Address at The Official Opening of The Cape Town International Convention Centre, Cape Town, 28 June 2003

Chairperson of Convenco, Ebrahim Rasool,
Premier of the Western Cape, Marthinus van Schalkwyk,
Your Worship, Mayor Nomaindia Mfeketo,
Distinguished guests,
Ladies and gentlemen:

It is a proud day indeed for Cape Town to join the global community with a world-class international convention centre. I am delighted to be part of this auspicious occasion and to open this new centre, which promises prosperity for all our people of the Western Cape and South Africa.

This convention centre is one of the many concrete proofs that the tide has indeed turned for South Africa, and that with every step that we take, we have indeed entered into a social contract for a better tomorrow.

In 1822, when Cape Town was already a bustling cosmopolitan port, Percy Bysshe Shelley said in his poem, Hellas:

"The world's great age begins anew,
The golden years return,
The earth doth like a snake renew

Her winter weeds outworn;
Heaven smiles, and faiths and empires gleam,
Like wrecks of a dissolving dream."

We too, have made bold to say that 'the world great age begins anew' and accordingly this is the African Century. 'The golden years return', the years of great African achievements in the arts, in science and mathematics, in architecture and technology.

For many years, the magnificent splendour of the Western Cape has drawn visitors from across the globe. As they continue to come they will also find the Cape Town Convention Centre - another symbol of hope, a symbol of our glorious past, a symbol of modernity and a symbol of future prosperity. It draws its essence from the formidable and mighty Atlantic Ocean from where Convention Square gained its land.

This centre draws its essence from the granite Table Mountain, which lies majestically in ancient repose as one of the oldest mountains in the world.

Obviously, this convention centre is lucky to sit within the environs of one of the world's six floral kingdoms. Lucky also because South Africa is blessed to be the only country in the world to house the entire floral kingdom - the fynbos region - a rich tapestry that is spread over large varied topography ranging from magnificent rugged coastline to towering peaks.

The Langebaan footprints have fossilised the memory of a woman strolling alongside the mighty Atlantic about 117, 000 years ago, as if to remind us that: this is the home, not only of the human predecessors, but of modern man and woman.

Three hundred and fifty years ago, the Western Cape was the home of the indigenous Khoikhoi and San who co-existed in harmony with nature as captured so poignantly by the artists, Tuoi Stefaans Samcuia and Brett Murray.

Sadly, Tuoi Stefaans Samcuia passed away a fortnight ago in the San settlement of Schmidtsdrift. I, and I am sure many of us here, are happy that his legacy and the spirit of an ancient San culture are fittingly displayed as a prominent centrepiece in the foyer of this Convention Centre.


Today, as we open this convention centre, on a winter's night, Cape Town continues to thrive in its unique way. The Dutch East India Company is no more. The British Empire and the apartheid system that replaced it have disintegrated - like wrecks in a dissolving dream.

We are now living in a free, multicultural democracy in which we all have the real possibility of living in a peaceful, united and prosperous South Africa.

In Hellas Shelley reminds us of freedom and human creativity:

"Let there be light! said Liberty,
And like sunrise from the sea,
Athens arose."

Again, Shelley speaks to us as South Africans, as Africans. 'Let there be light! Said Liberty, and like sunrise from the sea Africa arose!'

Shelley also speaks of Cape Town. In the 1930s, Cape Town expanded and the Foreshore, the land reclaimed from the Atlantic Ocean and on which the convention centre is now built, rose like Shelley's Athens. For years, this area was idle, derelict land alongside the Duncan Docks, one of Africa's largest ports.

We may have reclaimed land from the mighty Atlantic Ocean but we must always remember that we are merely the custodians of this ancient land. In the same way the tide ebbs and flows, Cape Town will be enhanced by the rich diversity of cultures from far and wide.

In the new South Africa, there is indeed no restriction on freedom of movement and land ownership. We have no job reservation. Three hundred years of white minority domination of the land is being redressed.

Ladies and gentlemen;

The tide has truly turned! We are building a people's contract for a better tomorrow. Our liberty and democracy paved the way for the V&A Waterfront to be built and for the Convention Centre to take its natural place within the hub of our premier tourist destinations.

Convenco has shown us that South Africans can realise their dreams and aspirations, based on hope and their own abilities as architects, engineers, artisans, caterers, IT and communication specialists, exhibition co-ordinators, and so many other skilled personnel who make up the team which runs the Cape Town International Convention Centre.

