The Minister of Education
Distinguished guests
The children - our gifts for the future Ladies and gentlemen

I am proud to be able to address you today, in this, the culmination of a wonderful programme to produce creative writing and art.

The Ministry of Education, together with its social partners, SADTU, NAPTOSA and the SAOU (Suid Afrikaanse Onderwys Unie) have combined under the auspices of the Education Labour Relations Council, to form a potent force in combating racism and intolerance in our schools. And they do this I am sure in the knowledge that if we can change things there, we will change them in society as well. Through this programme thousands of learners across the country have been exposed to information and ideas about racism, and have had to think about racism. And they have each responded in their own way.

This initiative is certainly assuring us that to these children, racism will be something of the past when they reach adulthood. We hope they will never experience racism in their lives.

The World Conference on Racism is nearly upon us, and South Africa looks forward to hosting many thousands of delegates from around the world to focus attention on racism, xenophobia and intolerance. The many foreign delegates will come to South Africa to see a country that has become a model for dealing with racism.

We in South Africa have instead of ignoring racism or trying to deny its existence, we have had the political will to put the matter of racism openly on the table. In the ruins of institutionalised racism, we have put in place a democracy and legislated against racism and other intolerances.

In facing our past with a view to dealing with future, we established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, to enable us as a nation to become fully aware of the extent of the damage that racism had caused to us as a nation.

We also have a Human Rights Commission, which is an important instrument, for our nation to ensure that human rights are respected and the cultures of respect and tolerance are deepened, and to ascertain that we develop a sound social fabric in our country.

The Values in Education Manifesto that we have just launched is also an attempt to entrench tolerance at an early age, which will last for life. This is a best way of nation building through education.

As South Africa we are well prepared to enter the forthcoming Conference. Under the theme of "A Nation in Dialogue", the National Conference on Racism was held in August last year, convened by the Human Rights Commission, and which led to the Millennium Statement on Racism.

A programme of action suggested a number of steps, and the last of these was for South Africans to support the 3rd UN Conference on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance. In addition, we have held a series of provincial preparatory Conferences, in which delegates were able to reveal some of their horrific experiences at the hands of racists, and start to develop democratic responses to these ongoing actions.

Our participation in the World Conference will therefore be based on the experience of our people, and will reflect their determination to get rid of this scourge, which still haunts our nation.

The Ministry of Education is to be highly commended for now putting in place this third layer of preparations, involving the very foundations of our society - the learners. You cannot get more grassroots than the children! Ladies and gentlemen, we are here today to honour the children, and the best way to do that is to read you some of their work.

But first let me tell you that the contributions by the children showed a wide range - a variety of languages and many different forms of expression, much like our country itself! I commend them all to you - each of them says something to us, and they are all winners. The quality of the art you can see for yourself. In this exhibition I see the hope of the future, and it is being built upon the humility of all our people.

The written contributions include some very formal essays, well researched and written analyses of racism. There are also fictional stories, telling us something about people, and some biographies, expressing both anger and hope.

There is lots of poetry, and there is a short play. There is even a science fantasy, which asks a fundamental question: if an alien landed on earth, would we greet them as one race: the human race?

The contributions are not easy or fun to read, and there are some hard reality checks. But most powerful of all the contributions are the heartfelt pleas from the mouths of our children - especially the very young. Many told of incidents of intolerance which they had personally experienced, had observed, or perhaps heard of from a family member. They want it to stop.

Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to express once again my appreciation to the Ministry of Education for initiating this process. Thanks also to the trade union parties to the Education Labour Relations Council, and the South African Council for Educators, which provided professional input on the exhibition. You have shown your commitment to the common cause of nation building, and that despite our differences on some other important issues you care about the future generation of this nation. I therefore wish you well in your teacher development programme in pursuit of that noble cause.

We note and appreciate all the many schools and individual teachers who supported the programme, signalling their determination to deal with intolerance. From Cape Town to Messina, and from Durban to the Northern Cape, there are schools, which are serving as models of the new South Africa, and they told us their stories.

We salute these teachers, who are creating a new generation of South African citizens, and new generation which must see and do things very differently.

And of course special thanks to the learners themselves, from all around South Africa, who participated in the exhibition. All your efforts have been noticed and are highly appreciated. By participating, you have been part of a worldwide movement, which will culminate in a huge gathering in Durban later this month. When you see the Conference on television, feel proud, for you are part of it, and you have served your country well. To those selected for an award today, special congratulations to you. You are the torchbearers - carry it high and let its light shine on all who see it. You are changing the world, to make it a better place.

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