Speech of Deputy President Thabo Mbeki, at the National Assembly During the Debate on Budget Vote No. 2

10 JUNE 1997.

Madame Speaker, Honourable Members of the National Assembly: During the year 1987, some of us who are members of this House were privileged to meet a group of Afrikaners in places that seemed, then, to be far away from home. As the Honourable Members will remember, when that delegation returned home, it was welcomed back with such venomous hostility by the then apartheid regime that we feared for the very lives of these erstwhile visitors to West Africa. And yet the only crime which these white and mainly Afrikaner compatriots had committed, was that they had engaged other South Africans, who happened to be in exile, in an extensive debate about how to bring about democracy and peace to our then deeply troubled country.

One year before, in 1986, this being one of the events which led to the "Dakar process" which sought to encourage all of us as South Africans, to contribute to the elaboration of a common definition of the "new South Africa", Prof Frederick van Zyl Slabbert had resigned his leadership of the Progressive Federal Party as well as his seat in the tri-cameral parliament, arguing that to stay on in that institution would merely serve to lend it legitimacy. Recognising the historic importance of this decisive break with the apartheid system, by an Afrikaner, the leadership of the ANC made bold to salute Prof Slabbert as "a new Voortrekker." These events are now 10 years behind us.

Sadly, for many of us, they, and other landmarks we passed on our road to the new, are but elements of a dim recollection of a past that is dwarfed by the giant heritage of today's democratic society, towards whose birth the "new Voortrekkers" made their own, and not insignificant contribution. We say sadly because to forget them, is to put outside our conscious activity, to omit from our daily agendas, the task of confronting the challenge which remains with us - namely, to continue interacting as South African, so that we evolve a national consensus about things which will constitute the most fundamental features of the new South Africa and thus define the path which we, as a people, must travel together as the new Voortrekkers. It is important that we resist the temptation to abandon this path and retreat into a laager, as some recent developments seem to suggest.

Certainly, we would not agree with the assertion which has been made, that the steps taken at beginning of this decade as part of the process of ending white minority rule, constituted an act of treachery. Presumably the question must arise as to whether there can be such a thing as a national consensus on anything, except in the most vacuous sense! Is it possible to have a national agenda - to say in a practical way, that these matters make up the national interest to which all can adhere, regardless of partisan interests! Or are the very concepts of national interest and national consensus nothing more than the dream of fools, an illusion best left to the idle who have nothing to do but to build sand castles! After all, whereas, daily we proclaim ourselves a nation, we are a nation, which can share in a national interest, or are we merely a collection of communities that happen to inhabit one geopolitical space! We are emerging but only emerging slowly and painfully, out of a deeply fractured society.

This is a society which continues to be characterised by deep fissures which separate the black people from the white, the hungry from the prosperous, the urban from the rural, the male from the female, the disabled from the rest. Running like a structural fault through it all, and weaving it together into a frightening bundle of imbalance and inequality, is the question of race and colour - the fundamental consideration on which was built South African society for 300 years.

Is therefore not an idle thing too imagine that out of this amalgam of inequity, where some have everything and others have nothing, where some instinctively behave as superiors and others know it as a matter of fact that they are seen as inferior, where some must experience change otherwise they perish and others fear they will perish as a result of change - is it not an idle thing to imagine that out of all this there can emerge a national consensus! But may it not be that the question to pose is whether, for it to survive and develop, a society so deeply fractures within itself, does not need to make a conscious, determined and sustained effort to build a national consensus about those matters which will ensure that indeed and in reality, a nation is born! The birth of that nation demands that we fundamentally transform our society.

The new nation cannot come into being on the basis of the perpetuation of the extraordinary imbalances we have inherited from the past. It cannot be founded on the entrenchment of the apartheid legacy. I am certain that all the Honourable Members of this House will agree with these sentiments, regardless of party affiliation. After all, we all subscribe to the noble sentiments contained in our Constitution which commits the country "to promote and protect human dignity, to achieve equality and advance human rights and freedoms... to promote non-racialism and non-sexism..." I believe that we all supported these constitutional provisions and continue to do so now because we understood that the absence of a settlement containing these objectives would not end the conflict in our country, but would condemn it to a destructive civil war.

