Opening Address at the Deputy President's Budget Debate, March 23 1999

National Assembly, Cape Town

Madam Speaker
Mr President
Honourable Members

We are approaching the end of the life of the first democratic parliament of the people of South Africa.

We meet this afternoon as part of a process of approving the budget that will define the possibilities of the parliament and government we will compose as a consequence of the June 2nd elections.

In that sense, the old will decide what the new can do.

In its own specific way, the process in which we are engaged exemplifies what our country will have to contend with in the next five years - the interaction and contest between continuity and change.

We can approach this matter as a natural consequence of the progression imposed on all of us by the evolution of time, the inevitable succession of the seasons.

Thus would we creep on at a petty pace to the last syllable of recorded time. But by the manner in which we act, we can ensure that each new season gives birth to a new life.

Our own pace can lead to the birth of a new day and new time.

Perhaps none of us has any choice but to accept this as a fundamental condition of our existence, that all of us are locked together in an exciting process in our country, defined by the intense push and pull of the contradictory forces of conservation on one hand and transformation on the other.

Conservatism and radicalism, reform and revolution, preservation and renewal, the old and the new, to walk and to run - these are the choices of time we must make.

It surely must be time that we all act in a manner which recognises that continuity and change are a fundamental requirement for the triumph, in our own country, of the struggle for democracy and human rights, peace, stability and prosperity.

The continuity we speak of is the continuity of what is new and good. The change we speak of is the destruction of the old and bad.

The peaceful democratic revolution of "94 left us with one challenge only - the challenge to change our reality by sweeping away the accumulated refuse of centuries of colonial and apartheid oppression.

Five years of democracy have left us with the challenge to continue the struggle for the success of the non-racial and non-sexist policies and programmes which this parliament has approved and legislated into force.

The reality of the persistence of the legacy of apartheid reaffirms the challenge of "94 that we must persist with our programme for change.

The base we have created over the last five years for the development of a non-racial and non-sexist democratic society has given us a greater possibility to move faster towards the realisation of the goal of a better life for all, than was possible during the five years we are about to conclude.

As we proceed with greater speed towards that goal, we must also recognise the objective constraints which mean that not all our expectations, however legitimate, will necessarily be realised immediately.

As we prepared for the election of our first democratic government, there was an expectation that the end of the apartheid system would provide us with a so-called apartheid dividend, these being the resources that would be freed as a result of the dismantling of the apartheid structures.

In reality, we have had to live with public revenues which have remained essentially unchanged in real per capita terms, given the policies we have pursued of reducing the budget deficit and not radically increasing the tax burden.

This has meant that we had to ensure that a national budget previously designed to serve a minority of the population has had to be stretched to cover the people as a whole.

It also had to be refocused to improve the conditions of life of especially the overwhelming majority who had been disadvantaged by the apartheid system.

Despite all this, millions have already experienced significant improvement in the quality of their lives as the President, the Ministers and Deputy Ministers have explained during this budget session.

Madam Speaker:

These improvements did not come about by accident. They are the direct product of the objectives which our Government has pursued during our first five years of democracy. What were these objectives?

We had to elaborate the comprehensive policy framework which was necessary to set our country on the road to is transformation in the new entity spelt out in our Constitution. We had to ensure the rewriting of our stature book to give legal expression to that policy framework.

We had to rebuild the machinery of government to ensure that it is inspired by a new ethos of service to the people and driven by the aim to implement policies aimed at creating a people-centred society.

We had to initiate measures to restructure our economic system so that it develops as a modern, internationally competitive economy, less reliant on the export of minerals and raw materials, open to the growth of small and medium business and capable of crating jobs. We had to begin the process of deracialising this economy, to ensure the equitable participation of the black people in all its sectors, including access to land.

We had to introduce redistributive measures to address the social needs of the poor and to begin to reduce our country's gross race and gender disparities in standards of living.

We began the process of restructuring the national budget to focus spending on the poor, to reduce the public debt, expand the tax base and improve budget planning and management.

We had to restructure the productive assets in the hands of the state to ensure that they contribute to the growth and modernisation of our economy and society as well as the improvement of our infrastructure, while also initiating a process of privatisation consistent with our overall economic policies.

We have introduced a new legislative framework as well as law enforcement institutions and worked to improve the performance of the criminal justice system as a whole, to reduce the incidence of crime and improve the safety and security of all citizens.

We have created the mechanisms to fight corruption, the theft of public resources, abuse of power and illegal behaviour within the public sector. We have encouraged the development of a national offensive for the creation of a new value system in our country conducive to the building of a caring society.

We have worked to speed up the process of ensuring that the black majority catches up with its white compatriots, while ensuring that we do not abandon the path of national unity and reconciliation.

