It gives me great pleasure to come to Mkhanyakude District today, to speak to the community of Mbazwana at the official opening of the first Multi-Purpose Community Centre to be established in KwaZulu Natal. I believe that this Centre may serve the needs of Mbazwana and its surrounding district, and create a venue from which community development may be initiated, planned and carried out. To me, the foremost purpose of these community centres, some of which I have had the privilege of opening, is community development. As a long-time champion of development, I therefore support this project and have welcomed the opportunity to speak on several occasions about the value, purpose and potential of community centres which are opening across South Africa.

Today, I wish to congratulate the Honourable Mayor of Mbazwana for the efforts which have been poured into making this centre a reality. I hope that this project may be the beginning of new and increased partnerships for development, particularly between this community and its leaders. I appreciate that local leaders and councillors throughout Mkhanyakude District were able to mobilise their people and arrange for us to be gathered here today for this important event. I feel that we are showing support for an important project and, by attending its opening, this community is making the Multi-Purpose Centre of this District their own.

This Centre has been designed to enable members of the community to tell government what information and services are needed, as all government departments are represented here, together with other parastatals and Non-Governmental Organisations. These structures can develop partnerships with the communities served by the Multi-Purpose Community Centre, which is effectively a one-stop service delivery point. Without a doubt, this Centre will bring tremendous benefits to the community of Mkhanyakude District Council.

From this place, people will be able to obtain birth and death certificates, and identity documents, or make an application for a passport. These are the line functions of my own Department of Home Affairs, and I am pleased to see them being brought closer to the communities we serve. Within government, I have worked tirelessly to move my Department’s service delivery points into South Africa’s more rural communities, mindful of the fact that for years there has been uneven distribution of Home Affairs offices throughout the territory, forcing people to travel great distances to access basic services.

Through my and other government departments represented at this Centre, the people of Northern KwaZulu Natal will also be able to access information on all government policies and programmes, empowering people with the knowledge to help them to help themselves. This is the key to self-help and self-reliance.

I wish also to take this opportunity to express my gratitude and support for amaKhosi of this region, knowing that our amaKhosi serve the function of bringing people together and getting people talking. I have noticed time and again that the best way to launch a project towards success is to get people talking about it. This community centre is merely an infrastructure and by itself it cannot assist community development. But it holds within itself great potential, because as people begin to hear about it, perceive its potential and use it for a variety of purposes, this centre will become the place from which change may flow. Unless it is used, this Centre remains useless. If it is used, it will become invaluable.

Through a combined community effort, this Centre may become the venue in which democracy is expressed. In this Centre, information can be made available on a variety of issues, from HIV/AIDS to best farming techniques, from how to access banking resources to the fundamentals of starting one’s own business. This is the kind of information that changes people’s lives by opening opportunities which they perhaps never had or were never equipped to grasp. Life is a constant flux of change in which each moment can be used to make the next one better. Let us use our opportunities.

I believe that as communities we must learn to harness our resources and our collective goodwill to ensure that we can direct change to serve our aspirations, meet our needs and enhance our circumstances. Growth and development do not just happen. They must be birthed and nurtured. I must mention that the same principle applies to social difficulties, which likewise do not simply happen, but are the result of too few people engaging too little effort to positively affect social realities. If we want the circumstances and features of our communities to change, we must actively take the initiative to change them ourselves.

I find myself speaking on this issue more and more often because it weighs heavily on my heart that people are beginning to lose hope and become apathetic in the face of the dire circumstances of poverty, unemployment and criminality which plague much of our country. The breakdown of individual goodwill and moral values is affecting our families, our communities and our country. It is not just that many people do not seem to know what to do, but that they no longer seem willing to do it. We can change the face of our communities, but it is a task that rests within our own hands and we must tackle it together, with the necessary goodwill, if we are to see any kind of victory. In this I must also give credit to our amaKhosi as the centre around which our communities may find their common values and pursue common goals of development, development and development.

Recognising the valuable role played by our traditional leaders in community development, I am deeply saddened that the issue of traditional authorities has not yet been solved. Had these central government functions which have been placed in the Multi-Purpose Community Centre been delegated to traditional authorities, they could equally have become a one stop service point. Our traditional authorities have been serving our communities for many, many years and have the experience, knowledge and community support to bring development. Moreover, by devolving powers to traditional authorities the central Government could help build up their capacity. I regret that not only are functions being taken away from them, but they are not receiving resources to do what they have been doing for years and which they could do even better if equipped with the available resources. I feel that government is disregarding one of its most valuable resources by ignoring the role and functions of traditional authorities, and at the same time it is creating a great deal of frustration and confusion within our communities.

It is my greatest hope that this issue may find some solution, sooner rather than later. There have been promises made at high levels and I believe that the longer it takes to fulfil the promise of a solution, the longer our people on the ground will suffer for lack of expedited community development. This Multi-Purpose Community Centre is a blessing in that it is a new resource. Therefore, it must be supported and used. But it cannot erase the fact that we already have a resource that is not being supported, empowered or capitalised on. This, to my mind, is a major shortcoming which must be redressed.

