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Speech by President Nelson Mandela on Mahatma Gandhi at the conferral of the freedom of Pietermaritzburg

Pietermaritzburg, 25 April 1997

Your Worship the Mayor of Pietermaritzburg;

Your Excellency the High Commissioner for India,

Ladies and gentlemen;

Citizens of Maritzburg,

Today we are righting a century-old wrong. This station, once one of the world's most notorious symbols of discrimination, intolerance and oppression, today proclaims a message of dignity restored.

In contrast to that shameful day, Pietermaritzburg, and indeed South Africa, is sending a message of hope, affirming the noble values espoused by Gandhi. Your action adds force to the national drive to reconciliation, redress and reconstruction.

It is a great privilege for me personally to share in this tribute. Gandhi's magnificent example of personal sacrifice and dedication in the face of oppression was one of his many legacies to our country and to the world. He showed us that it was necessary to brave imprisonment if truth and justice were to triumph over evil. The values of tolerance, mutual respect and unity for which he stood and acted had a profound influence on our liberation movement, and on my own thinking. They inspire us today in our efforts of reconciliation and nation-building.

That legacy extends to methods of struggle and mobilisation for social change. As our people were the agents of their own liberation, defying oppression and deprivation, they are now critical to the programme of reconstruction and development, both as beneficiary and driving force.

Together, government and people can together build a better life on the foundations that the nation has laid in its first two-and-a-half years of democracy.
When municipalities and communities form a partnership in the spirit of Masakhane; when each sector of society joins hands with the police to fight crime and violence; when the private sector and organised labour work together to promote growth and job-opportunities, we all reap the benefits of the unity espoused by Gandhi.

Just as the incident we are commemorating fired Gandhi's resistance to oppression, may today's award inspire us all to join hands to realise our shared vision of a better life for all.

Mr. Mayor,

How wonderful it is that Gandhi's grandson is the High Commissioner for India in South Africa; and that he can be here to day to share this occasion.
Your Council's decision to confer the Freedom on the platform of this station - and to transport us along the route that Gandhi traveled in 1893 - is a fine example of how communities across the land are helping to recover and celebrate our history. I congratulate the Natal Railway Museum, Spoornet and Portnet for making today's historic and significant train ride possible.

I now have the privilege to call upon High Commissioner Gopal-Krishna Gandhi to come forward and receive the Freedom of Pietermaritzburg on behalf of his grandfather.

It is a token of our appreciation of Mahatma Gandhi's enormous contribution to the birth of a New Pietermaritzburg and the New South Africa. It is a token of our gratitude to the people of India who stood by us during the darkest moments in or history.

Issued by: Office of the President

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