Item 554 - Reply by President Nelson Mandela to the debate on his address to Parliament

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Reply by President Nelson Mandela to the debate on his address to Parliament


  • 1998-02-12 (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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Reply to debate on opening address

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  • English

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Madame Speaker and Deputy Speaker,
Honourable Members,

The six hours which this House was afforded to review the state of our nation may seem a short time for such a task.

This is all the more so when after three and a half years of democratic government the transformation of our society is gathering pace; when the enormity of some of the challenges is making itself felt; and when the complexities of change lend themselves less and less to rhetoric and simple prescriptions.

But, as ever, our people's elected representatives from all parties distinguished themselves by the seriousness with which they take their responsibility for the nation's welfare.

Contrary to the laws of nature, age does not seem to have dimmed the vigour of debate. Rather it has lent it an even more robust quality in this last sitting but one of our first democratically elected Parliament. Could it be that the prospect of the second democratic election is the elixir of youth!

It was an inspiration to hear representatives of different regions of our land recount in concrete terms the impact of the government's programmes on the lives of the people who live there. It was a fitting assertion of who we are and what we are about. Indeed, as we establish the national framework and instruments for change, we must more and more express the feelings, anxieties and aspirations of especially the most vulnerable members of our society.

These accounts brought to mind the visits to our provinces which I have been privileged to make. During these visits - and I intend to conduct more of them this year - I was able to see for myself the progress being made in some of the multitude of projects that are changing the face of our land; to observe the practical workings of co-operative governance; to experience the involvement of communities in their own upliftment; and to feel the spirit of nation-building and reconciliation that is most powerful amongst the ordinary people of all communities. Above all I was able to hear from the people themselves of the progress and difficulties they experience.

We are encouraged by this because it lies at the heart of our mandate. Our constitution enjoins us to work together to address the legacy of our divided and oppressive past. In a society in which so many were condemned to a life of poverty, the meeting of their basic needs must be the standard by which we measure our progress. It should be the standard for government and the Opposition alike; it should be the foundation of our national consensus, of our New Patriotism.

To meet those needs will take many years. That is something we have always emphasised, in particular in our consultations with communities through People's Fora and other means.

Clean water, electricity, primary health care and telephones are amenities which have long been denied to the majority of South Africans. Therefore we do take great pride in the impact that democracy is beginning to make in the people's lives.

When some parties only grudgingly acknowledge these changes and suggest that they are not real issues, they reveal how much they are out of touch and how far removed they are from the lives and aspirations of South Africans. When they declare that government lacks focus, it can only be because their own thoughts are not focused on the needs of the majority of their compatriots. These needs are many and varied; and they reflect the fact that everything is wrong with the structure of the society we inherited.

That is one aspect of the distressing tendency I noted in my opening address: for parties, again typically, to align themselves according to their historical relationship to the system whose legacy we are busy transforming. In the debate we also saw much of another aspect of that same tendency - and that is the attempt to elevate each difficulty and challenge acknowledged by government into a national crisis, an imminent disaster or a spiralling out of control.

If signs were needed of the extent to which such an approach is out of tune with popular sentiment it is to be found even in the media assessment of the opening address. Amidst the confusion created by such parties, the media response across the country was broadly positive. There were qualifications and reservations where they did not agree; and they stated where they were not convinced. But the overall judgement on the government's record and programme was complimentary, precisely because there is a growing appreciation of the things that really matter to the majority - a trend we hope will continue.

We also noted that the ordinary members of some opposition parties rose higher in the debate than their leaders. And this once more reinforces our conviction that there are good men and women in all communities and parties - men and women who approach problems from the point of view of the interests of the country as a whole.

It was only natural that much of the debate of the past two days focused on some of the greatest challenges we face, including crime; education and job-creation.

These matters are of concern to the whole country and they are high on government's agenda. We appreciate the constructive comments that were made during the course of the debate.

It is also only too natural that the Opposition focuses so heavily - indeed almost exclusively - on these issues, issues that they declare to be 'crises' demanding new policies and measures. For, is it not to be expected for those who lack any policies of their own to be restless in their demand for "new policies"; for those who have no alternatives of their own to sit in the shade of the growing trees waiting for the sound of a falling tree so they can declare, "crisis" in its wake!

The reality is that the government's policies are the most relevant ones for the country and we are making progress in their implementation. We do encounter difficulties and in some instances setbacks. But such is the nature of the mammoth revolution we are engaged in.

Central to this revolution is the task of changing the structure of South African society. Among others: to raise standards in the context of serving all the people, not just a few; to approach efficiency from the point of view of bettering the lives of the poor, not just the rich; to attain competence as part of the process of deepening our freedom, not the competence of oppression. Thus we shall build a real South Africa, not the parody evoked by those who hanker for an artificial life of privilege.

