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ANC Progressive Business Forum (PBF) centenary book donation to the National Library of South Africa (NLSA)

30 July 2014, Pretoria

(On 30 July 2014, the ANC`s Progressive Business Forum donated 300 centenary books to the National Library of South Africa, who will distribute the books to libraries across the country. The Treasurer-General of the ANC, Dr Zweli Mkhize, presented the books to Prof Rocky MD Ralebipi-Simela, Chief Executive Officer and National Librarian of the NLSA.)

Programme director, Prof Rocky Ralebipi-Simela and other members of the NLSA board, PBF convenor Daryl Swanepoel, members of the media and the various departments that are present here today - thank you very much and good afternoon.

May I reiterate our appreciation for Prof Ralebipi-Simale and the NLSA`s willingness to partner with the African National Congress in distributing this particular book. We believe this is a significant step in taking to the people of South Africa the information that rightfully belongs to them. Although the donation of the 300 books is what we could do under the circumstances, we realise that the need is much, much greater. For that reason, we particularly appreciate the NLSA`s undertaking to digitalise the book, thereby making it available to many more libraries so that more students and more readers can access it.

Indeed, the centenary book in itself is a very interesting publication. In compiling it, however, a couple of other volumes were also commissioned. Some of those looked at archival material, interviews with people who were part of the immediate past struggle, and the evolution of many of the events that we read about here. Those volumes are each about three times the size of this and about 100 times richer in terms of content. They are not easy to publish nor easy to replicate. Still, they represent wealthy sources of information that no library should be without.

At the same time, however, we know that much more work still needs to be done. Every country, every civilisation is driven by new knowledge and new information. When a country is not able to absorb, reproduce and generate knowledge and information, it becomes uncompetitive and gets left behind. Its economy, its general quality of life and its levels of civilisation or development are retarded by its lack of information.

So, we believe it is important for us to encourage South Africans, both young and old, to read and build a culture of reading, absorbing information and going all out to look for new knowledge. As a democracy, we would have no meaning unless people have enough knowledge and information to exercise their newly won freedom. Having freedom without the ability to process the available information and make the necessary judgements based on that, means that our democracy is insecure. For that reason, education is regarded as a fundamental tool to safeguard our democracy, and it is an honour for the ANC to be able to partner with the NLSA as one way of contributing to a sound source and strong distributor of educational knowledge.

What strikes me most about the NLSA staff is their passion - their passion for information as well as their passion for history. As you know, visiting libraries in our country was a privilege that for many years belonged to white people only, which is why history is not at the top of everyone`s list of favourite subjects today. However, what the NLSA staff understand is that, through publications such as this one, we should indeed make history general knowledge in all sorts of education - whether you are in administration, politics, technical training, engineering or medicine. It is impossible to serve people sufficiently without having a sense of where they come from and how you can assist in taking them forward. And that is precisely why we have made the effort to share the information in this centenary book - so that we can understand who we are, where we come from and where we are going; so that the future we want for ourselves can be based on an understanding of our past.

The story of South Africa is a fascinating one, as is the story of the African National Congress. To the extent that the book talks about the leaders of the ANC, we need to understand that these leaders were part of the evolution of our struggle in a particular period. One cannot read the history without understanding the circumstances of the time. As we all know, the problem with our history, as it had been taught for many years, was its distortion, bias and one-sidedness. But as the title of this book, “Unity in diversity”, says, this publication is about how South Africans are South Africans despite coming from all sorts of different ancestry.

We were humbled when the late former President Nelson Mandela in his last will and testament allocated a portion of his estate to the ANC to disseminate information about the founding values of the African National Congress, as these values are not about a party, but about a society. They include values such as selflessness, humility, hard work, respect and service to humanity. Peace, democracy and human rights - these values distinguish South Africans from many other nations, because these values were what drove the revolution of our country. Therefore, it is important for everybody to understand those values, not only as we look back, but also as we look forward. As we look ahead, we now know that these are the values that we all share; this is our common heritage; we may not have come from the same geographical location, but now that we are all here, this is what binds us.

