Statement of Deputy President Thabo
Mbeki at the Opening of the Debate in the National Assembly,
on "Reconciliation and Nation Building, National
Assembly Cape Town, 29 May 1998
Honourable Members of the National Assembly;
I would like to thank our presiding officers, the whips
and all the parties represented in the Assembly for
giving all of us the opportunity, to discuss the important
matter of reconciliation and nation building for which
we have convened this morning.
The 1993 Constitution of the Republic of South Africa
ends with an epilogue entitled "National Unity
Among other things, it says:
"This Constitution provides a historic bridge
between the past of a deeply divided society characterised
by strife, conflict, untold suffering and injustice,
and a future founded on the recognition of human rights,
democracy and peaceful coexistence and development opportunities
for all South Africans, irrespective of colour, race,
class, belief of sex."
"The pursuit of national unity," it continues
"the well-being of all South African citizens and
peace require reconciliation between the people of South
Africa and the reconstruction of society."
For its part, the 1996 Constitution of the Republic
of South Africa has a preamble which among other things,
"We, the people of South Africa, recognise the
injustices of our past... (and) believe that South Africa
belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity."
"We therefore... adopt this Constitution as the
supreme law of the Republic so as to heal the divisions
of the past.. (and) to improve the quality of life of
all citizens and free the potential of each person."
In its "Founding Provisions", this Constitution
also says that our Republic has as one of its values
"commitment to promote non-racialism and non-sexism."
I believe that as we discuss the issue of national
unity and reconciliation today, we will have to do a
number of things.
The first of these, to which I am certain we will all
respond in the same manner, is that we should commit
ourselves to the pursuit of the objectives contained
in these constitutions for a democratic South Africa.
The second is that we will have to answer the question
honestly as to whether we are making the requisite progress:
to create a non-racial society;
to build a non-sexist country;
to heal the divisions of the past;
to achieve the peaceful coexistence of all our people;
to create development opportunities for all South Africans,
irrespective of colour, race, class, belief or sex;
to improve the quality of life of all citizens.
Thirdly, we will have to answer the question, again
as honestly as we can as to:
whether our actions have been and are based on the
recognition of the injustices of the past, and,
whether our actions have genuinely sought to promote
the integrated Constitutional objectives of:
the well being of all South Africans;
reconciliation between the people of South Africa; and
the reconstruction of society.
In the light of these prescriptions contained in the
two Constitutions to which I have referred, let me declare
some of the matters to which the government I represent
We are interested that, as a people, we move as rapidly
and as consistently as possible to transform South Africa
into a non-racial country.
We are interested that our country lives up to its
constitutional commitment to transform itself into a
We are interested that together, as South Africans,
we adopt the necessary steps that will eradicate poverty
in our country as quickly as possible and in all its
manifestations, to end the dehumanisation of millions
of our people, which inevitably results from the terrible
deprivation to which so many, both black and white,
We are interested that we must deal with our political
past, honestly, frankly and without equivocation, so
that the purposes for which most of us agreed to establish
the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, are achieved.
We are interested that our country responds to the
call to rally to a new patriotism, as a result of which
we can all agree to a common national agenda, which
a common fight to eradicate the legacy of apartheid;
a united offensive against corruption and crime;
concerted action to advance the interests of those least
capable to defend themselves, including children, women,
the disabled and the elderly;
an agreement about how we should protect and advance
the interests of all the different cultural, language
and religious groups that make up the South African
a commitment to confront the economic challenges facing
our country, in a manner that simultaneously addresses
issues of high and sustained growth and raising the
living standards of especially the black poor;
an all-embracing effort to build a sense of common nationhood
and a shared destiny, as a result of which we can entrench
into the minds of all our people the understanding that
however varied their skin complexions, cultures and
life conditions, the success of each nevertheless depends
on the effort the other will make to turn into reality
the precept that each is his or her brother's or sister's
a united view of our country's relations with the rest
of the world.
We believe that these are the issues we must address
when we speak of reconciliation and nation building.
They stand at the centre of the very future of South
Africa as the home of a stable democracy, human rights,
equality, peace, stability and a shared prosperity.
Accordingly we must attend to the question whether
with regard to all these issues and at all times, all
of us behave in a manner which promotes the achievement
of the goals we have mentioned, and therefore take us
forward towards the realisation of the objective of
reconciliation and nation building, without which the
kind of South Africa visualised in our Constitution
will most certainly not come into being.
So must we also pose the questions - what is nation
building and is it happening!
With regard to the first of these, our own response
would be that nation building is the construction of
the reality and the sense of common nationhood which
would result from the abolition of disparities in the
quality of life among South Africans based on the racial,
gender and geographic inequalities we all inherited
from the past.
