Bill Clinton photo

Remarks at a Church Service in Soweto, South Africa

March 29, 1998

Thank you, Father, Bishop, Mrs. Mathlata; to all of my friends in the American delegation, our Ambassador, the South African Ambassador; to the AME bishops getting a little instruction in Roman Catholicism today. Reverend Jackson, thank you for your prayer. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for making Hillary and me and our entire group from America feel so very welcome.

And especially, I want to thank the children. Now, we're about to leave South Africa, and we're going to the airport. And maybe we'll be like the birds; we can fly. [Laughter] It takes a little more to get me in the air. [Laughter] But we're going to practice that.

I am profoundly honored to be in this great house of God, which is also a great shrine of freedom, for it was here that you and people before you gathered to stand for the freedom of the people of South Africa when it was denied you. I came to South Africa, first, to thank God you have your freedom now, to thank God for the life and work of President Mandela and so many others, known and unknown, who walked the long road for so many years so that the people of this great nation might be free. But also I came here resolved to work with the people of South Africa as a friend and a partner, to help you make the most of your freedom. It is one thing to be free, and another thing to do the right thing with your freedom.

Yesterday evening we dedicated a commerce center here to try to help bring American investment here, to create jobs for the people of South Africa, and to have more trade between our two countries. The center was named after our former Secretary of Commerce, the late Ron Brown. He wanted to help South Africa make the most of its freedom.

And when I looked at the children singing today and I saw the children throughout this beautiful church, I was reminded that I think the lasting image I will take away from all my stops in Africa are the faces of the children, the light in their eyes, the spring in their step, the intelligence of their questions to me, the beauty of their voices. More than anything else, it is important that we help them make the most of your freedom, with better schools and better health care and more housing and safer streets and a brighter future.

A couple of years ago the United States had the honor of hosting the Olympics. And on the last day of the Olympics, the first black South African ever to win a gold medal won a gold medal—Josia Thugwane. Now, it is so fitting that your first gold medal came in what event? The marathon. Your fight for freedom was a marathon, not a sprint. People who train for the marathon say when you get almost to the end, about 80 percent of the way, the pain is so great many people quit, and you have to keep working to go through to the end. It takes a long time to run a marathon.

The fight to make the most of your freedom, to do the right things with your freedom, to give your children the right future with your freedom, that, too, will be a marathon. But we want to run that race with you.

And so, as I leave South Africa, I would leave you with one verse of Scripture that has throughout my working life been one of the very most important to me. When you are discouraged, when you are frustrated, when you are angry, when you wonder whether you can make the most of your freedom for these children, remember what St. Paul said to the Galatians: "Let us not grow weary in doing good. For in due season, we shall reap if we do not lose heart."

God bless you. Keep your heart.

NOTE: The President spoke at 10:37 a.m. at Regina Mundi Catholic Church. In his remarks, he referred to Father Mohlomi Remigius Makobane, pastor of the church; retired Bishop Gerard Ndlovu; Beatrice Mathlata, chair, parish council; U.S. Ambassador to South Africa James A. Joseph; and South African Ambassador to the U.S. Franklin Sonn.

William J. Clinton, Remarks at a Church Service in Soweto, South Africa Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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