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
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.
NORMALITY AND ABNORMALITY
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
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
THE STRUGGLE CONTINUES
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
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 POLITICAL CONFIGURATION
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
It is to delude ourselves to pretend that this represents
the achievement of a stable normality.
RACIAL AND GENDER DISPARITIES
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."
A NEW PATRIOTISM
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
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.
PUBLIC AND PRIVATE MORALITY
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
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.
THE PUBLIC SERVICE
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.
TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION COMMISSION
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.
THE COLLECTIVE CHALLENGE
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.
WHAT DRIVES GOVERNMENT
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
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
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.
LOCAL GOVERNMENT ELECTIONS
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
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.