By this means, we recognised the fact that there can be such a thing as a national consensus around a national agenda. We accept that the advancement of the very interests of each, regardless of their race, colour, gender or social class, demanded that we bend every effort to ensure that the kind of society described in the constitution is born. Together, we adopted a position which recognised that no legitimate sectional interest can be served or aspiration realised, unless it was pursued within a society characterised by equality, non-racialism, non-sexism and human dignity.

We are convinced that precisely because we were and are engaged in a complex and all-embracing process of fundamental social transformation, proceeding as we are from our past of division, conflict and mutual antagonism, it was and is important that we develop a national consensus about those matters, such as those reflected in our Constitution, which will define the fundamental and permanent nature of our society. Our non-racial democracy is three years old. It is but an infant in swaddling clothes. It requires the most careful nurturing to ensure that its ethos, its institutions and its practices mature and take firm root, and that it succeeds to improve the quality of life of all our people. But I fear that among many of us the mistaken assumption is made that the transition to a stable democracy has been completed.

The challenge for us to join hands to build firm foundation for the new edifice is treated as nothing more a matter that can be addressed satisfactory through mere rhetoric. Where the question is posed - what is your contribution to the creation of the new society to the accomplishment of the great goal of reconstruction and development - the answer is silence. This is because to many, the order of the day consists merely in asking the question - what opportunities have emerged for me in this new society to get what I do not have or to preserve, at whatever cost, that which I have already acquired.

To deny the validity of the argument for emergency measures to continue and sustain the offensive for social transformation, bold assertions are made that apartheid is a thing of the past and that to argue otherwise is nothing but to find excuses for the failure of present policies. After all, that which does not exist does not exist. And since the legacy of apartheid does not exist, there is no call on anybody to uproot it. Fundamental change has occurred. What remains to be done is to achieve measured growth through a process of gradual accretion. The denial of the stark reality of the defining impact of the past on the present thus constitutes an invitation to abandon the path of fundamental social transformation, to legitimise a socio-economic injustice which our people made enormous sacrifices to abolish.

Needless to say, the adoption of such a position would lead the country back into a destructive situation of conflict from which none would benefit. During our debates in this House, the issue of affirmative action arises repeatedly. As with other matters on which we all assume there is national consensus, comments on this issue are normally prefaced with professions of support for the objective of creating a non-racial society and understanding for the need to employ affirmative action as one of the means to pursue this objective. Argument then follows, which effectively seeks to rule out such affirmative action, in the name of non-racialism, buttressed by further argument about experience and efficiency.

For example, assertion have been made about declining financial management standards in government, which is attributed to inefficient blacks, who, it is said, occupy their positions by virtue of misplaced affirmative action policies. In reality, we are not far from the day when the diplomatic language will slip and the point will be made openly, that "the Bantus are not yet ready to govern." And this will happen in a situation in which we all continue to assist on our fervent support for the genuine deracialisation and therefore perpetuate the illusion that a national consensus exists on the question of the creation of a non-racial society.

Currently, this House and the country at large are grappling with the thorny question of the revision of the system of welfare benefits for the family and child. Once more, this debate has firmly brought into the open the question whether a national consensus exists on the objective of creating a non-racial society. Much of the discussion that has taken place suggests very definitely that such consensus does not, in fact, exist. At the heart of this matter is the unswerving determination of the government to end the system of racial discrimination in the disbursement of welfare benefits, which in this specific instance, resulted in the exclusion of the African mother and child, historically the most disadvantaged sections of our population.

Non-racial equity in these disbursements cannot be achieved on the basis of the level at which these disbursements are today. But the objective of non-racialism has to prevail. It is therefore inevitable that an adjustment will be made, so as to bring into the net the greatest possible number of people and specifically the African destitute, the historic victim of the apartheid system of white minority domination. If a national consensus on non-racialism did in fact exist, this would not be a matter of debate. And yet it is, because some refuse to accept that the new nation cannot be born on the basis of the perpetuation of the injustices of the past. Much is also made of the issue of corruption, once again argued on the basis of what one writer in another context, described as carefully calibrated amnesia about what our society has inherited from the past. This is an issue which does indeed require an intensive and extensive national debate because, among other things, it constitutes the bedrock on which rest many ills which afflict our society, including violence and crime. In themselves, the system and the practice of apartheid constituted the most sustained corruption of our society. Founded on a lie, this system could only be maintained on the basis of the elaboration and sustenance of even further lies. Where all legitimate states have a societal responsibility to encourage and protect a system of social morality which, in turn, impacts on both public and individual behaviour, a state based by definition on corrupt practice, could not but nullify or degrade all social morality.

