Address at the South African Millenium
Trust Launch, Kyalami 19 November 1998
Master of Ceremonies,
"The tree of our bitterness has come full leaf:
and the fall of our century will carry the foliage away:
we watered the root with our white blood and yellow
now our centennial epoch....
wants medals to pin on its sergeant's insignia....
the jails with their rosters of good men maligned make
it plain to me;
my skin, my irascible friends, the stewards of poverty,
put it in so many words:
the epoch is rotting away,
stalled at time's centre like the bones
of a cow with its predators gnawing within,
while out of time's pestilence comes a literature written
These words of the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda speak
of a century and a millennium that are fast receding
into the past.
The question he asks - whether we will award medals
to the sergeants who caused so much pain to millions
during the passing century - will have to be answered.
The poet makes his own his stern judgement on a dying
century and a passing millennium, whose tree of bitterness
million have watered with their white blood, and yellow
Of course the poet speaks of a century and a millennium
during which millions have been victim to the slave
trade, colonialism, underdevelopment, Nazism, ethnic
cleansing, the scourge of wars fought for ignoble purposes,
in many instances driven by racial, religious or political
He speaks of the long history of poverty, human pogroms,
unchecked epidemic disease, the rape of women and the
scourge of ignorance which have always affected the
poor of the world and not the sergeants with their insignia.
We too join the poet in his prayer that the fall of
our century will carry the pain away. In its place we
seek to light a myriad of candles of hope for a life
for the millions with no predators gnawing within, as
with the bones of a cow.
It the poet is correct that out of time's pestilence,
out of an epoch that is rotting away, comes a literature
written by flies, we foresee for ourselves a healthier
future of democracy, reconciliation, nation-building,
prosperity, respect for human rights and the emergence
of a caring society.
Where the jails with their rosters of good men maligned
stand empty, we must surely expect that these liberated
good men and women will contribute to the common effort
to build a life of dignity for all by helping to create
a society which will attend to the continuous material
and spiritual enrichment of the individual.
Accordingly, as we reach the dawn of another era, we
must continue to surmount the obstacles that the history
of oppression placed on our path to the emergence of
that kind of society.
One of the matters in which we correctly pride ourselves
as South Africans, both black and white, is that we
have been the architects of our own destiny. We managed
to turn our country away from the terrible prospect
of its transformation into a wasteland, producing a
settlement which many have described as one of the political
miracles of our time.
As we step on the threshold of another century, we
will have to measure up to the call to change our society,
to ensure its renewal, in line with the challenges of
the new century.
As we do that, we confirming our desire to participate
and our participation in the limitless world theatre
of universal human life, including the extension of
assistance to those in our midst who are less fortunate
than we are.
The whole world is now caught up in the growing excitement
that we will be living in a rare historical moment that
can only happen once in a thousand years. All over the
world, nations and communities are preparing to observe
the end of the century and the beginning of the new
millennium in a variety of ways.
Everybody seems to be unperturbed by the fact the next
millennium will in reality begin on 1 January 2001.
Indeed, so sustained has been the level of expectation
that in some of the European cities, hotels and entertainment
venues were fully booked twenty years ago in preparation
for the last evening of 1999.
The year 2000 is unmistakably the target year for major
Somebody said decades and centuries are like the clock-cases
inside which the pendulum of history swings. Periods
divisible by ten do, in practice, seem command enormous
power to arrest attention and stimulate the imagination.
Thus, we too cannot overlook the impact of the millennium
bug on the psyche of society.
It is therefore correct that we take measures now to
prepare for the Year 2000, to prepare for activities
which will see out the old century and usher in the
new. The end of the century and the millennium will
mark the beginning of our activities and the beginning
of the successor century and millennium, the climax
of those activities.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to take this opportunity to say that it
gives me great pleasure for my name and that of President
Mandela to be associated with this initiative spearheaded
by the SABC through the South African Millennium Trust.
On behalf of President Mandela, who is also a Patron
of the SA Millennium Trust, I would like to commit the
support of our government to this initiative and its
objectives. As the government we fully subscribe to
the objective of, among other things, seeking to raise
resources in order to attend to the plight and to empower
the children, the disabled as well as to preserve our
heritage, promote our environment and continuously water
the tree of peace in our land.
We see this initiative and this launch as the public
confirmation by the SABC as a public broadcaster that
it is the vehicle through which the entire South African
society can make its contribution in the celebration
of the dawn of a new era.
It is only the SABC that possesses the greatest technical
capacity to afford our people the possibility to showcase
the richness of our culture both to ourselves and to
The magnitude of such an initiative can only be enriched
if it manages to draw into its fold the support of the
private sector, the labour sector, the government at
all its tiers, the youth, the women, the disabled, the
unemployed, the rural and the urban, as well as diverse
organs of civil society.
It should truly be the project of the people of South
It is a project pregnant with limitless possibilities
and immense opportunities. For example, on the 31 December
1999, our public broadcaster, will link with other global
television link-ups in welcoming the new dawn in a television
spectacular never before seen in the history of the
Each country will be allocated time to broadcast to
the entire world the most important events it shall
have staged in celebration of the new millennium.
We are encouraged by the fact that several key international
broadcasters have identified the SABC as the most important
broadcaster in our time zone. This point, together with
what the international community sees as the South African
miracle, have convinced several international broadcasters
that we deserve a good amount of time in this global
I am certain that all of us will agree that here lies
the opportunity to bring to a global television audience
the best canvas depicting our people's unity and diversity
in their full colour, texture and relief.
The theme of the initiative should surely be celebration.
But how do we celebrate something that we do not fully
comprehend. Every act of celebration is the act of triumph.
Every celebration is the act of arrival, or of departure
from a previous point, of looking ahead with hope.
The point we are trying to make is that an integral
part of this celebration is education. Indeed, should
we not conceive of ongoing programmes in our schools,
our theatres, in the print media, electronic media that
tell the people more about Africa in the second millennium,
in the twentieth century. Where do we come from as a
people and as a continent!
The Iliad and the odyssey tumbled out of the mouths
of ordinary bards, today they are highly regarded as
essential sources for the history of ancient Greece,
but our African oral tradition, the collective memory
of peoples that holds the thread of many events marking
their lives is neither harnessed nor considered as history.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We have already said that we are on the threshold of
a new millennium. It is not a bad place from which to
look both backwards as well as ahead.
The poet Pablo Neruda has told us about "A Century
Dying". He has helped us to look backwards to the
decades that have given birth to our condition of life.
Perhaps somebody else should help us look ahead to
our entry into the new century and the new millennium
with all it attendant challenges and opportunities.
The project we are launching today carries within it
the opportunity to educate ourselves about ourselves,
to help us complete the task of forging our nation-hood
and to display to other nations of the world, as well
as to ourselves, our capacity to give to humanity what
is proudly the product of the composite effort our all
Like Pixley Ka Seme, perhaps the time has come for
us to say:
Like some great century plant that shall bloom
In ages hence, we watch thee; in our dream
See in the swamps the Prospero of our stream;
Thy doors unlocked, where knowledge in her tomb
Hath lain innumerable years in gloom
Then shalt thou, walking with that morning gleam
Shine as they sister lands with equal beam."