- 1994-10-21 (Creation)
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It is always an honour of a very special kind when citizens of a town or city declare that they want to share with another what is so dear to them, the place that is the material fabric of their lives and the community to which they belong.
But the circumstances in which you elected to grant me the freedom of your town makes me cherish the gift even more. For in 1989, neither I nor many of you were citizens in our own country. The privilege which you wished to grant me was one which the law declared was not yours to give, and it was one which the law declared that I could not receive.
Your action was simultaneously an act of defiance and witness to your confidence in the future of our country. The locked gates of Victor Verster prison ensured that I should not emulate your defiance by enjoying the freedom you wished to grant me. But I cherished your honour, as I always will, from the bottom of my heart.
Your confidence in the future has now been vindicated. Your courage and steadfastness of purpose has helped to bring freedom to our country so that I can be here today, at last, to receive the freedom of the town of Tongaat.
Your example has been an inspiration to the Town Council of Tongaat which, on the eve of its dissolution, chose to join you in this celebration. In so doing they are proclaiming that they have broken with the past.
I would like to accept this privilege, if I may, on behalf of all South Africans, for all of us have been freed from the bonds of a system which kept us from one other.
My own association with Tongaat reaches back many decades. During the 1950s I had the privilege of working with Gopalall Hurbans, then President of the Natal Indian Congress. When our leader Chief Albert Luthuli was restricted under a banning order, meetings with him were regularly held nearby. When I was forced to work underground, Tongaat often granted me safe refuge.
Your Civic Association, which is today celebrating its 25th anniversary, was established as a part of that tradition of resistance. It participated in the campaign against the South African Indian Council. It was part of the successful struggle to deny legitimacy to the segregated tricameral parliament, and the Defiance Campaign of 1989 during which you decided to grant me the freedom of your town. Therefore, your decision had its roots in a long tradition of struggle.
We all derive deep pride from the fact that the attainment of democracy in our country has come in a special year, which marks the 125th anniversary of the birth of Mahatma Gandhi. I am also glad to announce that I plan to return to Durban on the 6th of November to celebrate Deepavali with you, so that we can together mark the historic triumph of light over darkness within our own society. We have succeeded in pushing back the frontiers of oppression and repression. Our vision of a free and prosperous nation is now maturing.
Key to our success in building such a society is to ensure that democracy becomes a reality for each and every citizen in every corner of our land.
More than this, the involvement of people in the reconstruction and development of their own communities is critical to the success of the RDP. This is a principle to which we have always been committed and which has been reinforced by our experience with the Presidential Projects with which we launched the RDP. Among the primary weaknesses we have identified in many areas is the absence of legitimate local government structures.
Ensuring that democracy finds expression at every level is therefore amongst our most urgent tasks. In this regard, Tongaat has made a contribution of which it can be proud to the building of a transitional metropolitan authority in this region. We look forward to the successful conclusions of negotiations in this regard and to the early establishment of the Durban Metro Council of which Tongaat, as part of the northern municipality, will be an important component.
The local government elections next year will mark a departure from the past whose historical significance will be comparable to that of the elections in April this year. The government has established a framework for these elections -to take place not later than October, and we have set up a Task Group to ensure that all the necessary preparations for the elections are made within this time- frame.
When l see what a wide range of organisations is represented here today, I am confident that the people of Tongaat have the determination and the political understanding, the enthusiasm and the wealth of experience, which will be needed to meet the challenge of eradicating the divisive legacy of apartheid.
As in most parts of our country, there are great contrasts in the material well-being of those who live in and around Tongaat. We are sure that the political process which is taking place here will be accompanied by another process which sees a more equitable sharing of the great resources you have and the wealth which is produced by all your citizens.
The Tongaat Civic Association has over the years demonstrated its commitment to those values by bringing into its fold communities from the suburbs and the settlement of Hambanathi in a harmonious relationship to confront apartheid. Today you face the challenge of cementing those bonds in pursuit of reconstruction and development, to attain a better life for all.
As a community which is rich in the diversity of its cultures, and harmonious in the manner in which it addressees the problems and challenges which it faces, you have it within your reach to build a future in which poverty and deprivation do not exist alongside wealth.
Such a community would be a microcosm of the vision for which we have all been striving, for which many have paid the supreme sacrifice.
May Tongaat prosper!