Item 1349 - Closing Address by President Nelson Mandela to the National Assembly : President's Budget Vote

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ZA COM MR-S-1349


Closing Address by President Nelson Mandela to the National Assembly : President's Budget Vote


  • 1997-04-16 (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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President's Budget Vote

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  • English

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Madame Speaker;
Honourable Members;
Ladies and Gentlemen.

After a refreshing exchange of views yesterday afternoon, it is a humbling task for one to make the closing remarks.

The opinions expressed once more underlined the mammoth responsibility on the President, and the Presidency in general, to play a leading role in managing government to fulfil its task of reshaping society.

We therefore appreciate the consensus reached about the budget allocated to the President's Office, and indeed the welcome proposal by one of the speakers that perhaps that budget should be increased. The positive response to this proposal that I seem to have discerned in the smile of the Minister of Finance, was heartening.

But I wish to assure this House that we shall endeavour all we can to make do with what has been allocated, in the spirit of frugality that current realities demand.

More than ever before, the opinions of the various parties in this august assembly were characterised by constructive criticism. We all want to see South Africa succeed. Even if it may not be obvious to each and everyone of us, we all have an objective interest in achieving a stable, secure and prosperous society.

Many of the speakers presented proposals for implementation; and the executive shall not hesitate to examine them in order to improve our work. Perhaps it is not the role of the opposition to do so; for are they not supposed merely to revel in the weaknesses and failures of the incumbents!

But, Madame Speaker, ours is a different and special kind of relationship. Because, in the first instance, the historic change that South Africa underwent in 1994, was not just a change of government. It was a change of a political system - a revolutionary breakthrough after centuries of colonial domination.

And for many years to come, the primary preoccupation of all those who owe allegiance to the new order - which I believe applies to all parties in this chamber - will be how to improve the fledgling democracy that we have together established; how to ensure that it is reflective of the needs of society; how together to defend it; and indeed with pride to proclaim our loyalty to the constitution; to proclaim from the mountain-tops our South Africanness.

It is natural, therefore, that the character of our debates will not be so much about policy as about how to implement it effectively. And this in part reflects the fact that this government has got the best policies to make South Africa succeed in building a better life for all.

Yet precisely because we are not yet out of the woods, conceptual issues about the nature of our democracy and its meaning to various sectors of our divided society will always come to the fore, the better to fashion a system and a national mind-set that should be characteristic of true new South Africans.

For this reason, I will be quite specific in dealing with some of the issues placed before this House.

The first of these relates to our constitution and the nature of our parliamentary system. A question was posed by a number of speakers about the right of Honourable Members to change allegiances.

I fully concur that this issue should continue to engage our minds.

However, at times, a question as fundamental as this one is raised with the bravado that suggests a calculation based on partisan gain: that in party boardrooms, we should assess how our party can benefit from poaching, and then change the constitution to suit that objective.

I do not think that this was the aim of those who posed this question during the debate. They were, I believe, motivated by the desire to ensure greater accountability to the electorate, and greater participation of this electorate in shaping, on a continuous basis, the permutations in our legislatures.

This is a legitimate concern; because we cannot claim that the system we have is the most ideal. Personally, I have posed this question more than once to my party and its constitutional experts.

But we will all do well to remember the debates that we had during negotiations about the best system to ensure that smallest' parties are represented in the legislatures; about the thresholds required to ensure the kind of inclusiveness that we now have.

Thus in deciding on the current proportional representation list system, we also inherited its weaknesses in terms of accountability to the electorate.

What we shall need to continue debating, as we agreed when the current constitution was adopted, is whether to change, in time, to a constituency-based system; whether to combine both; or to continue with the status quo but with individuals elected on party lists having the freedom, when dissatisfied for one reason or the other, to cross the floor.

From the narrow partisan perspective, few parties should fear any of these options. Discussion should continue. And the abiding consideration should be what is best, in the first instance, for the citizens in our young democracy.

Related to this, Honourable Members, is the desire, proclaimed or otherwise, by a number of parties to break the racial mould in the voting patterns of our country. This is a welcome endeavour which we hope will contribute to the deracialisation of our society, a fundamental element of the transformation that we pursue. What does such de-racialisation mean in actual practice?