Madame Speaker;

When it comes to crime, all South Africans are agreed that it is at an unacceptable level in this country.

And none, I am sure, would deny that the problem has deep roots in a system that bequeathed to democratic South Africa a legacy that included grinding poverty for most of our compatriots; a justice system developed primarily for the suppression of political resistance and which therefore had no legitimacy; and a police force that lacked the skills needed for the task of maintaining the safety and security of a democratic society. Our social morality was left in tatters, manifested partly in the corruption that riddled our justice system.

None of us would deny, as TRC and court evidence is now showing, that part of the security network of the apartheid state combined its suppression of the people with activities that put it in league with the crime syndicates.

These are the basics to which, in the case of crime, we should return, the better to measure the impact of our policies.

Slowly but surely we are making headway. The National Crime Prevention Strategy is improving the effectiveness of, and co-ordination among, all the departments concerned, including the intelligence services. Never before have South Africans been so united in their determination to fight crime, and with the help of the public, the message is beginning to get through, that crime does not pay.

Of course, as members of the public, our experience of crime is often as victims or as friends or relatives of victims, and as consumers of media which, more often than not, highlight sensational incidents rather than reveal broad trends. And so national statistics are of little comfort.

But as government, as leaders of political parties, as members of the media who have access to broader patterns, we have the responsibility wherever we can, to reflect the patterns. In this way, we can sharpen our drive against crime. We can arm the public better to assist the police.

Unlike some Honourable Members to my left, we have confidence in the South African Police Service: in its statistics and its capacity to resolve problems that it faces.

These statistics show that the overall rate of crime has fallen. We do not draw attention to these figures to say the job has been done. There are localities that go against the national trend. The level of crime is still far too high. We do so because it reflects our resolve to continue the fight. And, is it not surprising that there are political leaders who seem unhappy at the progress being made!

Of course certain crimes, and in particular those that most directly reflect on our ravaged social morality such as rape and serious assault, have shown an increase in the rates of reported incidents. We trust that this partly reflects on the greater confidence of our communities in the police service.

We are building on the success of the high density operations carried out last year with the co-operation of the army. As a result of these operations, in the rural areas in particular, the farmers themselves agree that the situation has improved.

As we succeed in one area or type of crime, the criminals seek ever more desperate and sensational methods to ply their trade - but no-one can have failed to notice the increasing regularity with which the high-profile criminal incidents are followed by high-profile arrests.

But when all is said and done, we have to appreciate that there is no quick-fix solution to a problem of such depth, whether it be the blood-lust in the call for the death penalty or the lawlessness of vigilantism.

The same combination of co-ordination, strategic determination and public involvement is needed in our fight against HIV/AIDS. Government is launching a new phase in this campaign, building on the awareness of the problem that has been generated so far and seeking now to change behaviour on a national scale.

This requires such mobilisation and partnership of all sectors of society as South Africa has never seen before. Honourable Members will not need to be persuaded of the urgency of turning the tide of this epidemic, and we know that you will leave no stone unturned to add strength to this initiative.

As several Members observed, education is critical to the future of our country. It was therefore right to put before the House some of the difficulties that have been encountered. And in this matter, as in others, we need to remind ourselves of the basics.

We must provide South African children with an education that equips them to play their part as citizens of a democracy and to produce the things that society and our trading partners need.

But we also know that in order to achieve our goal we had to transform one of the world's most disastrous education systems and repair the damage it had done.

When we are asked to compare the matric pass-rate of 1988 with that of 1997, conveniently no mention is made of the kind of education we had a decade ago - to put it mildly, a second-rate education and second-rate matrics. It requires the most gross insensitivity to indignities heaped upon African, Indian and Coloured children to evoke the education system which most people of this country are only too glad to have left behind.

We can say with confidence that having integrated the education system, having initiated a partnership of parents, teachers, pupils and the community; we are now in a strong position to make lasting improvements.

We are confident too that the testing problems of the last year in new provincial budget allocations will be overcome. With the introduction of multi-year budgeting and a better understanding of management deficiencies, we must this year eliminate the weaknesses.

That includes the late delivery of text-books. There is no reason that text-books should not be in the schools where they are required within seven days of the start of the school-term, and that must become the target for next year.

It includes also the vexed question of employment of teachers. As the Honourable Minister of Education so clearly explained yesterday, the resolve of the government, and of myself personally, is that everything should be done to avoid retrenchments of teachers whilst children anywhere in South Africa needed their services.

Thus far we have avoided what was always regarded as a last resort. For the past weeks, teachers organisations, provincial administrations and the national department have been in urgent discussions to find ways of ensuring that the contracts of as many of our temporary teachers as possible do not lapse. For us, it is a matter of principle that none of our children should be without a teacher.

