their children and their children’s posterity. We are the legacy of their skill and aptitude for agriculture. Techniques of working the land and raising livestock have come down through the generations, bestowing on this generation a natural talent for living off the land. In this third millennium, we now have the added blessing of tremendous technological progress and advancement in research in climatology, animal husbandry, and even the genetic enhancement of crops. While some of what is being researched today will materialise into tangible benefits for rural communities only sometime in the future, much of what has been discovered already offers the possibility of farming better and achieving better results. This is the venue to exchange information, ideas and experience, embracing the new to enhance what we already know.

The focus of my commitment as a leader of my people has always been on education. The community of Mahlabathini knows me well and you know that I have consistently worked to see the burden of ignorance for lack of education, exposure and experience finally lifted from my people. I do not need to mention the years we spent together during my time as Chief Minister of the erstwhile KwaZulu Government, supplementing the pitiful budget an apartheid government would afford us, by espousing self-help, self-reliance and education above all else among our poorest communities. I thank God that the people of this Province have a spirit which cannot be broken. We were stretched and we were pounded, but never did our spirit break. If the poorest people in our rural communities had chosen to sit back and wait for government, I do not doubt that many would have starved to death.

Today, a better life for all is not a slogan. It is a beacon announcing our final destination still ahead. We must recognise that to get there, we will have to walk the journey and cover the ground. Year after year I come to this Agricultural Industrial Show and, year after year, I can measure the distance this community has come. This measure is not only in the growing quality of the products on display, but in the character of a people who keep coming together to celebrate the work of their own hands. This is a hard-working people, a people of strength. I know that your commitment is developing your community and I am pleased that you are still not prepared to sit on your hands and wait for government. With a government that was deaf and mute, we produced enough for ourselves and our families. Now with a government who must hear us and respond because we elected it, how much more will come out of our communities?

I believe there is a challenge being thrown to our rural communities and our poorest communities, not by government but by circumstance. Our people are being challenged to once again do above and beyond what anyone thought possible. There are so many areas in which a victory is required and I know the strength of my people to achieve that victory. It is my firm belief that we can shift community development into a higher gear and move forward with greater results than ever before. It will mean that every single person becomes responsible for their personal growth and development, learning whatever they can and applying what they know to produce something tangible for the benefit of everyone around them. It will require that every member of the community mobilises to tackle whatever task is at hand, whether it is fixing fences, building stalls, repairing equipment or clearing fields.

My vision for a prosperous community recalls the structure and spirit of communities in generations past. I fear that we may have lost some of the unity and collective goodwill which characterised our communities in the past. The inclination to assist our neighbour because our own good depends on his well-being, and our individual prosperity is closely tied to our collective effort, has been somewhat dimmed by a pervading culture of entitlement and the suspicions which have come in on the tide of criminality. Social solidarity is absolutely essential if we are to overcome the problems facing us. It is especially in times like the present, in times of belt-tightening, that we need to look to the well-being of others, and give out of our own need.

It is important that our notion of self-help and self-reliance does not only take care of us, but reaches out to assist others so that we may all survive together. It is true that we need to do it by ourselves, but we are not doing it only for ourselves. Employing oneself to help others is an occupation we take up to ensure that while we survive, all those members of our communities who, for whatever reason, fall behind, will be lifted up and carried along on our collective strength. I know that in facing crises there is the temptation to focus only on what we need to get through during the day. But it is vital that we look to our collective survival and build reserves beyond our individual need. We need to produce not only what is necessary to survive today, but also what we need to survive tomorrow and, in doing so, carry our community with us.

The victory we can win over the present difficulties in agriculture and farming do not stand alone. I believe we may apply the same technique of community solidarity to engage and conquer many of the evils that plague us. Even the culture of criminality that is eroding our values and our sense of security, can be extinguished with a collective effort of zero tolerance and accountability. Submission to authority gives birth to true liberty. That is something we have always understood and have applied in our social structures. Under the leadership of our amaKhosi, our communities have created an environment of collective responsibility and individual freedom. The two, in fact, are not contradictory, but go hand in hand.

Through social solidarity, I believe we may have victory over HIV/AIDS. Collective goodwill and simple common sense tell us that while we fight this dreadful pandemic, there are victims who need assistance now. There is much talk about coming out and disclosing an HIV positive condition, but I am forced to ask what such victims are coming out to? It is essential that we generate a renewed culture of respect and compassion which encompasses the suffering of HIV/AIDS victims. There must be a natural inclination to help, to provide and to care, rather than to judge, to reject and to marginalise. HIV/AIDS does not discriminate between people who repeatedly refuse to take responsibility and mock those who warn about the consequences, and those who slip up just once on protecting themselves.

Victory can be ours. Victory can be won over HIV/AIDS, over criminality, over poverty, over ignorance, over need, over under-development, over despair and even hopelessness. I have said that I wish to see my people in Mahlabathini becoming prosperous and filled with hope for the future, and I know that to realise this vision will require the growth of a new social solidarity and collective goodwill. We need leaders who are not only dedicated to serving but who are also committed to learning and educating as a means towards our final liberation from the burdens which still plague us. Community development depends on us coming together and sharing information, discussing, listening and learning.

As such, the Mahlabathini Agricultural Industrial Show expresses our best efforts, our noblest intentions and our wisest commitment. It is an honour for me to participate in this Show. As I do so, I appeal to the tenacity of spirit that lies within every community member present here today, when I say we can overcome. We are strong. We will survive, and finally prosper. I congratulate those who by their efforts today, give us a taste of the prosperity to come.


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