We have striven to deepen democracy, among other things by involving the people in the formulation of policy, ensuring the transparency and accountability of the system of governance and reducing the levels of political violence.

We have sought to reintegrate our country among the world community of nations as a force for the construction of a new world order in favour of the poor and the marginalised, especially on our Continent of Africa.

It is also clear, Madam Speaker, that urgent steps will have to be taken to spread the understanding among all our people that democracy is the enemy of anarchy that rights go with responsibilities.

It should no longer be that some among us act in a manner which ignores the rights of others, including the very right to life and the inviolability of the dignity of the individual.

We have to act against those who behave in ways that are inimical to stability in our country, those scorn the interests of the people and elevate individual self-interest into a new God at whose feet we must all worship.

We must all ensure that there is discipline in all our sectors as an essential element towards the reconstruction and development of our country, which has to include the improvement of the work ethic within the public service and an unrelenting offensive against corruption.

What we have spoken of, Madam Speaker, is a record of what we have achieved as well as an account of work in progress, of which we are proud and to whose furtherance we are committed.

But above all, what we have done these last five years is to give hope to millions whose lives, those of their forebears and offspring, have been lives of hopelessness and despair, born of the knowledge that they were condemned to oppression and impoverishment by a government sworn to the maintenance of white minority rule.

I am certain that one of the defining achievements of our young democracy was the handing back, only two days ago, of their ancestral land to the Khomani San people of the Kgalagadi, the last of which they lost through forced removals as recently as 1973.

This was no simple act of land restitution but the beginning of a journey as a result of which the ancient San people, decimated through an almost genocidal process of colonisation, can save their language and culture from extinction, regain their national identity and occupy their just place as a valued component part of our multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society, enriching all of us with the wisdom of their ways.

No other single act in the last five years stands out as vividly as does the restoration of the rights of the San as the very representation of hope for the millions to whom the removal of the legacy of apartheid is a matter of life and death.

And yet, Madam speaker, as hope seized the majority in our country, we began to hear voices of serious concern and despair among some of our citizens, who felt that what we were striving to create was transforming them into the marginalised and disempowered of the new South Africa.

It was to respond to this reported despair that as Government we decided to interact with as many leaders of the Afrikaner people as possible, to hear their views so that we could take all necessary and possible steps to address their concerns.

We will, of course, discuss this important matter tomorrow, Wednesday.

We have also sought to suggest that there are various matters in the social life of our country about which we should evolve a national consensus, to ensure that we work together, on a multi-party basis, to diminish any sense of disempowerment among any section of our population, as we put in place the most basic foundation stones of the new South Africa.

It was in this spirit that we accepted the recommendation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to convene a Conference later this year to address the critical question of a ntional unity and reconciliation.

It was also for this reason that we initiated the multi-party and national debate on the challenge of the establishment of the constitutional commission for the Promotion and Protection of Language, Cultural and Religious Rights.

Similarly, we have encouraged the holding of the national Conference against Corruption, which will take place later this year, convinced that the fight to uproot the scourge is one of our most important tasks in our common struggle to create a South Africa radically different from the one built during a painful period of over three hundred years.

The challenge remains for all of us to find one another as we strive to create a new society. In a sense, we have to make a special effort to rise above narrow partisan interests and the drive to outbid one another in an often sterile competition based solely on the desire to assert that "I am better than thou!"

An essential part of that effort is the difficult task of ensuring that we understand our past and present in the same way. Perhaps, this is an achievement that belongs to future generations, both black and white.

I have heard comments made in this House which were honestly spoken but which, to me, sounded most strange and symptomatic of the two worlds in which all of us were born and grew up.

I heard it said that at the heart of the problem of the evictions of African farmworkers was not the scourge of landlessness created by generations of land dispossession, but a tradition allegedly unique to white South Africans of individual, freehold title to land and a tradition, also allegedly unique to indigenous Africans, of communal land ownership.

I have also heard it said that the attempt to speed up the process according to which the black disadvantage should catch up with their white compatriots constitutes and unacceptable reverse racism.

I have heard it said, honestly, that the early European settlers came to South Africa merely to become free burghers and that all they have done since then, is to become and defend their status as free burghers.

I have heard these things said and many other besides. All this emphasises the challenge we still face to become truly one nation, however diverse in its composition.

During the last five years, we have gained experience of what it means to govern a democratic and racially divided society such as ours.

Among other things, this experience has given us the possibility properly to assess the functioning of the executive and the administrations and therefore to take the necessary measures in the period ahead of us to improve the performance of government in all its echelons, including the national Cabinet.

The review process is in progress, and included the establishment of the Presidential Review Commission and the publication of its Report. The necessary changes will be effected, further to improve our system of governance at the level of our executive authorities.

