Joint sitting debate to congratulate Team South Africa on its performance at the 2012 London Paralympic Games by Mr Fikile April Mbalula (MP), Minister of Sport and Recreation South Africa

16 October 2012

Speaker of the National Assembly (NA); Honourable Mr Max Sisulu;
Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces (NCOP), Honourable Mninwa J Mahlangu;
His Excellencies, the President of the Republic, President Zuma and Deputy President Kgalema Montlante;
Chief Whips of the Majority Party in the NA and NCOP, Honourable Mathole Motshega and Ms Nosipho Ntwanambi;
Premiers and MECs present here today;
Honourable Members of Parliament (MPs);
The SASCOC leadership and Administrators

All Sports Federations and athletes present here this afternoon;

Honourable Speaker of the National Assembly and Honourable Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces, thank you very much for hosting our Paralympic Team with the same hospitality and honour you recently bestowed on our Olympic Team.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to dedicate this speech to one of our own, the daughter of the soil, Natalie du Toit and all our sportspersons with disabilities for her and their sterling work into putting the sport for people with disabilities high on the agenda of the sport and Olympic movement in the world. I would like to particularly pay a fitting tribute to Natalie for her colossal contribution to the life of sport for people with disabilities in South Africa and the world over.

Natalie du Toit, an offspring of a white South African working class family took to the waters at the age of nine winning all the events that she competed in. She was involved in a tragic accident in 2001 at a tender age of 17 years after starting her promising international swimming career at the age of 14 years. However, this tragic accident in one of the demonic days in Cape Towndid not dampen here spirit. She soldiered on until she performed exceedingly well in the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester, and set the world record by winning both the multi-disability 50m freestyle and the multi-disability 100m freestyle swimming events. She won the David Dixon Award at these games. Since then she did not give up. Her confidence and never-die-attitude kept going until she made a mark in the world of swimming by winning a gold medal in the 800m able-bodied freestyle swimming event at the All-Africa Games. Pumped up with such energy, Natalie represented South Africa at all the Paralympic Games winning more medals for South Africa and became our Flag Bearer at the 2008 Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony. She announced her retirement at the beginning of the 2012 London Paralympic Games in August before grabbing five (medals) at the games.

I would like to take this opportunity to quote from the poem-like words of an unknown author who wrote to pay his tribute to Natalie du Toit and all our people with disabilities in sport when he said:

"O! Little Mermaid, why are you in tears?"
"They told me that I would not be able to swim".

"A saga of a mermaid whose soul sang for the water; whose only dream was to travel those waves. A dark shadow swept that dream away, mutilated that soul. But like in the Danish writer, Hans Christian Andersen`s "The Little Mermaid", this mermaid found her calling; HER SPIRIT! Natalie du Toit, is someone who is an example to many. She is the definition of RESILIENCE. She is GUTS GLORY, GUMPTION, GRIT, GRACE, AND GREATNESS. She is what ENIGMA and LEGENDS are made of".

She prides herself and the country with 13 paralympic gold medals in her paralympic career which dates back to the 2004 Athens Paralympic Games. When preparing to take her 13th paralympic gold medal in the 2012London games she had this to say:

"Hopefully, I won`t cry, but I`m going to give it everything".

Yes, like all our 2012 Paralympians, you did not cry but you have given it everything. Well done! The country is proud of you. Thank you very much!

We are specifically impressed by the performance of the `Mother of Waters`, Natalie du Toit, the `Blade Runner` Oscar Pistorius, Shaun the `Gentle Giant` of South African swimming pools, Illse `The Flier` Hayes for winning a gold in the women`s F13 long jump, Tebogo Mokgalagadi who grabbed silver in 100m T35; not forgetting Hilton Langenhoven for his majestic silver medal in men`s 400m T12 and the 52 years old Michael `Father of our South African Paralympic Team` Lauwrens who has made our vision of both an active and winning nation a living reality, with Fanie van der Merwe winning gold in the T12 100m, our South African `Roller-Coster Golden Boys` in the men`s 4x100m relay team lead by the `quick-jumper` Samkelo Radebe, followed by Zivan Smith, Arnu Fourie and Oscar Pistorius who set a new record in 41.78 seconds at the games when setting the stadium alight as they exchanged batons in a form of an arm tap to glory.

Let us also send equal thanks to Kevin Paul for winning silver in the S9 100m breaststroke, and Anrune Liebenberg for bagging silver in the T46 400m race as well as Shireen Sapiro for maintaining an African record, Dyan Buis for winning the two silvers and a bronze medal setting a new world record in his class with a leap of 6.48m, as well as Jonathan Ntutu for winning the men`s 100m T13 bronze medal including Union Sekailwe for bagging bronze in the 400m race, and many more who made this years` event an exceptional one for South Africa.