The formation of the Convenco operating company and the construction of this state-of-the-art convention centre, epitomises what is at the heart of our government's policy, namely to create conditions for prosperity and development. Indeed, the convention centre represents an optimal partnership bringing together all South Africans regardless of race, gender, creed or disability. I congratulate Ebrahim Rasool and his board for an excellent job.

As government, we have stressed the need for partnerships: partnerships between government and the private sector as well as partnerships with civil society formations and foreign investors with the necessary financial, business and technical ability such as the RAI Group.

Today, in the 21st century, we welcome RAI, a Dutch company, to Cape Town with open arms and in an equal partnership as we trade in a fiercely-competitive global economy. It is very encouraging to learn that with Cape Town's charm and with RAI as a formidable player in the convention industry, the Cape Town ICC has already secured bookings way into 2014.

I am very pleased too that Convenco has played a pivotal role in forging strong and enduring partnerships to promote integration of our diverse communities so that all our people feel a sense of ownership in this new and exciting venture.

At the same time, Convenco has taken the lead by empowering previously-disadvantaged individuals in respect of the creation of jobs as well as economic opportunities. I am told that there was a 40% quota of empowerment contractors and that the electrical contract for the convention centre was worth about R23 million.

The Convention Centre itself has 82 positions of which 79.3% has been staffed by those previously disadvantaged. Yet, it is an inclusive, fair and empowering affirmative action policy, which recruits staff on merit and embraces the expertise of all South African citizens.

One study, conducted by the University of Cape Town's Graduate School of Business, projects that the Convention Centre will create about 47,000 new jobs and bring in R 25 billion to the GDP over a period of ten years.

Ladies and gentlemen;

Today, Convenco has organised a splendid night of celebrations. Once opened, the Convention Centre will begin work in earnest. It will host trade expos and many conferences and conventions. The Cape Town ICC will be a place of entertainment and business for locals.

For our economic growth, it is encouraging to note the number of conferences already scheduled for the Convention Centre. I am told that in the next few years, the Centre will host important conferences on subjects as diverse as the South African Heart Congress, the World Wind Energy Conference, the Digital Film Festival, the 9th Annual Investing in African Mining Conference Indaba and the International Conference on Harmful Algae.

When those delegates come to Cape Town, may they also remember the pioneer doctors, scientists, technologists, and researchers who, through their pioneering work, have made it possible for thousands of heart transplants to be performed routinely around the world today.

When the Wine Farmers and Fruit Growers gather here for their conference this year, may they too pay homage to some now-forgotten black farmers. I think of the Evert family, among the first slaves to be brought to the Cape in 1658 on the Dutch East India Company ship, the Hasselt.

Evert and Anna of Guinea were privately-owned slaves of Commander Jan van Riebeeck and Commander Zacharias Wagenaar. We do not know what their destiny may have been if the Portuguese slave ship which left Grand Popo on the West African Gulf of Guinea (now Benin) had succeeded in bearing its human cargo to South America.

We do know what happened to them after the Portuguese ship was intercepted by the Dutch and they were captured by the Dutch East India Company ship, the Hasselt, and Evert and Anna of Guinea were sold into slavery at the Cape in 1658. They were private domestic slaves to the Commanders at the Fort de Goede Hoop.

But they were later freed from slavery. As a freed slave, Evert was granted a garden not far away from here (near Roeland Street and Tuynhuys) where he grew fruit and vegetables. Later, Evert moved to Stellenbosch as one of its pioneer freed slave farmers but he died soon afterwards.

Evert and Anna's daughter, Maria, was born into slavery at the Fort de Goede Hoop and later became one of the pioneering women farmers of the early 18th century. She is truly one of our most significant heroines who has graced our shores and is the ultimate symbol of triumph over adversity.

In her own right, the slave-born, Maria Everts, was the owner of several farms in Cape Town and along the West Coast. In the early 1700s, Maria tilled the soil and planted vines, fruit trees, corn and raised cattle and sheep just across Table Mountain. In 1713, Maria received the first title deed from the Dutch East India Company to the same farm, later known as the renowned and prestigious Camps Bay, not far away from this Convention Centre.

It was through the enterprise and endurance of Maria Everts' son, Johannes Colijn, which established his family as premier winemakers and exporters in Simon van der Stel's Constantia Valley for nearly 150 years during the 18th and 19th centuries.

This is surely a triumph for descendants of slaves who came in chains and yet epitomise the very role models, which we now seek in re-shaping and renewing our African continent. It is in this spirit that I am confident that this centre will grow from strength to strength.

I am very happy and honoured to open the Cape Town International Convention Centre.

I thank you.

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