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Ladies and Gentlemen
And particularly, the new scholarship recipients
As always, it gives me great pride when I am introduced to so many gifted and worthy South Africans, young people who are committed to making a positive contribution to the reconstruction, development and transformation of our society.
That you were chosen for the scholarship award that you are to receive tonight bears testimony to your hard work, intelligence and determination to succeed. The award recognises that you have demonstrated that your quest for self-improvement goes beyond considerations of the self; you have convinced us that you take seriously the development of your country and of communities.
As I urge you to continue putting broader community and national service high on your personal agenda, I must also hasten to add that you can only make a contribution if you take your own achievements and success very seriously. Celebrate yourself and savour your achievements; and then put your skills, capacity and knowledge at the disposal of your country’s development.
I have had the privilege of meeting and talking with you, the Nelson Mandela Scholars, over the years. I have a deep sense of anticipation, looking forward to see and experience the rich harvest that our combined efforts will yield for the development of this country of ours.
You, the alumni from previous years and the new recipients of this evening, have had much invested in you. Your sponsors, Unilever and Deloitte Consulting, have financially committed themselves with a generosity that words cannot give sufficient credit. And you must know how much expectation we all have invested in you.
There are those that wonder why this old man would not just go and sit down and be totally retired as somebody of his age is supposed to be. The answer is that much as I yearn for the peace and quiet of my village in the Transkei, one realises that there is still so much to be done and that the effort of every individual, including eighty-five year olds like me, is required to help build that better life for all of which we speak.
We have come a long way as a nation. The miracle of our peaceful transition to democracy when so many predicted racial bloodshed and carnage, is celebrated across the world. We enter ten years of democracy, marked by political stability and a constitutional order that is the envy of the world. Our economy is being managed in a manner that once more confounded all the prophets of doom.
Still, the road ahead stretches before us. We can be sure of obstacles, small and large, on that road. An eighty-five year old can do so much to help us advance on that road; in the end, though, it is you – the youth – who hold the future of our country in your hands.
As you, the new scholarship recipients, prepare to depart for your year ahead, know that we look to you to be ambassadors for your country – in the manner that you conduct yourselves as examples of what South Africa represents and in the way you deal with and correct some of the misconceptions about your country.
Part of the potential greatness of this country resides in the manner in which we identify, acknowledge and talk about the problems and challenges we face. Some say that it is our weakness that we are so transparent and publicly frank about those problems. I have had first-hand experience of fellow heads of state or government admitting that they face those same problems but without it being dealt with as publicly as we do. I think, however, that we must continue to openly examine ourselves but without badmouthing our own.
HIV/AIDS, poverty, unemployment, and unacceptable levels of crime: these are some of the major issues facing us in national life. But we talk about it openly and we look for solutions. And slowly we can show the advances we are making in tackling these and other issues.
The scholarships of which you are the recipients bear my name. I am humbled by that honour. I accepted that honour years ago in the knowledge that the South African youth studying on those scholarships will redeem the reputation of an old jailbird. Seeing you perform in our name, people may very well think of us in more positive terms. So you see: you carry the responsibility of conducting yourselves in such a manner that the name of Mandela may be restored in some honour!
Go well. Do well.
Build our country so that we eighty-five years old can say that the future of our land is safely in the hands of our youth.
I thank you.