I would however like to take this opportunity to pay tribute especially to the Ministers and Deputy Ministers with whom I have served in the national government, to the Honourable Dr Mangosuthu Buthelezi, President of the IFP, and to or national hero, President Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, for the leadership guidance and inspiration he has given to all of us.

I would alsol like to salute the Directors General, the Cabinet Secretaries and the departments of state which have battled to ensure that government policies are carried out, participated in the formulation of these policies and worked hard to create a new machinery of government driven by a brand new spirit of service to the people.

On behalf of the Government, I would also like to express our appreciation for the work that has been done by this National Assembly, the Senate and the National Council of Provinces, their presiding officers and committees on whose collective shoulders has fallen the task of scrutinising, improving and approving all our legislative measure and excising oversight over the executive.

In this context, we must pay special tribute to the women of our country who have played an important and increasing role in both our legislatures and the executive.

It may be that as the executive, we have not always behaved in a manner of which you approved. Whatever the case, it is however true that, working together, we have carried through a veritable revolution with regard to brining to force a volume of laws and a variety of institutions which have set our country on the part of fundamental change.

In about three months time, a new parliament will be formed. It will not have the difficult challenge we all had, to establish a democratic legislature for the first time, and to manage it in a way which, in a real way, sought to break down the walls which separate the elected representatives from their electors.

We would also like to salute the Premiers, their administrational and the Provincial Legislatures which, themselves, had to chart a new path.

Madam Speaker:

The Government and all the parties that will participate in the forthcoming elections have a common responsibility to ensure that these elections are free and fair.

By registering in large numbers, the masses of our people have shown their desire to exercise their democratic right to vote for the party of their choice. It is our common responsibility to ensure that this happens, by eliminating all intimidation, ensuring that there are non no-go areas for any party and firmly discouraging and suppressing all political violence.

Madam Speaker:

Let me take this opportunity also to express my appreciation for the interactions we had the opportunity to enjoy with many political, business and other leaders in Southern Africa, Africa and the world, virtually all of whom have demonstrated a commitment to support us in our struggle to build an exemplary and successful African country.

We are particularly pleased with Nigeria's advance towards the restoration of democracy. We are convinced that the inauguration, four days ahead of our own elections, of her own democratically elected President, Olusegun Obasanjo, who I first met as my organisation's representative in Nigeria 22 years ago, adds to the new and unbreakable continuum in the evolution of our Continent towards its Renaissance.

We would also like to take this opportunity to salute our own President, Nelson Mandela, as well as His Royal Highness, the Crown Prince of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabie, for the work they have done to help resolve the difficult international problem which has resulted in the isolation of the fellow African Republic of Libya and the deferment of the just expectations of the relatives of those who died as a result of the Lockerbie tragedy.

Once more, dark clouds have gathered over the long-suffering people of Palestine, with the clock ticking towards the end, on May 4th, of the interim period determined by the Oslo Process.

We who had to sacrifice everything to regain our own right to freedom, will do everything we can, to support the right of the people of Palestine to their own sovereign state, in conditions of security and the integrity of the borders and territories of all the countries of the Middle East, including Israel.

Peace in our own region is an urgent necessity. Accordingly, we reaffirm the position of our Government and people that war cannot be the midwife of peace, stability and progress in Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

We will therefore continue to lend all our strength to the common regional effort to end these conflicts as quickly as possible, in a manner that guarantees the sovereignty of these sister countries and creates the possibility for their peoples to determine their future in conditions of freedom.

Let me conclude by thanking the Deputy Minister in my Office, the Honourable Essop Hahad, my very able Advisers, the Director General, the Rev Frank Chikane, and the other members of the Office of the Deputy President, including the GCIS and the Co-ordiantion and Implementation Unit, the CIU, the Youth Commission and the Offices on the Status of Women and the Disabled, as will as my Parliamentary Counsellor, the Honourable Willie Hofmeyr, for the work they have done to enable us to discharge our responsibilities.

This has been especially important with regard to such matters as improving contact with the people and the parties represented in this parliament, increasing our focus on such matters as the co-ordination of the work of the Government and improving the lives of children, women, the youth and the disabled.

Madam Speaker:

We will continue along the road we have set ourselves, by ensuring the further pursuit of the policies of transformation which our first democratic parliament and government have put in place.

We will ensure that these policies live, through a heightened offensive for change, sustained by the unity of our people behind the vision of the creation of a democratic, peaceful, prosperous and winning nation of all the people of South Africa.

It remains our abiding wish that all people of goodwill in our country will join hands with us, without seeking some imagined and ephemeral partisan advantage, to translate this vision into reality, without whose realisation we cannot clothe all our people in the garments of realisable hope.

Thank you.

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