Speech of Deputy President Mr. Thabo Mbeki at the National Assembly on the Occasion of the Debate on the Budget Vote of the Deputy President: Cape Town, 17 May 1996

Madame Speaker,
Honourable Members of the National Assembly:

In the midst of the flurry of daily events at home and abroad, our country continues its evolution away from its dismal colonial and apartheid past, towards its eventual maturity as a peaceful and prosperous non-racial and non-sexist democracy.

Those among us whose comprehension of this historical process is constrained by a stultifying ability to live from day to day, have arrived at the conclusion that whereas yesterday we were an abnormal society, now we have, at last, achieved our normality.


Because we are now able to describe the political, economic and social processes taking place in our country in the same terms and phrases as would be used in any other democracy anywhere else in the world, the view takes hold that what had to be done to move us from an unacceptable past to an acceptable present has been done.

Where our society cries out for fundamental transformation, the temptation to regress into average, routine and "normal" thinking and behaviour threatens the realisation of the truly revolutionary imperatives still facing our country.

As part of that fervent drive towards a comfortable mediocrity, attempts persist to persuade our country to agree to a collective amnesia about our brutish past, to forget that it ever existed so as to be better able to repudiate the challenges from that past which still confront us.


This constitutes an effort to deny the objective reality that the struggle against apartheid continues, that the legacy of that system continues to corrupt our society with the pervasiveness which its originators and enforcers intended and achieved.

It seeks to reinforce the false proposition that the objective of the democratic transformation should be described solely and exclusively by the institution of a universal adult franchise and the use of that franchise to constitute representative institutions of government.

It tries to reduce the change of government that took place two years ago into a mere change of place among competing parties in a stable democracy and not what this momentous event really represented - simultaneously the expression and the beginning of the process of the fundamental reconstruction and development of our country, and therefore the creation of a new social order that would, in particular, be characterised by non-racialism and non-sexism.

It aims to convince us that it was only in politics that the apartheid system was reprehensible and deserving of sustained opposition while the rest should be viewed, treated and changed as part of the normal processes that belong to normal societies.

But what we assert, because we represent a people who continue still to be victims of what some would like to treat as something consigned to the distant past, is that we are not as yet blessed with normality, that the beautiful country of our dreams is still in the process of its birth.


The very configuration of our political parties and formations, which are indispensable vehicles for the expression of the views of the people, itself reflects our collective origin in the apartheid past as well as the fears and aspirations of the constituencies we represent or claim to represent.

Such positive labels as we may attach to ourselves as to who and what we have become will not succeed to disguise the reality that we bear the birthmarks of our parentage.

It is to delude ourselves to pretend that this represents the achievement of a stable normality.


Neither do we dare approach the enormous and persisting racial and gender disparities in income, wealth, opportunity and the management of our country, as expressions of a normal order of things, as normal as social inequalities in any other country are normal.

We are all familiar with the World Bank document on "Key Indicators of Poverty in South Africa" published by the RDP Office in October last year which graphically spells out the extent of this problem.

It indicates for instance that poverty afflicts 65 per cent of the African population while the figure for whites is 0,7 per cent.

With regard to gender disparity, the study has this to say: "While de facto female-headed households have nearly a 70 per cent poverty rate, it is only 43,6 per cent among families with a resident male head."


As part of our common resolve to rebuild our country in conditions of peace and stability, to provide the cement that would bind our people together as South Africans, we have made a serious effort to cultivate a national consensus around the variety of issues that must constitute the foundation stones of the new society we seek to create.

Our President, Nelson Mandela, has sought to encapsulate what we have tried to achieve by calling on the millions of our people to embrace a new patriotism, that common psychological mould which would enable all of us to understand the common good in the same way and to celebrate it together, going far beyond the unity we achieve as we acclaim the victories of our sportswomen and men.

There is need to evolve that new patriotism because as an abnormal society we could never have a common patriotism, because the structural faults of our society continue to impede the fulfilment of the hopes we all share of a better life for all.

But we must ask this of ourselves whether we have moved away from our past to such a degree that we can say that the level of mistrust among ourselves has significantly diminished.

We must ask whether we have been able to break loose from the obligation we carry with us from our past to defend the narrow interests of the particular social group to which we belong.

We must question ourselves as to whether we no longer carry in our consciousness the stereotypes that informed our behaviour in the past. Have we so freed ourselves from all these burdens that we can honestly assess ourselves as fitting contributors to the evolution and entrenchment of the new patriotism.

All these questions arise because we are not yet a normal society and have to continue to address the matter of the elaboration of a common and enduring national vision which many democratic countries, the family we now proudly belong to, take for granted.


It remains still for the great thinkers of our country, with the assistance of the ordinary masses of our people, to lay bare the extent of the widespread malaise of the corruption of public and private morality which infects the entirety of our society.

This will enable us to reinforce the process of the renewal of our society, attending to those spheres of human existence which relate to matters that go beyond the very necessary and urgent improvement of the material conditions of life of the people, but are nevertheless as important, if we are to discharge our historic mission to create a humane society.

What we refer to in this regard are very practical matters. Among them is the obvious disregard for the value of human life in our society, which leads to the unacceptably high incidence of the crimes of murder and culpable homicide, resulting from criminal, political and domestic violence.

When the stories are now told of how murder, carried out by the same organs of state that had the responsibility to guarantee the safety and security of the citizen, was part of deliberate state policy, it may not be so difficult to understand how the corrupt practice began to infect the whole of society.

To this day, our law enforcement agencies have to devote considerable human and material resources to flush out organised murder squads that were set up as a deliberate act of state policy to defend the then status quo.