I wish to thank amaKhosi present here today for their support of the MPCC being opened. I know that this is the kind of project our traditional leaders would seek to promote, because they understand the value of bringing people together and creating a central point from which ideas may become activities. Our amaKhosi are also committed to community development and will not stand in the way of a project as valuable to development as this one. However, I recognise how much it must hurt to see resources being used to erect structures from scratch within which development may be initiated, when structures have already been put in place over years of serving, leading and working.

Nevertheless, we recognise that in Centres such as this, ordinary people are empowered to change their world by first experiencing the possibility of changing their community. From here, Mbazwana will see the beginnings of leadership stirring in many who have simply never had the opportunity to head a project or lead structured, sustainable development. I am pleased to know that the district of Mkhanyakude is being given a greater opportunity for self-help and self-reliance through this Community Centre. I know that communities can be changed from within. For many years I have had the unequalled joy and privilege of labouring with ordinary South Africans to change their circumstances, without the benefit of hand-outs or external financing. In fact, our country’s history speaks of ordinary people achieving extraordinary things by working together with goodwill.

Together, ordinary people have built classrooms, churches, clinics and houses. I have seen families change their circumstances by acquiring skills or knowledge which have helped improve the way they farm, the way they do business and the way they support themselves. I have seen young people gaining an education and returning to their communities to become leaders of community development, introducing better techniques into the activities of their community, which quickly yield greater benefits. I have seen people helping people, and I can say without hesitation that there is nothing which strikes a more noble chord within the human spirit than being part of bettering someone else’s life.

To me, this is what the Multi-Purpose Communities Centres which are being established throughout South Africa are all about. The vision for South Africa is that we may become united in seeking a common goal of prosperity, stability and health which belongs to everyone. I have often publicly said that our new South Africa must be built with the sweat and efforts of all, for the benefit of all. As human beings, we have not been born with equal abilities, but we differ only in that some choose to develop what they have, while others choose to complain that they are not able. In South Africa, we have emerged from an historical context in which we did not have equal opportunities. I have dedicated and worked all my life to building a South Africa in which we may have equal opportunities. But I know that even when, by God’s grace, we have achieved that country, we will still differ in that some choose to engage opportunities, while others choose to complain that they are not able.

One of the greatest human limitations is that which we impose upon ourselves. I have worked towards the full liberation of my people in the full knowledge that liberation must work from the inside to the outside. An idea must be born in a human heart before it may become a reality. If we had never believed that political liberation was possible, we surely would never be standing in a politically free South Africa. Every dream of equality, dignity and freedom strengthened the reality which was unstoppably pushing its way forward throughout our liberation struggle. In the same way, if we do not believe that development can come to a poverty-stricken rural community, we will fail to generate the courage to try, and the faith to pursue it.

I regret needing to speak on such a grave matter on an occasion of such celebration, but I feel I must warn that if the community of Mbazwana cannot see within its heart the possibility of sustainable development, prosperity, stability, accessible information, a skilled and knowledgeable people, opportunities and hope, nothing will ever be able to bring that future to Mbazwana. If a community fails to see the potential within its resources, it will fail to use them. If it fails to act, it will fail to effect change. It is said that a people without a vision, have no future. But a people who can see the goal and are willing to run towards it, no matter how steep or arduous the path, are a people who will achieve victory.

Believing this to be true, I challenge you to grasp the opportunities and unpack the potential of this Multi-Purpose Community Centre in Mbazwana. I encourage each of you to take a fresh look at the daily activities this community engages in, and consider how they may be enhanced, capitalised on or changed. This Centre is the place in which to exchange ideas of this nature. In this regard, I encourage you to take advantage of the Internet access provided at the Centre to expand your horizons and build your knowledge. The Internet is truly a window on to the world, through which one may communicate with scientists in America, or read about rice paddies in China. There is a tremendous amount of useful information to be found by anyone willing to look for it.

I wish to impress upon this community that ideas have consequences. They are the seeds of change. If we can change our ideas, we can change our world. Even small shifts in perspective may make life immeasurably easier or richer. For instance, I feel that rural communities in KwaZulu Natal must change their perspective on agriculture, shifting from the idea of sustenance farming to the notion that agriculture is a marketable resource, no matter how small the land or how few the livestock. Securing enough food to eat is a challenge South Africa faces every day. I believe that we can meet this challenge simply by changing the way we think about food production.

This truly is about changing South Africa from the bottom up. Here in this District Municipality of Mkhanyakude you know me and you know what I stand for. I have always advocated federalism as the best means of governance. I believe that there is no one better equipped to understand the needs of a community, than the community itself. I have worked for almost half a century to get government closer to the people on the ground. I also feel that South Africans are uniquely positioned to appreciate democracy, for within our traditional communities we have for centuries relied on collegial wisdom, expressing the will of the people through a traditional leader who speaks on behalf of the people. We understand the dynamic interaction between the people and their leader, where the role of a leader is to serve the interests of the people.

I hope that this Community Centre may be based on these same principles, that leaders are there to listen to the voice of the people and serve their needs. In this venue, let the people make their needs and aspirations known. Let them demand information. Let them use the resources. Let them become empowered to help themselves and to help those around them. Our new South Africa must still be built on self-help and self-reliance. A government that thinks it knows better than the people it serves how to bring development to their communities, will surely lose the support of the people. This MPCC gets government closer to the ground. Let us use this structure to make community governance move from the bottom up, proving that community development is our personal and collective ambition.