Item 1511 - Address to the International Ombudsman Institute

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ZA COM MR-S-1511


Address to the International Ombudsman Institute


  • 2000-01-01 - 2000-12-31 (2000)

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Transcription of speech made by Mr Mandela

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Migrated from the Nelson Mandela Speeches Database (Sep-2018).

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  • English

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Chairperson, Advocate Baqwa
President of the International Ombudsman Institute
Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen

Thank you very much for the invitation to participate in an event so crucial to giving substance to the development of democracy here in our country, region and continent. The matters that are being canvassed and discussed at this conference are of central importance to the health and life of any democracy; they have particular relevance to newly established, emergent and developing democracies.

We on this continent - and I speak with direct knowledge of my own country - are emerging from a protracted period of profound disruption and perversion of the ancient traditions, customs and conventions of popular participation we once knew. We have, in a real sense, to start anew in resurrecting and reconstructing rule by the people and for the people.

In the very short period of our new democracy, the Office of the Public Protector as enshrined in our Constitution, has already established itself alongside some other statutory bodies as major guarantors of the sustainability of democracy in this country. There are historical reasons located in the nature of our liberation movement and struggle that make us confident about the future of democracy. That faith has been validated and borne out in these last six years by the manner in which the Public Protector and related bodies have conducted themselves.

It is for that reason that I feel so particularly honoured to be part of these proceedings.

I have frequently made the statement that I have seen countries without the conventional organs of popular representation caring in the needs of its populace to a much greater extent than some who pride themselves on the existence of such institutions. These statements never questioned the primary importance of such popular organs for democracy; what they did was to emphasise and remind us that democracy was more than the right to vote periodically. The masses of people in the world sought to feel a tangible difference being made to their ordinary, everyday lives.

In South Africa, like in many parts of the developing world, the substantive difference people seek to feel from the advent of democracy and political freedom, is the alleviation of poverty and material deprivation. We do the long-term future of democracy a profound disfavour and we are unfaithful to the dreams we pursued in our liberation and democratic struggles, if we do not make the realisation of a better life for all the central objective of our new democracies.

The delivery of those services and conditions that would constitute a sustainable improvement in the quality of life of the masses of citizens is a long-term process and something that cannot be achieved overnight. Any government in a developing country with limited resources and a history of deliberate underdevelopment making rash promises about immediate delivery would be foolish and irresponsible. Our experience has been that the people - those on whose behalf we govern and who trusted to put us in government - can in turn be trusted to have the wisdom of understanding the process nature of delivery.

In the run up to our first democratic elections in 1994, and again last year, we went to the electorate making clear and explaining that three centuries of oppression, discrimination and deliberate underdevelopment would not be undone in a short time. Even those basic services that are taken for granted in many parts of the world would not be deliverable to all or most of the population in the five years of a government's lifespan. We never doubted that if we were honest with the people they would show understanding and exercise the patience as the economy was being reconstructed and grown.

No government, however, has the right to demand unconditional patience and acceptance of non-delivery from the people. The patience and understanding asked of the electorate can only be as part of a transparent and intelligible pact. The people must have a clear understanding of the process that will lead to that eventual delivery, and they must be sure that they all the time have not only the theoretical rights, but also the concrete means and mechanisms to express their concerns and have them acted upon. We hope that it is as part of such an understanding that we could get the agreement of our electorate to walk that path of development with its elected representatives.

It is in this regard that we are so strongly reminded that good governance is not an abstract procedural matter, but part of the substantive quality of life issues of the people. Those critics who sometimes claim that nothing has changed for ordinary South Africans because the economic conditions have not altered as rapidly as we would have wished, invariably lose out of sight how tangible and real the advent of good governance had been to the average citizen. Civil liberties cannot compensate for an empty stomach, but the recourse to law and the protection against abuse are exactly there for the poor and vulnerable.

Even the most benevolent of governments are made up of people with all the propensities for human failings. The rule of law as we understand it, consists in the set of conventions and arrangements that ensure that it is not left to the whims of individual rulers to decide on what is good for the populace. The administrative conduct of government and authorities are subject to the scrutiny of independent organs. This is an essential element of good governance that we have sought to have built into our new constitutional order.

As essential part of that constitutional architecture are those state institutions supporting constitutional democracy. Amongst those are the Public Protector, the Human Rights Commission, the Auditor-General, the Independent Electoral Commission, the Commission for Gender Equality, the Constitutional Court and others.

It was to me never reason for irritation but rather a source of comfort when these bodies were asked to adjudicate on actions of my government and Office and judged against it. One of the first judgements of our Constitutional Court, for example, found that I as President administratively acted in a manner they would not condone. From that judgement my government and I drew reassurance that the ordinary citizens of our country would be protected against abuse, no matter from which quarters it would emanate. Similarly, the Public Protector had on more that one occasion been required to adjudicate in such matters.

I return to my initial remarks that democracy in our circumstances must deliver a better life for all the people, particularly the poor and the vulnerable. We do know too how exploitable the poor and vulnerable are by those that seek power for their own benefit rather than for those they are supposed to represent. It is for that reason that independent organs of oversight of government are such crucial aspects of that better life of ordinary citizens.

It is one of the more encouraging aspects of contemporary developments on the African continent that there is this growing trend towards democratisation. We have had sufficient experience of the way rulers had abused power to the cruel detriment of the people. The promotion, consolidation and long term protection of those developing democracies can only be enhanced by the institutionalisation of these supportive organs of constitutional democracy.

We thank you most sincerely for meeting here in our country and on our continent. This can only serve to advance that march towards a situation where the people shall truly govern, secure in the knowledge that they are protected by the rule of law.

I thank you.

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Acquisition method: Hardcopy ; Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation. Accessioned on 16/02/2010 by Zintle Bambata




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