The second question we posed is - are we making the
requisite progress towards achieving the objective of
nation building, as we have just defined it!
If we elected to answer this question in a polite and
reassuring manner, we would answer - yes, we are making
the requisite progress.
However, I believe that perhaps we should answer this
question honestly and deal with the consequences of
an honest response, however discomfiting it may be.
Accordingly, our answer to the question whether we
are making that requisite progress, towards achieving
the objective of nation building, as we defined it,
would be - no!
A major component part of the issue of reconciliation
and nation building is defined by and derives from the
material conditions in our society which have divided
our country into two nations, the one black and the
We therefore make bold to say that South Africa is
a country of two nations.
One of these nations is white, relatively prosperous,
regardless of gender or geographic dispersal. It has
ready access to a developed economic, physical, educational,
communication and other infrastructure.
This enables it to argue that, except for the persistence
of gender discrimination against women, all members
of this nation have the possibility to exercise their
right to equal opportunity, the development opportunities
to which the Constitution of '93 committed our country.
The second and larger nation of South Africa is black
and poor, with the worst affected being women in the
rural areas, the black rural population in general and
This nation lives under conditions of a grossly underdeveloped
economic, physical, educational, communication and other
It has virtually no possibility to exercise what in
reality amounts to a theoretical right to equal opportunity,
with that right being equal within this black nation
only to the extent that it is equally incapable of realisation.
This reality of two nations, underwritten by the perpetuation
of the racial, gender and spatial disparities born of
a very long period of colonial and apartheid white minority
domination, constitutes the material base which reinforces
the notion that, indeed, we are not one nation, but
And neither are we becoming one nation. Consequently,
also, the objective of national reconciliation is not
This follows as well that the longer this situation
persists, in spite of the gift of hope delivered to
the people by the birth of democracy, the more entrenched
will be the conviction that the concept of nation building
is a mere mirage and that no basis exists, or will ever
exist, to enable national reconciliation to take place.
Over the 4 years, and this includes the period before
the elections of 1994, we have put forward and sustained
the position that the creation of the material conditions
that would both underpin and represent nation building
and reconciliation could only be achieved over a protracted
period of time.
I would like to reaffirm this position. The abolition
of the apartheid legacy will require considerable effort
over a considerable period of time.
We are neither impressed nor moved by self-serving
arguments which seek to suggest that four or five years
are long enough to remove from our national life the
inheritance of a country of two nations which is as
old as the arrival of European colonists in our country,
almost 350 years ago.
Let me digress briefly and say something about the
ongoing process of German unification.
As the Honourable members are aware, the two post-war
German states united into one country in 1990.
After 45 years of division into two states with competing
social systems, the German leaders and people understood
that, truly to become one country and one people, they
too, like ourselves, would have to address the central
questions of national unity and reconciliation.
This was despite the fact that here we speak of a people
who share the same language, colour and culture.
The seriousness with which the German people treated
that process of the promotion of German national unity
and reconciliation is reflected, among other things,
by the extraordinary volume of resources which the richer,
developed West Germany transferred to the poorer and
relatively underdeveloped East.
During the first five years of unification after 1990,
$586,5 billion of public funds were transferred from
West Germany to East Germany to underwrite Germany's
project of national unity and reconciliation. This exceeded
East Germany tax revenues for the same period by a factor
Further to illustrate the enormity of this effort,
these transfers amount to 70 times the size of the national
budget which this House is currently debating.
To help finance this extraordinary expenditure, a 7,5
per cent surcharge on individual income tax was imposed
in 1991 and extended in 1995 for an unspecified period
of time. Correctly and interestingly, this was designated
a "solidarity" tax.
It might also be of interest to note that despite the
huge flow of German public and private funds into the
East, at the end of this first five year period, per
capita income in the East still amounted to 74 per cent
of income in the Western part of the country.
In our case, the reality is that in the last five years,
the naticreased by a mere 10 per cent.
I purposes, taking into account the increase in population,
we are spending the same volume of money to address
the needs of the entirety of our population as were
disbursed to address the needs of essentially the white
minority before the democratic transition.
Our own "solidarity tax" was imposed for
one year only, accompanied by much grumbling from sone
sectors of our society.
Before we digressed to Germany, we were making the
point that four or five years are not enough to weld
the two nations which coexist in South Africa as a consequence
of a long period of the existence of a society based
To respond to all of this, in conceptual terms we have
to deal with two interrelated elements.
The first of these is that we must accept that it will
take time to create the material base for nation building
The second and related element is that we must therefore
agree that it is the subjective factor, accompanied
by tangible process in the creation of the new material
base, which must take the lead in sustaining the hope
and conviction among the people that the project of
reconciliation and nation building will succeed.
