On previous occasions we have come together to wish His Excellency Nelson Mandela many happy returns on the occasion of his birthday, and we have done so being aware that we were celebrating the milestones of an exceptional life. As we convene once again to celebrate his 83rd birthday, we are gaining the impression that as time goes by, his exceptional life is just getting better and increasingly becomes more of a world-wide example of virtue and moral leadership.

In spite of having left the stage of active political life, President Mandela has remained a symbol of hope and a beacon of strength for the whole country. He signifies the type of leadership which the whole of South Africa recognises to be necessary to overcome our grave difficulties and to rise up to meet our present challenges. Both President Mandela and I carry the legacy of an ancient tradition in the struggle for liberation which must become present and relevant to how we govern and how we live as a society. With our respective political choices, we shaped the struggle of our people and forged South Africa into the democratic promise that it is at present, and we must ensure that the future does not become an orphan of the original values and principles which brought us to where we are.

I am deeply convinced that at this critical juncture South Africa needs to go back to the roots of the liberation struggle and re-discover and appreciate again the hopes and principles which inspired us to endure so many years of untold suffering and vilification to achieve the goal of freedom. By so doing, we shall more promptly realise that the struggle for liberation is far from being over, and that all should rededicate themselves to bringing about economic prosperity for all, social justice and integrity in government. This is not the time to give up, thinking that we have arrived. Nelson Mandela never gave up and knows that we are far from having arrived. He remains an endless source of inspiration and we thank him for continuing to perform his unabated role of moral leadership.

In our fledging democracy we need to rely on the moral leadership of icons such as President Mandela to muster the moral fortitude and sense of national unity necessary to win the war in which we are currently engaged. We must openly declare that our country is at war against the plight of HIV/AIDS, the rising levels of crime, rebellion and social disintegration and the abject social and economic conditions in which the majority of our people live. We must fight to broaden economic prosperity by increasing our social discipline and cohesiveness, productivity and economic growth at all costs. In this war of ours, we need the inspiration that a role model such as Madiba constantly offers to our country; for this war cannot be won by government alone, but requires the whole of our society to work together, in harmony, without division and in unity of intent.

It is a great pleasure for me to be with my life-long friend President Mandela on the day on which we celebrate his birthday as well as his third wedding anniversary. One way or the other, we have been together for more than half a century. We have always been close at the personal level and in terms of our family relationships. In years long past we used to spend much time together discussing the strategies of our liberation struggle and the legacy of the teachings and inspirations we received from our leaders, including Inkosi Albert Lutuli, who was a leader to both of us. In politics we did not always agree, as history placed us in different camps within the same struggle for liberation. However, it was because of our relationship and mutual respect that the political differences that emerged during the struggle for liberation did not tear our country apart.

It was our personal relationship which enabled the process of reconciliation to begin after the destruction, terror and despair of the armed struggle. I recognise that from his isolation in imprisonment, Madiba was not fully aware of a perverted armed struggle turned into a tool of political action against other components of the struggle for liberation and he was not fully informed of the low intensity civil war which this caused. After his release he was the first to join me in trying to find ways and means to reconcile our people. If, at the initial stage, we did not achieve as much as we could have and, perhaps should have, that was not his fault as his enthusiasm was restrained and dampened by his own party colleagues who prevented him from going through with our idea to hold joint rallies in violence-torn areas to pacify our respective supporters.

However, since the beginning Madiba was there providing the right leadership in the right direction, rising above conflicts and divisions with a strength of spirit that will always remain an example. Since then, he has given the same example of integrity, moral fortitude and capacity to rise above any conflict on innumerable other occasions. What is more surprising is that once he chose to withdraw from active politics, he did not stop his personal struggle for morality, justice and peace and, if anything, his commitment has grown in scope and stature. His message has travelled world-wide, and President Nelson Mandela has become a symbol of peace and reconciliation throughout our entire continent and is, indeed, the greatest ambassador our country has ever had.

He expresses to the world and to each of our citizens the best our country has to offer, the noblest feelings it can express, the highest level of humanity it can muster, the most joyful smile it can produce. In fact, President Mandela has given to South Africa not only leadership, but also the sophistication of his personal style and the hope in his delightful personality and reassuring smile. Through his smile our country has learned to smile and hope. Through his demeanour and style the country has learned to regain its self-respect. Neither he nor I are any longer youngsters, even though I am ten years his junior, and yet I know that there is much for both of us still to do. I know that the mission that history has bestowed on President Mandela is far from being complete, and I sincerely hope that all of us will continue to benefit from his friendship, leadership and inspiration for many, many years to come.


Designed and maintained by Byte Internet Services - Copyright © 2001