A direct consequence of this would therefore be pervert each human being, so that each should believe that the norm or value system which should guide his or her behaviour is the pursuit of self-interest at all costs, without that constraints imposed on each person by a commonly accepted system of social norms. It is out of this setting of an all-pervasive corruption of society and the individual, characteristic of all other instances where illegitimate states existed, that our society became infected by such problems as white collar crime, corruption within the public service, including the criminal justice system, loss of respect for life and the inviolability of the safety, security and dignity of the individual, depraved personal behaviour and the measurement of personal standing and esteem by the extent of one's personal wealth, however defined.

The task faces all of us to confront this enormous challenge, to restore to our communities the system of social values which create a climate hostile to criminal and other anti-social behaviour. The first step along this very necessary road is the recognition that we inherited from our past a corrupt society which demands of all of us that we become militant combatants for the moral renewal of our country, as part of the process of its reconstruction and development.

The persistent propagation of the notion that all we require to deal with the problem of crime is merely more police officers and strengthening of the criminal justice system as a whole, critical thought these matters are, is not only a figleaf to hide the reality of a deadly inheritance, but also constitutes an abdication of a responsibility, without whose discharge the cesspool which feeds all criminal behaviour will remain and continue to spawn its bitter fruit. It does nothing to solve the problem, or to build the necessary united national effort, to add insult to injury by suggesting that corruption is endemic to the system of African governance and is, therefore, only three years old in our country.

The great crevices in our society which represent the absence of a national consensus about matters that are fundamental to the creation of the new society, are also represented by the controversy which seems to have arisen around the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The hatreds and animosities of the past will not go away unless the truth is told about what happened. The telling of that truth is painful to all of us. Where gross violations of human rights have occurred on either side of the conflict, they cannot but diminish anyone of us who were the perpetrators. We are diminished by the acts which occurred, and not by their recounting to the Commission and the nation. Something of what we are worth will be restored by the courage we show by telling the truth and admitting that a wrong was done where it was done. The recognition of the guilt is a necessary part of the commitment to the future not to repeat the past. The refusal to recognise that guilt constitutes a statement that no wrong is seen to have been done and therefore, that it would be permissible that the past should revisit us once again.

The national consensus we thought we had achieved when, together, we adopted the Preamble to our Constitution which says "We the people of South Africa, recognise the injustice of our past, (and) honour those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land..." seems denied when we act in a manner which says we do not recognise that any injustice was done. And by that denial we refuse to be co-architects of the national unity and reconciliation without which it is impossible to speak of the new South Africa as a real, an existing or emerging entity. Seated on the benches of this House are people who are an important component part of the leadership cadre of our country. Collectively and individually, we have a responsibility to contribute to the making of the new democratic, non-racial, non-sexist united and prosperous South Africa, in the common interest of all the constituencies we represent. I believe that all of us should continually put the question to ourselves - what contribution are we making to the realisation of this objective! Indeed, I believe this House should also seek to answer the question - does it give itself enough time to discuss such questions as we have raised, which we are convinced are fundamental to the future of our country, and others matters besides!

In this context, we need to make the point that talk of "restructuring the political landscape" is nothing else but a chimera, that is born of a failure to recognise the fact that no new landscape can emerge and hold until our country has made serious forward strides towards its fundamental reconstruction. The volume of verbiage that issues forth about a new political landscape is little else that a diversion, a pretence at creating a new and better reality for our people where none is intended, the mere bricks and mortar of a fool's paradise. No conjurer's trick, however well presented, and no manoeuvring for partisan political advantage, however skilful, will deny the challenge that faces us as political leaders, to effect the fundamental social transformation without which the miracle of our transition to democracy will not survive. In the end the success of our new democracy to create a people-centred society will be measured by the progress we make as a country to address such questions as job creation, housing, health care, social welfare and education. Beyond this, and perhaps more fundamental, it is our collective progress in these areas that must and will underwrite our peace and stability. As a government, we would be wilfully blind not to have notice that it is precisely around these issues that those who have no commitment to the success of the new society seek to encourage failure or, at least, the perception of failure. We would like to take advantage of this opportunity to record our own appreciation to the enormous amount of constructive work the relevant ministers, ministries and departments are making to change our country for the better.