Given the critical importance of the subjective factor,
therefore, we must return to the question we posed earlier
during this intervention.
That question is - are we all, as the various parties
in this parliament and our society at large, behaving
in a manner which promotes the objectives of reconciliation
and nation building, within which the kind of South
Africa visualised in our Constitution will most certainly
not come into being!
Again, my own answer to this question would be a very
definite - no!
Clearly, it would be irresponsible for me to make such
a statement without substantiating it.
Let me therefore cite openly some of the interventions
or non-inventions which, over the last four years, have
not helped to move us more speedily towards the attainment
of the objective of reconciliation and nation building.
Unlike the German people, we have not made the extra
effort to generate the material resorces we have to
invest to change the condition of the black poor more
rapidly than is possible if we depend solely on severely
limited public funds, whose volume is governed by the
need to maintain certain macro-economic balances, and
the impact of a growing economy.
What this throw up, inevitably, is the question - are
the relatively rich, who, as a result of an apartheid
definition, are white, prepared to help underwrite the
upliftment of the poor, who as a result of an apartheid
definition, are black
If we are serious about national unity and reconciliation
and treat the obligations contained in our Constitution
as more than words on paper, we have to answer this
The South African Revenue Service is engaged in a difficult
struggle to ensure that every individual and corporate
entity meet their tax obligations.
I am informed that so far SARS has established that
something in the order of 30 per cent of our corporations
are not registered for tax purposes. These are people,
who by honouring their legal obligations, could make
an important contribution to addressing the material
challenges of national unity and reconciliation.
They deliberately choose not to but will not hesitate
to proclaim that the Government has failed to "deliver".
Many of us in this House find it very easy each time
we speak to demand that the Government must spend more
on this and that and the other.
At the same time, we make passionate demands that taxes
must be cut and the budget deficit reduced.
The constant and, in some instances, dishonest refrain
for more funds, in many instances incanted for party
political gain, reemerges in our streets as when, only
a few days ago, public sector workers marched behind
posters which bore the words - "give us more"
"give us more".
In the majority of cases, the call for the transformation
of both public and private sector institutions and organisations,
in particular to address the issue of racial representativity,
has been resisted with great determination.
Indeed, one of the issues of great agitation in our
politics is the question of affirmative action.
To ensure that it does not happen, some of what is
said that "black advancement equals a white brian
drain" and "black management in the public
service equals inefficiency, corruption and a lowering
In many instances, correctly to refer to the reality
that our past determines the present is to invite protests
and ridicule even as it is perfectly clear that no solution
to many current problems can be found unless we understand
their historical origins.
By this means, it comes about that those who were responsible
for or were beneficiaries of the past, absolve themselves
from any obligation to help do away with an unacceptable
The current situation suggests that the TRC will be
unable to complete its work especially with regard to
the full disclosure and attribution of many acts of
gross human rights violations.
This will leave the law enforcement agencies with no
choice but to investigate all outstanding cases of such
violations, making it inevitable that our society continues
to be subject to tensions which derive from the conflicts
of the past.
Some of our country, including some who serve within
the security forces, are prepared to go to any length
to oppose the democratic order, including the assassination
of leaders and destabilistation by all means.
These include the new well-known story of the alleged
involvement of former freedom fighters in plans to carry
out a coup d'etat as well as other disinformation campaigns
which the intelligence services are investigating involving
allegations that Minister Mufamadi is involved in the
cash-in-transition robberies, while Deputy Minister
Kasrils and myself are responsible for the murder of
Last week, I mentioned in the House the negative impact
of such events as the recent appearance of the President
of the Republic in court, the SARFU saga and the matter
of the appointment of the Deputy Judge President of
the Natal bench.
I am certain that many of us can cite many examples
of interventions which have not contributed to the goal
of national unity and reconciliation, including the
many instances of resistance to pieces of legislation
which seek to transform our country away from its apartheid
And yet we must make the point that the overwhelming
majority of our people have neither abandoned this goal
nor lost hope that it will be realised.
An important contributory factor to this is that there
are, indeed, significant numbers of people in our society,
including people among the white and Afrikaner community
who, by word and deed, have demonstrated a real commitments
to the translation of the vision of national unity and
reconciliation into reality.
Again last week, in this House, I said that much of
what is happening in our country, which pushes us away
from achieving this goal is producing rage among millions
of people. I am convinced that we are faced with the
danger of a mounting rage to which we must respond seriously.
In a speech again in this House, we quoted the African-American
poet, Langston Hughes when he wrote - "what happens
to a dream deferred?"
His conclusion was that it explodes.
Thank you Madame Speaker.
Issued by: Government Communications (GCIS)