It means that we must improve the conditions of the poor, the majority of whom are black - so that we should not have a South Africa in which the ownership of wealth, the spatial demography of communities, and positions of power and influence in the public and private sectors, are delineated according to race or language group.

It means that we should all recognise that South Africa belongs to all who live in it; and ensure that this finds expression in the distribution of land and resources.

It means that we should work for the success of an educational system that spreads resources equitably across communities and provinces so that all our children are provided the best that South Africa can offer.

It means that we should have a national policy, as well as a public broadcaster, that recognises equity among all languages without the privileges of the past.

It means these and many other things that are at the core of our Reconstruction and Development Programme. These principles are at the pinnacle of the ANC's approach to the transformation of South African society; and they have been so for decades.

It is therefore a contradiction in terms for anyone to seek to protect privileges of a by-gone era in education, in land distribution, in the employment of blacks and women in management positions in the public and private sectors, in the distribution of wealth, in the status of languages, to wash one's hands of the mistakes of the past - in brief, to seek to perpetuate apartheid relations - and at the same time pretend that one is keen to unite South Africans across divisions of the past.

Madame Speaker;

A number of matters were raised pertaining to crime, affirmative action and reconciliation which deserve brief attention.

Running like a thread through all of them is what I would characterise as the challenge of changing our mind-sets and consolidating the new patriotism.

Few will argue with the assertion that South Africa has taken great strides in pulling itself out of the quagmire of racial conflagration. That is what our political achievements are about. That is what our economic miracle-in-the-making means.

Yet a mind-set creeps into our discourse that suggests that some of us are given to throwing up our hands in despair at the slightest sign of problems; as if fundamental transformation would come overnight.

Thus we have suggestions, on the vexed issue Of crime that the President can wave a magic wand and the problems will disappear. Thus we have exaggerated statements that we are failing to uphold, defend and respect the constitution.

Is it surprising then, that perceptions are taking root, that constituencies that such speakers claim to represent seize on such statements to defy court rulings and continue to mobilise for a rates boycott; that they attempt to break the law in a campaign for the reinstatement of the death penalty; that they behave in a manner that undermines the national public broadcaster - in other words, the perception that communities which hardly raised 'a finger during the darkest days of our history, are today mobilising to challenge the legitimacy and legality of a government that is not only democratically elected, but a government, too, that seeks to address the common problems the country faces!

When we opened this debate and at the beginning of this session of parliament, we acknowledged without equivocation that the government needs urgently to address problems of capacity, skills and management in the public service, including the criminal justice system. This the government is doing in a systematic and professional manner.

The task teams that have been sent to the provinces have already started to correct the weaknesses that exist at this level. Programmes are under way, including appropriate legislation, to address constraints in local government. At national level, new systems to assess performance on the basis of service delivery are being put in place. And, along with these measures, the restructuring of the service to reflect the demographics of the country is proceeding apace.

This is what is required to deal with these problems; because the essence of the weaknesses which we have acknowledged lies not merely in technical competence, but in the orientation to serve the public in earnest.

The apartheid public service was neither trained nor tasked to do this. It is therefore preposterous to suggest that the departure of some of these employees necessarily means that standards will drop; least of all that the employment of blacks and women automatically means lack of qualification and therefore a harbinger of disaster. Indeed, dare we ask: what standards, and in whose service!

We do place a high premium on training and developing capacity. But in a country which recently had eleven different administrations with scant regard for the national interest - a system lacking verifiable statistics and largely hidden from public view - what is happening is quite the opposite of a deterioration in financial administration.

There is no magic wand to rectify the problems we face. And we should avoid, in our thinking and discourse, the tendency to pronounce imminent doom, in the face of obstacles in our way. Change - fundamental change - requires a long hard slog; and we will go through the tortuous paths of difficulties before we reach the mountain-tops of our desires.

Honourable Members;

Our government will not waver from the course of reconciliation that is at the root of our political transition.

Such reconciliation means that we must seek to understand one another's concerns and anxieties. We must understand the basic reasons of the conflict of the past and strive to root them out. We must be sensitive to the concerns about language, cultural and religious rights of communities, as indeed we do in the constitution, and seek to accommodate them in our day-to-day life. I was therefore glad to hear that the consultations on language policy in education are bearing fruit, in search of solutions that will protect community rights without fencing in privilege. My door will always be open to assist in this regard, and in relation to any other such problems.