Of course, what you see in Palestine could very easily have been the case in South Africa. Many of us were ready to rebel. Had there been no Mandela, no Sisulu, none of the other leaders, South Africa would not have been where we are today. For that reason, it is important to say: Madiba may have gone, Sisulu may have gone, Tambo may have gone, Mahabane may have gone, but they left us an inheritance that we dare not lose as South Africans. We tend to get side-tracked by the focus of the current media - immediate issues, sensational issues - and lose sight of the richness of our heritage.

I believe that, in these 20 years of democracy, a lot should have been said about where we come from. For example, Simon van der Stel is regarded as a type of father for the Afrikaner people; the town of Stellenbosch was even named after him. Then, one day, I read the history, only to discover that the man was neither Dutch nor Afrikaner. He was a coloured man in the nature of South African description. He was Mauritian, with a Dutch father and an Indian mother. The same can be said about the movement of Africans on the continent. One day, I was meeting with the governor of Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. So, I was whispering to my colleagues in my vernacular Zulu, saying we have a delegation of brothers from the DRC … and the governor stands up, laughs and says: “Aaa, you`re talking about us?” Our language roots appeared to be the same. Clearly, because of the propaganda of separation, we often see ourselves as very different people, who can actually go to war against each other on the basis of being separate and distinctly different. It is only once we get to know our history that we realise how much we have in common. Because culture and tradition are practised geographically instead of ancestrally and genealogically, people would move from here to there, change their culture and look as if they are a separate group. For that reason, if you were to go around among South Africans and trace back people`s histories, we should not be talking about racial purity; we should be talking about what being South African is and what we have in common that takes us forward as a country.

But that which South Africa is today is not solely the product of a South African struggle, but the product of a human fight for freedom and democracy. Many more people than just South Africans got involved. Numerous stories about South Africa can be told by people in Mozambique, Angola, Nigeria and other parts of the world, and are often more authentic than what we as South Africans can relate or prove. For instance, when I met with a foreign minister of Algeria, I was surprised to hear that the room in which the late former President Nelson Mandela slept back in 1962 had been preserved since then. President Kikwete of Tanzania, in turn, brought a lady to Madiba`s funeral who said that Madiba had used her house when he travelled to Tanzania. This lady kept Madiba`s boots and training uniform for the duration of his incarceration. In the same vein, we met with a company one day who wanted to do a major project on King Shaka.

They requested material on the Zulu king and, to our astonishment; we had to get the material from London. Today, many of the stories about South Africa are only available if you go to other countries - they have preserved a lot of our material much better than South Africans have themselves. Worst still are the stories about how South Africa has become the country that it is today - very few of us can actually tell the story or, for example, explain why many of our public holidays exist.

So, in a way, this centenary book is a mere contribution; a kind of appetiser, if you will. It reminds us to encourage South Africans to write and get to know our real story. Some stories today will remain untold because the people who knew about them had left this world without telling them. Other stories people are still not ready to tell to this day. Many people you would want to interview about the history of our country will break down even before you start talking about it. Some people have left and died, without ever telling their stories. I will always remember the story about one of the fellows who used to command the Vlakteplaas operation. He was a major, who, when he was asked to show where the bodies of MK members and others had been dumped, what else had happened there, and so on, he just said: “A lot of this I will have to take with me to the grave.” And he was dying of cancer. And yes, certainly, there are stories that even people who exist today cannot talk about because of the trauma associated with our history.

The question we need to ask ourselves is this: When will our children begin to appreciate the depth of sacrifice that had to be made to give birth to this country and this democracy if we do not start telling the story of our freedom? Very soon, we may find our democracy at risk, simply because those who are growing up do not know that they are travelling a road that has been travelled before. They should be told, so that they do not go there again. They need knowledge and information.

Therefore, if there is only one thing you take from this event today, I hope it will be a passion for our story and a passion to share it. Go out there and tell people what a wonderful diverse country we have. It is a model that very few countries in the world understand, which is why it continues to inspire so many. Let us not lose focus. Read about it, write about it, distribute knowledge about it; share all the values and the lessons that are part of it, but most of all, be a part of it. It is our responsibility to take the country forward - we should not disappoint those who paved the way for us. Much like in a relay race, we must take over from those who went before us, improve on what they achieved, and move towards victory.

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