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 and black;
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 by flies."

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 and black.

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 bigotry.

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 celebrations.

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 world.

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 Africa.

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 electronic media.

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 television link-up.

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 our people.

Like Pixley Ka Seme, perhaps the time has come for us to say:

"O Africa!
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."

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