Item 484 - Notes for opening remarks by President Nelson Mandela at a meeting with the Defence Command Cadre

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Notes for opening remarks by President Nelson Mandela at a meeting with the Defence Command Cadre


  • 1997-06-25 (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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ANC Website

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Meeting of the Defence Command Cadre

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  • English

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Paragraph beginning: "I welcomed proposals for this meeting with enthusiasm because I wishes to meet you not so much as a distant supervisor; but as part of you; as your Commander-in-Chief. And from the very beginning,"
Changes made: "wishes" changed to "wished"



Minister Modise;
Chief of the Defence Force, and Secretary of Defence;

Heads of the Service Arms;

Officers and compatriots.


I wish to thank the Minister, his deputy and all the officers present here for this opportunity to exchange views on current challenges facing our national defence force. It is always a pleasure to meet men and women who have identified their own personal interests with those of the nation; men and women, in peace-time and in war, prepared to sacrifice for the benefit of South Africa.

I welcomed proposals for this meeting with enthusiasm because I wished to meet you not so much as a distant supervisor; but as part of you; as your Commander-in-Chief. And from the very beginning, I wish to assure you of my fullest support, and the support of government, in your endeavours to promote and protect the interests of the nation.

Natuurlik is ons in 'n oorgangsproses betreffende die skepping van daardie nuwe nasie. Maar ek is vol vertroue oor die rol wat die Nasionale Weermag speel om die nuwe nasionale identiteit te bou; en om dit te bevorder, te beskerm en te verdedig. Daar is by my geen twyfel nie, dat ons op pad is on 'n ware Suid-Afrikaanse Weermag te bou.


Of late the SANDF has been in the public spotlight for one reason or another. The crisis in Zaire and the Great Lakes Region, our budget process and various other issues have further raised the profile of the SANDF. The debate over the allocation of resources to a peace-time force is raging once again. It centres around the primary role of the SANDF as defender and protector of South Africa's sovereignty. It is a complex question that affects much broader issues like technological advancement and employment; deterrence and requisite resources.

These events, however, in no way ever publicise the real efforts of the SANDF's to contribute to reconstruction and development. Everybody knows for instance, that the Navy played an important role in the regional attempts to bring peace to Zaire by hosting the negotiators. But do people know of the navy's crucial role in protecting our marine resources? Or its courageous rescue missions together with the air force? Or the role of the air force in disaster relief and humanitarian missions? Or how the army has deployed 8,000 regular force troops to support police operations in the battle against crime and violence? Or how members are deployed at the border to combat smuggling and gun-running? Or the part that the Medical Services plays in assisting the Health Department's National Inoculation Programme?

These efforts all deserve praise and encouragement because outside of the department's primary function to defend and protect South Africa's territorial integrity, they show a willingness to contribute in every way possible to the reconstruction of our country. They show commitment to the ideals of our new nation.


Recent events in Central Africa have made the issue of our preparedness for peace-keeping a priority concern which requires defence force. It was clear then, as the conflict in Zaire intensified, that inaction would have meant terrible consequences for our own region and country.

All our efforts at reconstruction and development for our people will be futile if all around us there is instability and strife. It is therefore imperative that we are ready and able when we are called upon to play a meaningful role in promoting peace in our neighbourhood. And I wish to take this opportunity to thank the SANDF for the contribution you made to the efforts to find peace in Zaire as well as the on-going efforts in Angola.

The reports I have received about the contribution you are making to joint efforts of SADC to prepare for peace-keeping functions are very impressive indeed. From Operation Blue Hungwe; the facilities you are offering in our training camps here; the bilateral discussions and agreements with our neighbours - all these and more speak of a new force which enjoys legitimacy beyond our borders because it is maturing to play its role in striving for a better region and a better continent.


But such legitimacy derives above all from the confidence that South Africans have in an institution that is striving to transform itself to meet the demands of the new age. The process that culminated in the adoption of the Defence White paper helped the SANDF to more clearly define itself within the context of our new democracy. In the process, we were able to set out a new doctrine for a new defence force: as the sword and shield of the nation; as a partner to our neighbours; as an important back-up to the efforts of the police to ensure the safety and security of all citizens.

It is heartening that the Defence Review process which followed this has proceeded without major hitches. All parties and interest groups have come to a common understanding of the defence needs of the country, including broadly the issues of personnel and equipment. Indeed, as your most able salesmen, the Minister and Deputy-Minister, have aptly said, the issue is not so much one of either bread or guns: it is one of acquiring both in the kind of combination that takes into account the total needs of the country and its people.

Within cabinet and at all other levels of government, this principle is keenly appreciated. What we are all striving to do, is to creatively find the resources necessary to achieve that balance: a balance that will guarantee the long-term survival and development of all arms of service. The resources are few; but we shall not shirk our responsibility to this precious asset to our nation.


Significant progress has been made in other areas of transformation; and you should always have the confidence that you have our full support. Examining the figures regarding the composition of the officer corps, in terms of the involvement of blacks and women, gives one the satisfaction that we are on the right track.

Of course the question does arise whether our plans in this regard do take the longer-term view into account; whether we are doing enough to promote defence force service within the black communities; whether we are doing enough to attract young people from schools and universities who will take the force into the new millennium! I am confident that these are questions which are engaging your minds.

In the process of such transformation, we also need to address the question of how best to utilise the skills that reside in the force. I am informed, for instance, that 10 generals are to leave the SANDF this year alone. Of course, each case would need to be examined on its own merits. But I should emphasise that we would not like to see experienced people, with invaluable skills and qualifications taking severance packages in droves. Indeed, where this is unavoidable, it should be a result of thorough discussion, and it should not have the consequence of undermining the country's defence needs.

I should also emphasise that we expect all our officers, men and women to be committed to transformation. On the part of former statutory forces, we should consciously assist one another in dealing with previous stereotypes and with resistance to change. On the part of the non-statutory forces, we should mature to accept the discipline and rigour of life in a regular force. All of us should accept the challenges of change; and we should resist temptations to cower at the slightest sign of problems. Transformation is a difficult undertaking; and it is a protracted one.


At least now, after the White Paper and Defence Review processes, we can say with confidence that a measure of certainty has set in in our work. The next few months will be difficult ones as we endeavour to put all the decisions taken into practice. But the framework is there; broad consensus has been achieved; and in you, we have men and women who have both the skills and bravery to meet difficult challenges.

I once more thank you for this opportunity; and wish to assure you of our admiration and support. We value your work immensely. You are our pride.

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Acquisition method: From website ; Source: ANC Website. Accessioned on 04/12/06 by Helen Joannides




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