Your Worship, Mayor Obed Mlaba
Mayors of Local Councils
Citizens of Durban
I am truly honoured to be receiving the Freedom of Metropolitan Durban today. In extending to me the privileges of the citizens of this gre3at city you are, I know, honouring not one individual, but the whole South African nation.
It is they who overcame the divisions of centuries, by reaching out to one another. In so doing they have made our country a symbol to the world of renewed hope, of the possibility of the peaceful resolution of even the most intractable conflicts. It is they who mandated our representatives to write a constitution which embodied the noble ideals of unity in diversity, and tolerance and respect for all our cultures and religions.
In paying this tribute, through me, to the people of South Africa; in this gathering and in a ceremony which reflect the diversity of our land, the city of Durban is declaring its commitment to those aspirations and ideals.
I am therefore proud to accept the honour, in all humility, from a city in which I feel at home whenever I visit it.
Durban`s hospitable attraction is, it seems, no recent phenomenon. Historical records show that even before it was colonised by the British, sailors from the east and west settled among the local inhabitants and refused opportunities to return to their homelands. They were made to feel welcome in an area that had already become ac customed to a harmonious diversity of peoples.
Durban`s potential must have been recognised by the indentured labourers who chose to remain here after freedom was granted to them from the 1960s.
Today, this busiest port of Africa, this haven for investors and holiday makers alike, is home to part of the souls of many nations and cultures, precious threads in the rich diversity of our African nation.
The splendi way in which durban hosted the Non-Aligned Movement Summit last year did South Africa proud. It makes us look forward with confidence to the many international events which our country will host in this city.
As much as Durban is associated with hospitality and diversity, it is also remembered as a place of immense suffering, war and sadness.
For was it not here that the indigenous peoples fought bravely against military invasion by colonising forces? And here where the first concerted attempt at group area segregation emerged during the 1870`s, long before apartheid? And here that some of the cruellest acts of savagery were enacted, like the durban by-laws requiring Africans to be dipped with their belongings in a disinfectant tank on entering the city?
And yet out of this ferment great leaders emerged who helped shape the world`s understanding of human development. Those who revere freedom and human dignity around the world know of this city and region because of Mahatma Gandhi and Chief Albert Luthuli.
Their legacy, along with that of people like the Revered John Dube and Isaiah Shembe, Bishop Colenso, Sobantu and Dorothy Nyembe left an indelible mark on our country`s history.
Many organisations which laid the foundation stones of South Africa`s vibrant democracy, including my own organisation, the African National Congress, have drawn sustenance from the soil of KwaZulu-Natal.
Much has been said before about the calibre of leadership and the legacy of those early pioneers of resistance. But today let us also honour the current political leaders who have done so much to bring peace.
When we visited KwaZulu-Natal in 1990, as the opening of the prison doors and the unbanning of organisations signalled the beginning of our transition to democracy, this province was gripped in bloody violence. There were many who believed that the call to throw weapons into the sea would never be answered.
But since then immense progress has been made, thanks to the efforts of people from across the political spectrum. Although many of us take it for granted, the way in which political violence subsided and communal co-operation increased will be remembered as one of the success stories of our democracy.
We should pay tribute to all those who have worked so hard at achieving peace. But even though there has been much progress, the task will only be complete when every citizen can feel safe in bed at night; in exercising the right to vote; and in being able to express opinions freely.
As we approach South Africa`s second democratic election, we should all be concerned to eradicate the remaining pockets of violence. And we should give no space to those who would like to see the province plunged back into political violence, in order to hold back progress. All people of influence - political leaders from every party; traditional leaders; religious and community leaders - all of us have an obligation to ensure a climate of tolerance. We must emerge from this election, whatever our differences, more united as a nation and therefore strengthened in our capacity to bring about even more change than we have already achieved.
Many people have been sceptical of our capacity to realise the ideal of a rainbow nation. It is true that South Africa was often brought to the brink of destruction because of differences. But let us re-affirm this one thing here today; it is not our diversity which divides us; it is not our ethnicity, or religion or culture that divides us. Since we have achieved our freedom, there can only be one division amongst us; between those who cheris democracy and those who do not!
As freedom loving people, we want to see our country prosper and provide basic services to all. For our freedom can never be complete or our democracy stable unless the basic needs of our people are met. We have seen the stability that development brings. And in turn we know that peace is the most powerful weapon that any community or nation can have for development.
As we rebuild our country, we should remain vigilant against the enemies of development and democracy, even if they come from within our own ranks. Violence will not bring us closer to our objectives.
All of us should ask ourselves the question; have I done everything in my power to bring about lasting peace and prosperity in my city and my country?
And when we are satisfied with our answer, we should ask that question of our constituencies. Let us enjoin them to work together with the police in freeing our society of criminals and mischief makers. Let us ask them to behave in an exemplary fashion, that would make Gandhiji and Chief Luthuli proud.
Let us live up to the expectations which the world has of us, as a nation which has rekindled hope for reconciliation and peaceful resolution of differences.
People of Durban,
I thank you for honouring me with the freedom of your city. As long as I have strength, I will try to redeem this honour.