The Master of Ceremonies; the Honourable the Premier of Mpumalanga, Mr NJ Mahlangu; Inkosi of the Shongwe clan, Inkosi TM Shongwe; members of both the national and provincial Parliament; His Worship the Mayor, Councillor MD Shongwe; other Councillors and Indunas; distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

I welcome the opportunity to officiate today at the launch of the Mpuluzi Multi-Purpose Community Centre. This project is indeed an example of democratic government working at its best. I am likewise pleased to witness the tremendous community support given to this project, which makes heard the voice of our people in saying "we want the best governance possible in this community, we want a government we can talk to". Democracy is founded on the principle of the people governing themselves through elected political representatives who serve their constituencies on the basis of an ongoing dialogue about community needs, community aspirations and community development. The roll-out of multi-purpose community centres across South Africa is facilitating this dialogue and ensuring that democracy is indeed upheld.

Here in Mpumalanga, communities are today set to receive the benefits of the second community centre in the province. A Provincial Inter-Sectoral Steering Committee has identified Mpuluzi as a site where there is wide representation of government departments, a willingness to co-operate amongst NGOs and the private sector, and an enthusiasm within the community for development through self-help and self-reliance. I believe Mpuluzi has reason to be proud. Today, it is becoming a nodal point of development. The work of the steering committee gives an example of how national, provincial and local government are working together to seek open lines of communication with communities on the ground. This is an admirable effort which shall truly bring governance closer to the people. I hope that this will be a lesson to those who sowed seeds of intolerance during my campaign visit here for local government elections and during those elections.

I have taken the podium today to express my support for the establishment of the Mpuluzi community centre for I believe that it is a tangible representation of a principle I have personally espoused for more than 25 years. Throughout my political career, both during negotiations towards democracy and during the period of our institutional and constitutional reform, I have spoken of the need to make government move from the bottom, up. I believe that no one knows or understands the needs of individual people better than the individual people themselves. In the same way, communities know best what communities need in order to grow, develop and prosper. Undoubtedly, every political leader will recognise that we retain an ocean of needs within our new South Africa, yet these needs are not all alike nor can they all be met with one solution.

It ought to be self-evident that community development and the upliftment of our people must therefore begin from within our communities through the assistance of government, working hand in hand with every facet of our society. Such working together is the true aim of nation building and depends on our capacity to identify a national agenda which can be grasped and owned by every single South African, wherever they may find themselves, as individuals, as family members, as members of communities, leaders in business, educators, professionals, job seekers or politicians. This brings us to the point where we can all stake a claim in the development of our country and bring our individual contributions towards making South Africa a place of faster service delivery, expedited growth, a greater sense of individual and collective responsibility, patriotism, decreased criminality, decreased poverty, greater opportunity and increased health.

Every fight we wage within communities on a daily basis, is part of the struggle we continue to engage on a national level. Our struggle remains the struggle for genuine liberation, and it must now be won through development. We are no longer fighting an enemy of flesh and blood, but the enemy of social difficulties. We are not fighting against an oppressor, but towards liberating the oppressed, and to seek this goal we are fighting the battle together. I believe that this will be our salvation, that South Africa is at last ready to become a nation. We are a powerful people and a people of enduring spirit. I cannot believe that poverty addressed as a nation will break us, when hatred and division could not. I refuse to believe that we lack the national will to raise the level of employment, the level of education, the level of skills training, opportunity and human development. The will exists. It is the means that we must now agree on.

I have spoken for years of the need to identify where South Africa will need to be in ten or twenty years' time to be on a par with the rapidly developing nations of our globalising world. I do not believe that we can catch up with where we need to be by plodding along through the stages which countries more prosperous than ours covered years ago. We need to leap-frog into the future by training our people appropriately and equipping them to operate in a technologically advanced world. Part of this effort is making technology accessible to all our communities, even the poorest and the furthest from urban areas. I am excited at the prospect of multi-purpose community centres springing up throughout South Africa as nodes of information, technology, service and training. These centres can go a long way towards bringing us into the 21st century.

