Speech at his inauguration as President of South Africa – 1999/06/16

June 16 1999

Union Buldings, Pretoria
Your Majesties,
Your Royal Highnesses,
Your Excellencies,
President of the Constitutional Court,
Chief Justice,
Isithwalandwe Nelson Mandela,
Distinguished guests,
Fellow South Africans,

Iam honoured to welcome you all to our seat of government as we carry out the solemn act of the inauguration of the President of our Republic.

I feel greatly privileged that so many of you could travel from all corners of the globe, from everywhere in Africa and from all parts of our country to lend importance and dignity to this occasion.

That sense of privilege, which will stay with us for all time, is intensified by our recognition of the fact that never before have we, as a people, hosted this large a number of high level delegations representing the peoples of the world.

We thank you most sincerely for your presence which itself constitutes a tribute to the millions of our people and a profound statement of hope that all of us will, together, continue to expand the frontiers of human dignity.

For us, as South Africans, this day is as much a Day for the Inauguration of the new government as it is a Day of Salute for a generation that pulled our country out of the abyss and placed it on the pedestal of hope, on which it rests today.

I speak of the generation represented pre-eminently by our outgoing President, Nelson Mandela – the generation of Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Albertina Sisulu, Ray Alexander and others.

Fortunately, some of these titans are present here today, as they should be. None of us can peer into their hearts to learn what they feel as this infant democracy they brought into the world begins its sixth year of existence.

But this I can say, that we who are their offspring know that we owe to them much of what is humane, noble and beautiful in the thoughts and actions of our people, as they strive to build a better world for themselves.

For throughout their lives, they struggled against everything that was ugly, mean, brutish and degrading of the dignity of all human beings.

And because they did, being prepared to pay the supreme price to uphold good over evil, they planted a legacy among our people which drives all of us constantly to return to the starting point and say – I am my brother’s keeper! I am my sister’s keeper!

And because we are one another’s keepers, we surely must be haunted by the humiliating suffering which continues to afflict millions of our people.

Our nights cannot but be nights of nightmares while millions of our people live in conditions of degrading poverty.

Sleep cannot come easily when children get permanently disabled, both physically and mentally, because of lack of food.

No night can be restful when millions have no jobs, and some are forced to beg, rob and murder to ensure that they and their own do not perish from hunger.

Our minds will continue the restless inquiry to find out how it is possible to have a surfeit of productive wealth in one part of our common globe and intolerable poverty levels elsewhere on that common globe.

There can be no moment of relaxation while the number of those affected by HIV-AIDS continue to expand at an alarming pace.

Our days will remain forever haunted when frightening numbers of the women and children of our country fall victim to rape and other crimes of violence.

Nor can there be peace of mind when the citizens of our country feel they have neither safety nor security because of the terrible deeds of criminals and their gangs.

Our days and our nights will remain forever blemished as long as our people are torn apart and fractured into contending factions by reason of the racial and gender inequalities, which continue to characterise our society.

Neither can peace attend our souls as long as corruption continues to rob the poor of what is theirs and to corrode the value system, which sets humanity apart from the rest of the animal world.

The full meaning of liberation will not be realised until our people are freed both from oppression and from the dehumanising legacy of deprivation we inherited from our past.

What we did in 1994 was to begin the long journey towards the realisation of this goal. When the millions of our people went to the polls 12 days ago, they mandated us to pursue this outcome.

Our country is in that period of time which the seTswana-speaking people of Southern Africa graphically describe as “mahube a naka tsa kgomo” – the dawning of the dawn, when only the tips of the horn of the cattle can be seen etched against the morning sky.

As the sun continues to rise to banish the darkness of the long years of colonialism and apartheid, what the new light over our land must show is a nation diligently at work to create a better life for itself.

What it must show is a palpable process of the comprehensive renewal of our country – its rebirth – driven by the enormous talents of all our people, both black and white, and made possible by the knowledge and realisation that we share a common destiny, regardless of the shapes of our noses.

What we will have to see in the rising light is a government that is fully conscious of the fact that it has entered into a contract with the people, to work in partnership with them to build a winning nation.

In practical and measurable ways, we have to keep pace with the rising sun, progressing from despair to hope, away from a brutal past that forever seeks to drag us backwards towards a new tomorrow that speaks of change in a forward direction.

History and circumstance have given us the rare possibility to achieve these objective.

To ensure that we transform the possibility to reality, we will have to nurture the spirit among our people which made it possible for many to describe the transition of 1994 as a miracle – the same spirit which, in many respects, turned this year’s election campaign into a festival in clebration of democracy.

As Africans, we are the children of the abyss, who have sustained a backward march for half-amillennium.

We have been a source for human slaves. Our countries were turned into the patrimony of colonial powers. We have been victim to our own African predators.

If this is not merely the wish being father to the thought, something in the air seems to suggest that we are emerging out of the dreadful centuries which in the practice, and in the ideology and consciousness of some, defined us as sub-human.

As South Africans, whatever the difficulties, we are moving forward in the effort to combine ourselves into one nation of many colours, many cultures and divers origins.

No longer capable of being falsely defined as a European outpost in Africa, we are an African nation in the complex process simultaneously of formation and renewal.

And in that process, we will seek to educate both the young and ourselves about everything all our forebears did to uphold the torch of freedom.

It is in this spirit that we are, this year, observing the Centenary of the Commencement of the Anglo-Boer War and the 120th Anniversary of the Battle of Isandhlwana.

We will also work to rediscover and claim the African heritage, for the benefit especially of our young generations.

From South Africa to Ethiopia lie strewn ancient fossils which, in their stillness, speak still of the African origins of all humanity.

Recorded history and the material things that time left behind also speak of Africa’s historic contribution to the universe of philosophy, the natural sciences, human settlement and organisation and the creative arts.

Being certain that not always were we the children of the abyss, we will do what we have to do to achieve our own Renaissance.

We trust that what we will do will not only better our own condition as a people, but will also make a contribution, however small, to the success of Africa’s Renaissance, towards the identification of the century ahead of us as the African Century.

23 years ago this day, children died in Soweto, Johannesburg in a youth uprising which democratic South Africa honours as our National Youth Day.

As we speak, both our own, as well as international athletes, are competing in our annual Comrades Marathon which, this year, is dedicated to Nelson Mandela.

Our best wishes go to all these, the long distance runners of the Marathon.

Those who complete the course will do so only because they do not, as fatigue sets in, convince themselves that the road ahead is still too long, the inclines too steep, the!!! loneliness impossible to bear and the prize itself of doubtful value.

We too, as the peoples of South Africa and Africa, must together run our own Comrades Marathon, as comrades who are ready to take to the road together, refusing to be discouraged by the recognition that the road is very long, the inclines very steep and that, at times, what we see as the end is but a mirage.

When the race is run, all humanity and ourselves will acknowledge the fact that we only succeeded because we succeeded to believe in our own dreams!

Every year the rains will fall to bless our efforts!

That too is a dream!

But because it is our dream, we are able still to demand of our ancestors – pula! nala!

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