But reconciliation also means that leaders should lead by example in acknowledging mistakes of the past and committing themselves to prevent their repetition. Indeed, brave men and women of the current age will be found at the forefront of reconciliation efforts; assisting the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and not holding back their supporters from taking part in its work, or abandoning those who served under them.

A related question was raised with regard to informers who served the apartheid government, in the ranks of the majority party. Were the issue not so serious, one would have ignored it as cheap, callous and petty party politicking.

But I wish merely to warn, especially members of the previous government, who are in fact responsible for this and who refuse to come clean, that allegations of this nature can cause great distress to individuals and their families. This is a matter that was literally one of life and death to those who were involved in struggle.

Leaders of the former government should know better that this is a terrain that lends itself to destructive disinformation campaigns. And they will be well aware that it relates not only to this or the other party, but touches all parties and all sectors of society, including the media. In any case, within the context of broader South African society, the root of all treachery was theirs.

We would all do better to leave these matters to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and at least to those that are honest enough to act when and where necessary and appropriate.

Once again, comments were made about relations between the majority party and its allies. We do not apologise for struggling together against apartheid and for working together today to improve the lives of especially the poor.

There is a general tendency to approach reconciliation merely in racial and language terms. In fact, the task of reconciliation also means bringing together, in one shared polity, different forces and allowing their voice to be heard. It means recognising the sacrifices of millions of poor people, at the same time as we accommodate those who directly or by proxy perpetuated apartheid.

It behoves us all to be both humble and generous in this regard. Among those that suffered for the new South Africa, and among those at the forefront of its reconstruction, we acknowledge millions of workers, worker-leaders and communists.

For any of us, especially those who benefited from apartheid, to seek to marginalise these forces, suggests that we want the fruits of change to accrue to us at the expense of those who struggled for it.

We do appreciate that during the course of the debate, many of the parties acknowledged the successes that this government is making in meeting the basic needs of the people.

Indeed, wherever we go, people do raise problems with the speed of change; but all of them are grateful for the efforts that government is making to correct centuries of deprivation. And they are ready to play their part. In the clinics that have been built, in the fresh, clean water to which they now have access, in the light of electricity connections, and in the opportunities for better education, health facilities, sports amenities, improved social welfare and other services, the poor know that freedom means more than the vote.

I wish once more to assure members of the public that this government is steadfast in its commitment to deal with crime. As I indicated in the opening address to this debate, a joint high density anti-crime operation began on Monday, with members of the defence force deployed in all nine provinces in support of the police. Within the framework of the National Crime Prevention Strategy, they are targeting priority problems such as gang-related violence in the Western Cape, illegal firearms in KwaZulu/Natal and organised crime in Gauteng.

Questions were also raised about the relationship between the Minister of Safety and Security and the Commissioner of Police. Rather than exacerbate such problems through uninformed public comments, responsible leaders will acknowledge the difficulties and then seek ways of resolving them. The Minister and the Commissioner are men of the highest integrity and ability, which is why we found them fit for such appointments in the first place. Those who wish to assist in the task of combating crime will contribute to the resolution of this problem rather than celebrating its existence.

Madame Speaker and Honourable Members;

We have raised some of the problems frankly, precisely because we know that the questions raised, the praises rendered and the criticisms offered, were part of a robust debate meant to build a better democracy, a better society.

They were raised because all of us have confidence that the government is dead serious about mobilising the South African nation to build this into a country of our dreams.

We are aware that the praises rendered to the President were meant to encourage him in his work; and that the suggestion that he can do this on his own, without the able collective in cabinet and in the majority party were in jest!

For, I remain steadfast in my conviction that in all parties, among all communities, in every sphere of life, we have a great collective of leaders of all race groups, good men and women who are capable of seizing the challenge of the moment.

Yet again: the foundation for us to succeed has been laid; and the clarion call is: Forward ever!

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Acquisition method: Hardcopy ; Source: ANC Archives, Office of the ANC President, Nelson Mandela Papers, University of Fort Hare. Accessioned on 27/01/2010 by Zintle Bambata




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