In this respect, Mpuluzi is unique in that this is the first centre to introduce the Public Information Terminal which allows instant access not only to government, but to sites across the globe on the Internet. These PITs will be duly distributed to other community centres, facilitating information access for anyone willing to use them. I wish to emphasise that the technology, information and services offered at this centre are not just for those who are brave enough to tackle new territory. I know that those of my own generation often tend to hesitate at the mention of computers and technology training. Yet once we have chosen to embrace this field, which is indeed no longer new, technology quickly starts working for us rather than us working for technology.

Therefore I wish to encourage every community member, young and older, to come to this centre, try it out, see how it operates, talk to the people working here and see how much you will gain from doing so.

This is a centre of training and skills development. It is a centre of information, services and assistance. This is where people will come to get things done at a one-stop station involving a broad range of government departments. It makes things easier, quicker and less frustrating. In other words, this centre has been established for the people. Every representative from government, the private sector and community forums operating from the Mpuluzi Multi-Purpose Community Centre has a responsibility to answer questions, render certain services, assist those seeking information, and actively engage the effort of bringing development to the communities of this region.

I believe this centre is a prime example of how governance can work from the ground upwards, and how development can move on the impetus of joint and co-operative efforts. The vision of bottom up governance is the vision of democracy in action. With this in mind, I encourage people to use this venue as a meeting point from which to open dialogue with their political representatives in government. Holding leadership accountable is the responsibility of every citizen living in a democracy. We do not elect leaders once every five years and allow them to do just as they please in the interim. The democratic right of participation in governance can only be met when we exercise the responsibility of holding our leaders accountable.

District councillors, provincial departments and national leaders share one common feature; that they exist to serve. If political leaders are not serving the needs of their people, they should not be in office and we have a right to withdraw our support and demand leaders who can serve us. I speak both as a leader in national government and as the President of my Party when I say that the needs of the people always come first. Leaders are not above their people nor are they separate from them. South Africa needs leaders who are in the thick of it, with sleeves rolled up, daily making a difference and sharing the burden of their people. I have always believed that when one loses touch with the people on the ground, one indeed loses touch with reality, and I have determined therefore always to work hand in hand with my people. I have done so for over 40 years and it has enriched my own life to serve my people at grass-roots.

When the poorest communities of South Africa received little or no funding for development in an effort to keep them in subjection, I pioneered the vision of self-help and self-reliance. Working towards this goal, I have seen communities rise above their difficult social conditions, such as poverty, unemployment, disease and a lack of basic services, without the assistance of government. Today, we have won the victory of a government willing to assist, and the establishment of multi-purpose community centres across South Africa is an expression of that will. But there remains a legacy of need which government alone cannot alter, and self-help and self-reliance remain our best tools for community development. We have become adept at using these tools for we have used them in the past and they have worked for us. Now we must use them again in an environment where the fruits of our labour will be unhampered, abundant and readily seen.

I am excited at the prospect of communities working with government, and government working with civil society to achieve results for development in South Africa. Here in Mpuluzi we are seeing the launch of a tremendous cycle of growth which is set to change the face of this community forever. I encourage members of this community to take ownership of this multi-purpose community centre by making it work the way it is meant to. Open a community dialogue in this venue. Speak up. Begin a community newspaper. Communicate with your political representatives. Ask questions about the services offered. Spend time accessing information. Engage in telecommunications training. This is your centre. Make it work for you.

I believe that today we are witnessing what shall be looked back upon as a milestone in South Africa’s history. One day, in a country vastly more developed than it is today, we shall have the opportunity to trace back the roots of our development and we shall arrive at points such as this, where governance became bottom, up, and people began to govern their destinies in a genuinely democratic system. Let us work together from this point on and add our individual efforts to the collective goal of development. As a nation, we can achieve prosperity. As a nation, we can see our people finally set free and overcoming social difficulties. As a nation, we can bring development through a genuine partnership between the government chosen by the people and the people it is created to govern. Starting in places such as this, let us become a nation.

With these few words, I declare the Mpuluzi Multi-Purpose Community Centre officially open for business.


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