All our Paralympians warranted a special place in the hearts of every South African. They embrace the spirit of no surrender. They have taught all humankind never to give up. They have definitely brought joy and fulfillment in many living rooms of the Republic. You have filled all our people with hope. We are particularly impressed by the majestic performance by all our Paralympians in the 2012 Paralympic Games. We believe by virtue of you qualifying for this year`s paralympic games and also taking part in the games you are all the winners. You are all winners because you have made South Africa a proud and winning nation. To those of you who did not make it, we say don`t give up. Soldier on!

When you left the shores of the Republic on 21 August 2012 you promised the country to bring back home many medals. You kept your promise, as usual, by bringing back home 29 medals. Your campaign in the 2012 London Paralympic Games has been a resounding success. You have brought back home 8 gold, 12 silver and 9 bronze. We know that lack of gold is the only thing that made us to languish at 17th world rankings. We also know that other nations only dream of winning, but,South Africa makes it happen, we are indeed a winning nation.

In Sepedi they say "Kodumela moepathutse ga go lehumo le le tswago kgauswi" – which means hard work always yield good results.

Your performance reached high proportions as the bar at the 2012 London Paralympic Games was higher and challenging than the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games and other tournaments before that. The bar was very high and challenging because in the 2012 Paralympic Games, competitiveness and professionalism was the name of the game and all the nations went to London with the soul aim to win and be counted among the winning nations of the world.

Today, South Africa and her people raise her flags and banners in a fitting tribute to you all for your immense sacrifice and colossal contribution during the 2012 London Paralympic Games. Well done. We are proud of you.

Indeed, it is true that "Olympics is where Champions are Made; but Paralympics is Where Champions Compete". We are saying this filled with exuberance and protuberance in form and spirit exhibited by all our Paralympians in the field of play. We are also rejuvenated by their attitude of `forward ever; backward never`.

For that matter I have announced on the 8th September 2012 whilst in London of my intention to increase the medal bonuses of all our Paralympians. Their bonuses were increased to equal those of our able-bodied athletes. This intervention was not an afterthought; it is based on the recognition and rewarding of the triumph of human spirit. It is equal recognition of achievement and excellence. We know that money can`t buy love; but we reward all our athletes for work well done! I have made this announcement based on the principle of equality and with the conviction that "anything less will be equal to discriminating against our sports people with disabilities". These warriors have done exceptionally well in the 2012 Paralympic Games and they have out played the medal table of our Olympians during the 2012 London Games. They deserve better. They deserve to get the same rewards as their counterparts in the able-bodied sports, finish and klaar.

`Umuntu ngu muntu ngabantu; motho ke motho kabatho`.

The heroics of Oscar Pistorius in winning the 400m final on the track at the 2012 Paralympics has ensured that our national flag was hoisted the highest and our anthem was the last to be sung in the majestic London Olympic stadium.

Honourable Members, indeed, the year 2012 has been the year of joy and glory for the Republic of South Africa. It has been a happiest year for the sporting fraternity in our country. In 2012 alone South Africa has conquered many sporting and recreational frontiers in foreign and domestic sporting fronts.

We are gathered here this afternoon to add on these happiest moments in the history of sport in South Africa. We are assembled here to officially welcome and congratulate Team South Africa especially our Paralympians who represented South Africa with pride at the 2012 London Paralympic Games. We want to say to each one of them that you have made our country proud. South Africa loves you. The nation is proud of you. Thank you very much for your endeavors.

Abantu bonke elizweni bayasazi isingqi se- Afrika. Bade bathi zisina, zixhentsa kamnandi iintombi nabafana base-mzantsi.

Let us all acknowledge the immense sacrifices made by our unsung heroes and heroines, the coaches, who always spend sleepless nights preparing our athletes for the battles ahead. I want to pay a special tribute to all of them for their sterling work against all odds. Our country and people are proud of you.

Honourable Members I end by re-stating our commitment together with SASCOC to prepare a comprehensive report on the assessment of our performance at the recent London 2012 Paralympic and Olympic Games with a view to draw lessons from this experience for future competitions. We do so in order to ensure that in the next Olympics and Paralympic Games in Brazil we have a well balanced, representative and highly competitive Team South Africa. That comprehensive report will be presented to the house early next year.

Nkosi Sikelela i-Afrika!

Morena boloka sechaba sa Heso!

God Bless Suid Afrika!

Uit die blou van onse Hemel!

Thank you very much.