It is such a pleasure to once again join the Hellenic community in attending the 2000 annual ball of the Hellenic Association of KwaZulu Natal. Each year I am honoured to receive an invitation to participate in this event which is a celebration of community, unity and collective goodwill. I pray that the strength of this community shall continue to grow into the twenty first century. This year, we are meeting at a crucial time in the history of South Africa. As we dance and break bread this evening, we are just ten days away from local government elections. This is a destiny-determining moment for the communities of our country and one in which we all may express the individual mandate which extends from the heart of our shared experience.

As a political leader for almost forty years, I find it difficult to attend even the most festive social event without remarking on the political climate and the opportunities we may capture to shape our future. This year, the annual ball of the Hellenic community coincides with the day of celebration of the life of St Katherine the Great-Martyr who is forever remembered for her outspoken faith. No opportunity escaped St Katherine to speak and spread her belief. At times, I feel that likewise my faith in the God-given destiny of this country does not allow me to keep silent. I believe that we are standing on the brink of a new era in South Africa, in which every diverse community may express its individuality within the collective spirit of our nation.

Within this context, the Hellenic community of KwaZulu Natal has a unique place. I have always admired this community for its solidarity and constant social activity. There is a rich texture to the social fabric of the Hellenes which speaks of the many generations which came before. This is a community with a vast cultural heritage which extends from its literature to its cuisine, from its dances to its religion, from its theatre to its sport. As we traverse the passages of history, there is clear evidence of the continuing influence and flavour of the Hellenic people. Indeed, here there is a sense of history, a passion for the present, and a blessing to the generations who are yet to come.

KwaZulu Natal is enriched by the presence of this community in its midst. The Hellenic community has given a valuable contribution towards the building of this country and now, in the past six years, you have lent the strength of your unity and the unique passion of your culture to support the reconstruction of a democratic South Africa. I believe that the cultural diversity which is expressed in our country is an element of our greatest strength. It is the hope of our future for we may meet one another’s weaknesses with corresponding and complimentary strengths. Our diversity should in fact be what recommends us to one another as fellow South Africans walking a similar path.

It is the determination, independence and internal cohesion of the Hellenic community which continues to recommend you to my heart. Throughout South Africa’s history, this community achieved its success and prosperity by its own hand, by the labour of its own people. The Hellenes in South Africa are without a colonial history and without the historical support of a motherland. You have never been locked into the system of patronage which the apartheid government extended to selected constituencies prior to 1994. The Hellenic community built for itself, by itself. At the dawning of a new millennium, I believe that this community must remain visible and continue to build both for its own sake, and for the sake of South Africa.

In this new chapter of our history, the priorities of South Africa are shifting and its communities will need to move with this current. Today, the greatest challenge we face is to uplift our human resources by bridging the gap between the myriad of opportunities and the pool of human skills required to capture them. The industrious spirit, the determination and the sense of goodwill which characterise the Hellenes assure that this community may take up a vital role in promoting the effort of training, educating and providing knowledge.

After all, Greece is the cradle of Western civilisation and the Hellenic community carries this legacy which must be shared for the benefit of the whole of South Africa.

I trust that this community will realise its social obligations in the knowledge that we may all stand together to fulfil the vision of an African Renaissance. The corresponding curse to this blessing is that we may equally all fall together should we fail to contribute the individual efforts which can move us further away from the legacy of our past. The challenge of uplifting our nation must be met within our families first, then within our work-places, and within our communities. For an African Renaissance to succeed, we must ensure that it will be outward looking, rather than inward looking, inclusive rather than exclusive. I am committed to achieving this country’s destiny, yet success demands the commitment of every community in South Africa. I believe that this commitment shall be found in the Hellenic community.

I wish to extend my thanks to the Hellenic Association of KwaZulu Natal for organising a point around which we may converge to celebrate the magnificent history, the prosperous present and the promising future of the Hellenic community. It is truly a pleasure to meet once again with those who share my vision of community life. This evening, let us celebrate the children who shall inherit the rich legacy of this heritage. Let us applaud the women who bind our families together. Then, let us raise our glasses to the leaders and fathers of this community, praying that God may give them the strength to carry the Hellenic tradition through the challenges ahead, preserving its cultural wealth and charting its course with wisdom on the map of South Africa’s future.