Address of the President of South Africa,
Thabo Mbeki, at the Dinner in honour of South African
Olympians and Paralympians: Bryntirion Estate, Tshwane:
11 December 2004
Master of Ceremonies,
Honourable Deputy President Jacob Zuma,
Honourable Ministers and Deputy Ministers,
Your Worship, Mayor of Tshwane, Father Mkhatshwa,
Distinguished Olympians and Paralympians,
President of NOCSA, Sam Ramsamy,
President of DISSA, Peter Goldhawk,
Ladies and gentlemen:
I am delighted to be afforded this honour to address
our sports heroines and heroes who took to the world
stage in Athens. On behalf of the government and all
other fellow South Africans, I warmly welcome you here
tonight to celebrate and rejoice in the Olympic spirit.
Each and every one of our Olympic and Paralympic athletes
has done South Africa proud and we cherish and salute
your supreme athletic ability.
The ancient Games were held in honour of the Greek
God Zeus, whose statue became one of the Seven Wonders
of the Ancient World. Today, all the participating Olympic
and Paralympic athletes have themselves become the wonders
of the Modern World.
For three heart-stopping minutes and 13.17 seconds,
four young compatriots swam their hearts out for South
Africa, registering stunning Olympic and world records.
Roland, Ryk, Lyndon and Darian dared to dream the impossible
dream and taught us that the pursuit of excellence even
by those considered to be underdogs can triumph over
the seemingly invincible.
In later days, the grit, muscle and steely courage
across those sparkling aquamarine waters brought tears
of joy and laughter - as did the prowess of our golden
athletes, Natalie du Toit and Tadgh Slattery, the deft,
elegant throw of Zanele Situ, Nicholas Newman, Michael
Louwrens and Fannie Lombaard, and the extraordinary
sprinting feats of Tebogo Mokgalagadi, Malcolm Pringle
and double-amputee, Oscar Pistorius.
We marvelled at the exhilarating agility of Hestrie
Cloete whose electrifying leaps into the air defy gravity.
We savoured the magical speed of Mbulaeni Mulaudzi.
We were in awe at the endurance and dexterity of a good
number of our Olympians and Paralympians who brought
silver and bronze medals to our country.
We are immensely proud of all these good representatives
of our country. At the same time, to us, each of our
Olympians and Paralympians - from the swimmer, the archer,
the runner, discus, shot put and javelin thrower, the
boxer to the equestrian, the hockey player, the rower,
and weight-lifter - is a victor. You are all our ambassadors.
You are our role models whom our youth aspire to emulate.
You are indeed nation-builders.
Let us celebrate tonight and enjoy the abundant feast
in the time-honoured tradition of Ancient Olympia. And
let us do all this conscious that our participation
in the Olympic and Paralympic Games also contributed
to the striving towards the achievement of the goals
of friendship among the peoples and peace in our common
The ancient Greek Historian, Herodotus, tells us this
"When the Persian Military Officer, Tigranes,
heard that the prize was not money but a crown [of olives],
he could not hold his peace, but cried, 'Good heavens,
Mardonius, what kind of men are these that you have
pitted us against? It is not for money they contend
but for the glory of achievement!"
All of us gathered here tonight should re-affirm our
commitment to the glory of achievement and excellence.
But in order to excel, to train and to live, athletes
need more than our congratulations and blessings.
As government, as business leaders and sports administrators,
let us join hands as social partners and invest, in
material, financial and other terms, in the future of
our young sportswomen and men.
As we advance towards the end of our First Decade of
Democracy none can doubt the giant progress we have
made towards the building of a winning nation. We have
achieved this because the millions of our people voluntarily
and willingly joined together in the common effort to
create the new society we described in our Constitution.
Everyday we criticise ourselves for goals we have not
yet achieved. Sometimes we set ourselves benchmarks
that even countries that have enjoyed democratic rule
for centuries have not yet attained. We become our own
hard taskmasters, even to the point that we fail to
see the glorious victories we have scored as a country
and a people.
We need only look at the violent conflicts that continue
to afflict various countries in Europe, Asia, the Middle
East, Latin America and elsewhere in Africa to appreciate
the significance of our own achievements that forever
ended our own internal conflicts that were claiming
many innocent lives a mere ten years ago and less.
In many parts of the world human beings are killing
one another because of their differences in terms of
race, colour, culture and religion. Because entrenched
prejudices and old grudges make it difficult for them
to live and work together, they choose to destroy those
that these prejudices and grudges define as enemies.
And yet we, who may have become slaves to such entrenched
prejudices and old grudges have chosen another path
- the path of national reconciliation, of national unity
and a shared destiny, respect for the diversity of our
nation and friendship among all our people. That too
is a remarkable achievement in a world that seems prone
to division and conflict within and between nations.
It is true that we continue to face formidable challenges.
One of these is the endemic poverty in which millions
of our people are entrapped. But again I would say -
let us look at the performance of our economy, which
must produce the resources to enable us to extricate
these millions from the intolerable conditions of want
Over the recent past even those most pessimistic about
our future have had no choice but to admit that ours
is one of the best performing economies in the world
today. And we know where we come from - a past in which
the economy was in decline and immersed in a crisis
that spelt a further lowering of the living standards
of all our people.
But today I have no hesitation in saying that our national
wealth will continue to grow and expand, and that we
will meet and surpass the Millennium Development Goals
set by the United Nations for years ago directed at
significantly reducing the global levels of poverty
I make all these observations on this occasion when
we have gathered in a festival to celebrate our achievers
of whom we are immensely proud, to make the statement
that we are entitled to describe ourselves and rejoice
in the fact that we are a Nation of Achievers.
The international community has also sought to acknowledge
this fact in various ways, signalling that our achievements
have an impact that is felt beyond our borders. Within
a matter of a few months:
- FIFA decided that we should host the 2010 Soccer
World Cup, the first African nation to do so;
- The African Union decided that we should be the
home of the Pan African Parliament;
- J.M. Coetzee won the Nobel Prize for Literature;
- Charlize Theron won an Oscar because of her skill
in the performing arts;
- Jackie Selebi, our National Police Commissioner,
was elected President of Interpol, the international
- Mohamed Valli Moosa, our former Minister, was elected
President of the World Conservation Union; and only
a few days ago,
- William Rowland was elected President of the World
Our people have celebrated all these accolades showered
on our country by the nations of the world, in the same
way that they have rejoiced in the achievements we have
scored as we worked on the reconstruction and development
of our country.
But I would dare to say that some of the best and happiest
moments we have shared as a united people during the
last ten years have been when you, our sportsmen and
women, and others involved in other codes, such as soccer,
rugby and cricket, have triumphed as champions.
There can be no doubt but that sport touches the very
soul of our people, unites them and inspires the noblest
of feelings among them and strengthens their confidence
in the certainty of a better for all.
As I have said, I believe that those among us who are
able to produce such beautiful results among our people,
our sportswomen and men, deserve not only our praises,
but also all our support as they labour to excel as
Accordingly, as we begin our Second Decade of Democracy,
perhaps we should set ourselves the goal to create the
best possible conditions within our means, for the millions
of our youth to participate in sport and to develop
their prowess as conquering world champions.
Let our nation give them a real possibility of competing
as equals in the fiercely competitive sporting world.
At the same time, may the spirit of Olympism long continue
where we value excellence and courage and still aspire
to the olive crown.
Ladies and gentleman:
Please rise and join me in a toast to the glory of
achievement and to the spirit of Olympism, and may our
Olympians and Paralympians always be victors!
To our sportsmen and women!
I thank you.