Those who set up these agencies of death refuse to disclose the identity of their terrible offspring. Satisfied merely to appear to deplore their crimes, they do not hesitate to join the chorus that here we are no longer dealing with an abnormal inheritance born of an unjust society.

The subversion of public and private morality to which we refer also relates to the sustained and so far successful efforts of some among the rich to ensure that they avoid paying taxes and other dues legitimately owing to the democratic state, as well as the fact of the existence of well organised criminal syndicates that exist to defraud and rob private institutions and individuals.

Each one of us can give any number of examples to illustrate the historic corruption of public and private morality sufficient to say that we can claim no normality for our society until the terrible heritage from our past has been addressed.


We also continue to live with a machinery of state in whose midst sit individuals who have no commitment to the new society we seek to build and are everyday engaged in activities that objectively aid the weakening of the democratic order.

The stories that are in the public domain, of criminal behaviour in the system of welfare payments, the collection of public revenues, the functioning of the criminal justice system, the protection of drugs and medicine belonging to the public health system, in the disbursement of salaries and wages and so on, all speak to the reality that we have not as yet achieved the levels of honesty and accountability in our public service that would entitle us to claim normality.


Indeed, if there was further need to argue that we are a society in transition from our apartheid past, we need only refer to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the historic task it has to discharge.

That task is to contribute something real and meaningful to the national effort to bury the demons of the past so that we can reconcile ourselves to a past we cannot forget but which we must both accept as given and forgive.


At an earlier period in our history, we all had to answer the questions whether we were prepared to enter into genuine negotiations to end the agony of apartheid or whether bigotry would condemn our country to an unending and destructive conflict.

Today we have to understand this that our people and history will decide who we are and apportion just tribute to all and sundry depending on what we contribute in real terms and on a sustained basis to the process of the correction of an historic injustice, the continued renewal of our society, to the continuing struggle to create a normal society.


To all this, the government which the ANC heads must make its own contribution. In that, our principal critic will be all evidence of the continued existence of the vestiges of the system of apartheid.

The imperative that will continue to drive us forward will be our concern that we have not done what could be done to free all our people from the consequences of the follies of the past.

At all times we will seek to measure as precisely as is possible the progress that has been achieved, question ourselves as to why we have not succeeded better as well as listen carefully and respond to the judgement of the people themselves.


We remain firmly of the view that the various political forces in our country and all the social groups that constitute the body politic have a continuing responsibility to join together to pursue the project we all initiated, to create a new South Africa.

We will therefore continue the practice we have established, to cultivate inclusive processes in decision making, including the proper interaction with the Honourable Members of this House, the National Economic Development and Labour Council, NEDLAC, and all its component parts as important partners in the making of the new South Africa.


This year and as speedily as possible, we will finalise the formulation of fundamental policy with regard to all the portfolios that fall within the ambit of the national government as well as elaborate the transformation programmes that must derive from those policies.

Among these will be the Growth and Development Strategy designed to ensure the consistent and integrated implementation of the Reconstruction and Development Programme in all its elements.

In this regard, we must re-emphasise the point that this Programme has never been about a limited set of projects intended to begin meeting some of the needs of the people while the rest of government activity attended to business as usual.

The closure of the RDP Office earlier this year sought to end the marginalisation of the process of reconstruction and development and its affirmation as the driving force of all government policy.

The institutions of central government will be strengthened so that it is better able to act as a cohesive unit, while taking advantage of the certainty introduced by the adoption of our new Constitution, properly to structure the relations between the three tiers of government.

In this context, the Presidency will therefore co-ordinate economic policy and supervise the implementation of programmes aimed at addressing the emancipation of women, the rights of the child, youth development and the empowerment of the disabled.

It will monitor the progress of the transformation project by, inter alia, retaining the capacity to measure the levels of poverty.

We will revisit the Masakhane Campaign and strive to ensure the engagement of the organisations of the people and the organs of civil society in organising the popular masses directly to engage themselves in the struggle for reconstruction and development.


More immediately, our country as a whole has a responsibility to ensure that the local government elections this month in the Western Cape and next month in KwaZulu-Natal take place in conditions which are conducive to an outcome which the people will judge as fair and legitimate.

The government will do everything in its power to ensure such an outcome, without seeking to favour or disadvantage any of the participants in these contests.

With regard to KwaZulu-Natal, we urge the Presidential Task Group to play its proper role to help facilitate the creation of conditions conducive to free and fair elections.


During this coming week, on behalf of our region of Southern Africa, we will be hosting in this city a conference of the World Economic Forum, which will be attended, among others, by the Heads of State of the countries of Southern Africa.

I am certain that this important international gathering will be as successful as the latest two that our country and government were honoured to host, these being UNCTAD IX and the Information Society and Development Conference.

I mention these events to pay tribute to the Ministers, the Deputy Ministers and the members of the public service who committed themselves so totally to the success of these events which, unintentionally, also provided an opportunity to a critical and prescient international community to judge who we and what we are capable of, two years after our emancipation.

That we passed the test with flying colours, without pleading special consideration, constitutes an affirmation that in our struggle for transformation, we have established a firm beachhead from which to continue our offensive for the renewal of our society.

I also mention these national successes also to make the plea to those who have the means to inform the masses of the people about what is happening that they too have the possibility to play their part in our continuing transition from abnormality to normality by, at least, not blacking and censoring out of sight and hearing these events and processes which are the motive force of the new society that is being born.


The rest of us have to do what we have to do. All else that must be judged we must surrender to the gods in the exercise of their infinite wisdom. Thank you.

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