Item 1245 - President Nelson Mandela's Speech at the Deepavali Celebration at the Hare Krishna Temple

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ZA COM MR-S-1245


President Nelson Mandela's Speech at the Deepavali Celebration at the Hare Krishna Temple


  • 1994-11-06 (Creation)

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Transcription of speech made by Mr Mandela

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(18 July 1918-5 December 2013)

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Migrated from the Nelson Mandela Speeches Database (Sep-2018).

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  • English

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When a community comes together to celebrate the values and the traditions by which it defines its unique character, the moment is a truly sacred one. It is a great joy for me to share with you the celebration of Deepavali.

Deepavali, more than any other Hindu festival, captures the key symbolism of Hinduism. This year's celebration is especially relevant to our country. We have emerged from the darkness of apartheid to the light of liberation, peace and non-racialism.

According to Hindu mythology, the night before the new moon, the night through which Sri Rama returned to India from Lanka is the darkest of all nights. When he arrived, the people lit lamps as a spontaneous gesture to celebrate the dawn of a new and prosperous era. Here in South Africa we have, all of us, suffered the darkest hour under apartheid and today we take our place in the sunshine of the world community as a free and united South African nation.

Another message of Deepavali is that truth will always triumph over falsehood. We have for decades experienced the deception of apartheid which decreed that separation and division be the order of the day. As a nation we have overcome this lie. We are now entering an era of openness, transparency and freedom of knowledge.

However for the truth to emerge fully we need to come to terms with the past and uncover the falsehoods which still obscure it. Only then can we have deep and lasting reconciliation. It is with this perspective that the Government has agreed to proceed with the Bill for the Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation which will lead to the establishment of a Truth Commission.

Truth also means the flowering of knowledge. Knowledge is central to empowering people to develop to their full potential. Our education system is undergoing transformation so that the full potential of all our youth, and not just some, may be developed.

Deepavali holds for us the message of sharing, compassion and equality. The Reconstruction and Development Programme has become one of the foundations on which our national consensus is built. It involves the transformation of our society and the ways in which our national wealth is used. It seeks to bring about a better life for all, and especially to address the poverty and deprivation which apartheid imposed on millions of South Africans.

I do understand that the changes which I speak of are ones which hold both promise and anxiety.

Affirmative action is a policy which awakens these feelings. It is a policy which will right old wrongs, not create new ones. It will open opportunities, not close them. Its objective is to ensure that all those who were held back by apartheid - principally African, Indian and Coloured people - can catch up and contribute, to their fullest potential, to the building of a new society. If, as sometimes happens, people are refused employment or opportunities and are told that it is because of government policy only to employ or advance Africans, that is not true. It is a distortion of government and ANC policy.

Some of these anxieties led many in the Indian community in this province to break with their rich history and to support parties which thrived on division, on fear and mistrust of the ANC.

In exercising their democratic right to vote for any party in this way, they were swayed by fear of the future that was rooted in the apartheid past. It was a past in which our country's people were divided into groups, and in which the smaller groups created by this division were instilled with fear of the African majority. The suspicions were nurtured for political gain by those with nothing to offer but the politics of fear.

There has been an attempt to revive those feelings only weeks ago, through a gross misrepresentation of what I said at Tongaat. Such campaigns have even less foundation now than they had before the election. Perhaps that incident shows the danger in the new South Africa that those parties which cling to the past will seize on the flimsiest straw to try to stay afloat.

Six months beyond the elections, prophecies of disaster, of conflict and tension, suppression and intolerance, have been confounded. Predictions that the miracle of the elections would soon fade and that reconciliation would come to a sharp end, have turned out wrong as often as they have been pronounced.

With those six months behind us, people are in a position to make a more realistic and freer assessment. We are confident that as the light of knowledge conquers the darkness of ignorance, the benefits of the new era for peace and prosperity, freedom and tolerance, will be clear.

We are one nation of many cultures and religions. No community or religion has anything to fear from non- racialism and democracy. On the contrary. All communities and religions now enjoy equal respect, without preference. Never in South Africa's history has the festival of Deepavali been so widely acknowledged and admired as in this first year of our new democracy. No longer need communities, in affirming their identity, feel themselves in conflict with or separated from the rest of society.

These changes are the marks of the transformation through which our society is going. Deep and radical as the changes must be, they pose no threat to any community. Survival through change is one of the most profound messages of Hinduism which we can take from this festival.

The spirit of freedom and peace which was embodied in the Natal Indian Congress as an intrepid opponent of oppression and injustice lives on. Forced by the constraints of apartheid to work for a century through a political organization restricted to one community, it is now infused in the larger body politic, a component of the creative energy which is working to make our country one from which oppression, hunger and deprivation are banished.

Members of the Indian community, forced by apartheid to count themselves part of a minority, are now free to become part of the majority. Exercise that freedom. Reject the past. Join hands for a better life. As the Hindu scriptures say:
We are what our deep, driving desire is. As our desire is, so is our will.
As our will is, so is our deed.
As our deed is, so is our destiny.

In truth, the destiny of the Hindu community is a better life for all. We are one South African nation united in one common destiny. Let this central thought guide our deeds in our urgent task of building this new society.

A happy Deepavali and a prosperous New Year to you all!

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Acquisition method: Hardcopy ; Source: ANC Archives, Office of the ANC President, Nelson Mandela Papers, University of Fort Hare. Accessioned on 21/01/2010 by Zintle Bambata




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