Madame Speaker;

We need once more to go back to the basics with regard to the de-racialisation of South African society. And we should start off by reiterating that this task constitutes the central mission of this government. The constitution enjoins us to build a non-racial and equitable society. This should therefore be the central pillar of our national consensus.

If all individuals are to have equality of opportunity and if our nation is to benefit from the talents and creativity of all its people, then the consequences of the barriers imposed in the past must be removed and those who were left behind must be allowed to catch up.

When women are designated as the beneficiaries of these policies, we hear no protestations that sexist notions of the past are being introduced. When we seek to ensure that doors closed to the disabled are opened, no charges of prejudice in reverse are made.

Far from re-introducing the bizarre distinctions of our racist past, our policies take their cue from those whom apartheid classified as inferior beings - Coloured, Indian and African - and who today cry out to be unshackled from the chains of that system. These communities know that April 1994 was the beginning and not the end of a transformation yet to occur.

Contrary to the disdainful assumptions of some Honourable Members, these communities are not satisfied with holding the flag of freedom whilst opportunities and the resources of the country are held by others. They demand a place in South Africa's sun.

In the consultations and negotiations that will finalise the Employment Equity Bill, this is the principle that should guide us to start correcting the real injustices that are the legacy of our past. This will strengthen our economy, administration and intellectual life; precisely because women, the disabled, Africans, Coloureds and Indians have a lot to offer the nation as equals.

The experience in procurement reform, for instance, is encouraging. Out of over 3,400 contracts awarded by the Department of Public Works since August 1996, more than 40%, with a value of R400 million were awarded to firms with a Previously Disadvantaged Individual Equity, compared with only 5% before 1994. And the additional financial cost, expected to be over 10%, was in fact only 1,2%. In short, the policy has opened up a sector of our national life to the advantage of all.

We hope that, in time, all of us will start appreciating the worth of each South African; that friends to my left will desist from saying:

Yes to Affirmative Action: as long as it does not correct the effects of past wrongs;

Yes to uplifting the conditions of the poor: but only if it costs me nothing;

Yes to Voluntary Service: but for others;

Yes to the New Patriotism: but only if it preserves the old;

Yes to Truth and Reconciliation: but not if it means revealing what I know of the past.

Such a refrain repeated often enough begins to unsettle the meanings of words, as happened in the old days when the Abolition of Passes Act and Extension of Universities Act meant in fact the introduction of oppressive policies.

Reconciliation, like corrective action, is part and parcel of the consensus that underpinned the negotiations through which we brought the new order into being.

We do therefore have difficulty in understanding the unremitting hostility that is expressed from some of the Opposition benches towards the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. We never thought that striving for a shared account of our history would be an easy task. And indeed there has been much pain. But for anyone to go into a state of denial; to celebrate the weaknesses of the TRC process hoping as a result to delegitimize its essence, is to bury one's head in the sand. For the past will not go away. Like a nightmare, it will come back to haunt those who hide it.

Honourable Members;

One of the benefits of our freedom is the steady stream of visiting dignitaries who have been the guests of this House. Consistently they have expressed appreciation for what we have achieved in these few years. Among other things they praise the progress we have made in reconciling a nation once locked in bitter and destructive conflict, and many have hailed our Truth and Reconciliation Commission as a model for the world.

One cannot help asking whether some of our Opposition parties are not busy isolating themselves not only from the majority of their fellow South Africans, but from the world and from many of those they claim to represent.

For, the more they seek to turn any of our communities into passive critics, the more they will get isolated even from this constituency; and the more will they find themselves competing for a dwindling base of die-hards, as greater numbers of South Africans across the racial divide join hands to become part of a society being reborn, of a continent in renaissance.

It would be a great misfortune for our nation were any section to feel genuinely, that they are losers in the creation of our new nation. There are, we know, genuine anxieties, and they merit attention. But we do not believe that those who compete with each other to advertise their parties as the answer to those anxieties, truly reflect those they claim to speak for.

We do know that Afrikaans-speakers are active in every sphere of our national life; they are adherents of every party; and the rights they prize are protected in our constitution, with the necessary means of redress should these rights be infringed. The Commission for the Promotion of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities - which should be set up as soon as possible - is one such mechanism of redress.

What we need as we approach the fifth year of freedom, is to become a nation rich in the diversity of its culture and opinions, but united in its resolve to relieve that poverty that still blights the lives of the majority. That can only be achieved by a systematic and thoroughgoing transformation of the social structure and of ways of thinking which all of us acquired from the system in which we were formed.

We note with appreciation that the idea of voluntary service in this cause is gaining ground, not through any compulsion or guilt. But because the progress we have made has shown that working together in practical ways is indeed the path to a better life for all South Africans.

In its contradictory ways, this debate has taken us closer to that ideal. And as we reflect on its significance, let us get down to work, so that next year we can celebrate even greater progress in achieving a better life for all.

A million trees and more are in full bloom. Let us nurture them.

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




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