This process of sustained development and transformation from which our government will not depart, remains still the provision of a better life for all and the comprehensive deracialisation of our country, among other things, by facilitating the achievement of high and sustained rates of economic growth, further creating the condition for the integration of our economy into the world economy, promoting the creation of new jobs, providing land, clean water and sanitation, making progress towards the elimination of hunger and poverty, improving the quality of and access to educational, welfare and health services, ensuring the availability of affordable and sustainable energy and the provision of affordable housing.

Simultaneously, we will sustain and improve on the effort to collect the revenues due to the state, manage public resources, reprioritise expenditures and strengthen the public-private sector partnerships, so as to address the pressing developmental needs of our people and country, operating within the context of the necessary fiscal discipline and the appropriate macro-economic balances. For the information of the electorate, the Government will publish a document containing a detailed Programme of Action indicating the targets we have set ourselves for the short-term until the end of 1998, covering the areas we have just indicated and reflecting, among other, the programmes reported on in this House by our various Ministers, during the course of the debates on their specific budgets.

We will continue to build on such unsung success as those represented by the little township of Boikhutso in Lichtenburg in the North West, where, among other things, water has been piped into and flush toilets installed in 2000 houses, replacing the old bucket system, and where 1000 sites are being prepared to build new houses that will replace the existing shacks and where the streets of the township are currently being tarred. In this context, it is also necessary to inform the House that the Government continues to focus on improving its functional and effectiveness. Accordingly, the Cabinet has taken a decision further to draw on the expertise available in the private sector to increase the Government's own management capacity.

An important element of this is the strengthening of the Presidency to ensure that it carries out its constitutional responsibilities as part of the National Executive, bearing in mind the context of the many and important tasks that face us as a country. The proposed increase to our budget relative to the preceding financial year, which we present to the House, reflect the effort in which we are engaged to discharged to such constitutional obligations as developing and implementing national policy and co-ordinating the functions of government departments.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the leaders and members of the political parties represented in this House, the Speakers and Chairpersons of the Assembly and Portfolio Committees, the Ministers, Deputy Ministers and their Directors General, the Premiers and the Provincial Administrations, the leaders and members of statutory committees and commissions, and indeed, some of the leaders at local government level, with whom we have co-operated in the collective process of the governance of our country.

My sincere appreciation also goes to my Director General, the Rev Frank Chikane and the entire excellent team in the Office of the Deputy President which he leads, including my advisers, without whose passionate dedication to their work and to the goal of the fundamental renewal of our country we would fail to discharge our own responsibility to our country and people. Gradually and perhaps in infinitesimal ways, we are, as a people, making such contribution as we are capable of making towards the creation of a better universe.

The success of our common project to remake South Africa as a stable, non-racial, non-sexist and prosperous democracy depends in good measure on the coterminous existence of an international community, similarly defined. Among other things, this places on us the obligation to contribute to the common African continental effort, at last to achieve an African Renaissance, including the establishment of stable democracies, respect for human rights, an end to violent conflicts and a better life for all the peoples of Africa.

This, too, will test our capacity as part of the leadership of this country to discharge this responsibility in our common national interest. Later this year, the Olympic movement will take a decision about where the 2004 Olympic Games will be held. We trust that this will be an African Olympics, as a token of the commitment of the world community to see the new century defined as a African century, because it will mark the recovery of our continent from an experience of many centuries some of whose distinguishing features have been the slave trade, colonial domination and exploitation, apartheid, bad African governance and the identification of what is bad with the colour black. Our first step towards our own entry into that century must consist in our capacity together to transform our own country into a place which all our people would be proud to call home. Issued by: The Office of the Deputy President, 10 June 1997 .

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