I am overwhelmed by the achievements receiving recognition here today. As I stand to greet the community of Mahlabathini and officially open the Agricultural Industrial Show of 2000, I can only say to my brothers and sisters of this soil "well done". Year after year, the people of Mahlabathini have given evidence of the old truth that we do not work to eat, but that indeed we eat to work. The ethic displayed in the production of food on these rural and often subsistence rural settlements is not that of a people eking out their existence from the soil and living from hand to mouth. There is a noble dignity to the labour of this community as each day you bend your backs and take up your tools so that by the sweat of your brow, you may nurture the life that is brought forth from this place. I am proud of those of our people who do not regard labouring in the fields with disdain. My concern is that not enough of our people care about tilling the soil any more.

I am proud of the people of Mahlabathini and I believe that you have every reason to take pride in the products of your labour. It is for this reason that I have supported the holding of this Agricultural Industrial Show each year, for this is the time when we may stop for a moment and take in the full measure of what has been achieved through another year of dedicated work. I am also pleased that we have the opportunity on these occasions to witness the rate of development, the changes and improvements in production and technique since the previous year. Gradual changes are not readily noticeable from day to day, but as we set time aside specifically to review our achievements, successes and weaknesses become clear.

For this reason, each year I take time from my often hectic schedule of national commitments to come to Mahlabathini and see the excellent livestock and fresh produce, and to taste the fine food prepared for this occasion. Each year gives me a new pleasure to see the fruits of your labour. Yet this year, I come to Mahlabathini with some regrets for, in spite of the hard work each of you puts into this Show year after year, it seems that the attendance is not increasing. This reflects the fact that agricultural activities are not expanding and I am deeply saddened by this. Agriculture remains vitally important to modern life and has itself become a science in many parts of the world. The agrarian way of life is indeed the first industry of civilised man and retains its nobility and value even today.

I cannot help but recall that when I was younger, all the people of my community could eat even when there were no jobs. Our way of life was not cash dependent and expressed the principles of self-help and self-reliance as a means of daily existence. I believe that there are few things more dignified than an independent man or woman who, having nothing, can create something for themselves and their family. Enough food will always be available for as long as people spend time cultivating it. Moreover, the discipline of growing grains and vegetables, and breeding livestock, maintains the health of the mind as well as the body. It is thus an excellent way for those suffering unemployment to keep themselves occupied, for it brings forth a productive benefit in which they may take pride and recognise their intimate worth as individuals and community members.

The solidarity of families and communities is built on the participation of each member in securing a collective good. I see this solidarity being strengthened through the tough physical work of our women, in our homes, in the fields and on farms. I see it in the contribution of our children as they learn to master and respect the disciplines of planting and harvesting, of animal husbandry and poultry farming. Moreover, I see the bonds of solidarity expand as our men take charge of feeding their families. Amongst the community of Mahlabathini, there is a laudable solidarity which may be felt in the competitive spirit at this Agricultural Industrial Show. To compete, one must be proud of one’s product, and pride is not satisfied in isolation.

It is a great pity then that I must retain some concern. Even though the people of this region are committed to their tasks and bring an excellent harvest to display each year, we must once again concede to the truth that we eat to work and that, therefore, what we eat will determine our endurance, our strength, our health and our productivity. It is deeply concerning in this respect that the diet of rural communities is shifting away from animal protein and fresh vegetables to rely more heavily on maize meal. Such a diet weakens the body and the immune system, rendering it incapable of fighting off even mild infections. When we are sick, we cannot work and when we cannot work, we cannot produce. If we are eating poorly when there is ample food, we will soon go hungry for lack of it.

In today’s world, we are ravaged by many diseases. Although they are not always caused directly by malnutrition, such poor health makes people more prone to contracting them. It has been clearly seen that poverty and malnutrition are contributing factors in the explosion of AIDS once people are infected. The struggle against HIV/AIDS must be fought on all fronts, the most important of which is the use of condoms. Once people are infected, however, it is essential that their bodies be kept strong and healthy, for their immune system will just not be able to cope with any infection, disease or ailment. Correct nutrition and healthy eating habits can delay infections becoming active and postpone the onset of full blown AIDS.

It is crucial that we as a nation can eat well. The prevailing social and economic circumstances in our country have caused a crisis which affects the quality of our lives as well as the quality of our food. I have spoken before and I will speak again about the need for government to pay attention to the promotion of subsistence agriculture as a key factor in maintaining the health, productivity and occupation of our nation. In spite of the economic crisis into which we are plunging ever deeper, South Africans can still live off the land and exist in dignified community solidarity through self-help and self-reliance. Indeed, the real dignity of our people will only become clear when we are given the opportunity to harvest by our labour, when we were given nothing to sow.

In building this vision of a self-reliant people, we need to convey the importance of the Mahlabathini Agricultural Industrial Show even outside the limits of this community. This show, which may be a prototype for other communities, may act as an incentive to keep our people strong, healthy and productive. Strength, health and endurance will prove irreplaceable as they prepare throughout the year to produce and take pride in the fruits of their labour. I hope that on this occasion we can all make a commitment to breathing new life into this show by promoting more agricultural activities. In this way we may ensure that next year there will not only be more to show, but more people will come to see it.

For this year, Mahlabathini has done well. I am intrigued by the aromas which hang in the air and feel I should keep my welcoming words to a minimum so that we may all partake in the celebration of the Agricultural Industrial Show of 2000. I urge you all to eat and to eat well, not only today, but every day in the coming year so that the strength of this community may increase and the fields and cattle kraals begin to overflow.


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