Response of Thabo Mbeki to the Debate on the State of the Nation Address, National Assembly Cape Town, 10 February 2000

Madame Speaker,
Honourable Members:

As this session of parliament was about to resume, attention was drawn to the fact that our opening on the 4th of February, would mark the 10th anniversary of the opening of parliament at which, among other things, the then President, Mr F.W. de Klerk, announced the unbanning of various organisations.

Accordingly, last Friday, we began by commenting on what we believe are some of our country's major achievements during the last ten years, since the opening of the apartheid parliament on February 2nd, 1990.

I make these remarks because some of the Honourable Members have contested what we said because they understood that we sought to deny the contribution to our liberation of organisations that had not been banned prior to 1990. Nothing that was said last Friday suggests this nor would we make an historically incorrect statement of this kind. We have neither the desire nor the intention to rewrite our history.

Neither will we ever pursue the objective of belittling any contribution made by anybody to the liberation of our people, including the important contribution made by the legal organisations which occupied various positions along the broad and common front of struggle.

Remarking on this last decade, I also said:

" Surely, Madame Speaker, we are entitled to make the claim that, as a people, both black and white, we did, in a mere decade, carry out a multi-faceted task whose accomplishment speaks highly of the capacity of our people and all humanity to achieve results which can only be described as good and noble."

I went on to say:

" I am therefore privileged to have this opportunity to extend heartfelt congratulations to all our people, regardless of race, colour and gender, for the extraordinary and sustained effort over the last ten years which has enabled the overwhelming majority among us to say - we are proud to be South African!"

I was therefore somewhat taken aback that some of the Honourable Members sought to teach us that those who had participated in this extraordinary and sustained effort, as a result of which most of us are proud to call ourselves South African, included people of all races, colours and genders.

On Monday, I received a letter from a fellow South African, Paul A. Dunn, who says:

" It is with great shame that I write to you today as a white citizen of the RSA. I live in Russia temporarily for study reasons and read this morning of the absolutely abominable and offensive e-mail...from a fellow white citizen. Certainly in your wisdom you know that not all South Africans, despite their colour, are racists. However, I know that in the Afrikaans segment, where I also come from, there are still those who are racists...Be assured that you have my own individual support in the struggle against racism. In my heart I long for the day when we will not refer to each other as black and white, but as fellow South Africans!"

I believe it is this kind of honest and unequivocal response that points the way forward for all of us, a response which says that we are still faced with the problem of racism and that we must work together, both black and white, to end racism in our country.

It may be that some of us will still have to experience what Daniel Lemmer has experienced.

Again on Monday, I received two letters from Mr Lemmer. Here is what he says: " I was an active member of the Right Wing Group. I was a founder member of the HNP, the AWB, the CP and the National Front. I worked with good loyal Afrikaner South Africans in all the aforesaid organisations. If I analyse in retrospect our motivations, then, in my case, it was born purely out of fear and not racial prejudice or hate...I am an Afrikaans South African living in Japan and Taiwan for the past seven years. I work for a very large Japanese multi-national company developing their export markets internationally...I have to admit that I used to be one of the sceptical white South Africans when the ANC first won the elections. I used to find great pleasure in listening to my white South African compatriots gossip regarding the 'mismanagement' and mistakes of the newly elected ANC government. Fortunately this has changed...I (have) just returned from holiday touring South Africa, and although difficult at first, I eventually had to admit that for the first time in history, South Africa has a responsible government that offers s much hope to all its citizens...There are so many things that impressed me, things that I thought were never possible in the New South Africa...I found no bitterness or any feeling of revenge mixing with my fellow black South Africans...Perhaps for the first time I am proud to carry a South African passport and for this reason I want to become part of the process and effort of the government in their sometimes difficult task. You can be sure that from now on wherever and whenever I rub shoulders or meet with international businessmen, investors and tourists, I will do everything in my power to depict the positive picture South Africa and the government deserve."

The Afrikaners Paul Dunn and Daniel Lemmer have committed themselves to fight against racism and, as Mr Lemmer puts it, to depict the positive picture our country deserves and to become part of the process and effort of the government in their sometimes difficult task.

On Friday we spoke of these difficult tasks.

They include the transformation of our country into a truly non-racial society and therefore the intensification of the struggle against racism, an issue we dare not trivialise, as the Honourable Dr Mangosuthu Buthelezi put it.

94 per cent of the chartered accountants in our country are white. Similarly, at least 95 per cent of our professional engineers are white.

I do not believe that it would be sufficient for us merely to remark these figures and then do nothing. Among other things, we will have to engage the issue of human resource development in the directions we indicated on Friday, including the implementation of the comprehensive Tirisano to which we referred and the radical improvement of the management of our schools.

In this regard I would like to assure the Honourable Marthinus van Schalkwyk that what drives us as we strive to end both the racial and the gender imbalances in our country, among other things through the use of affirmative action, is to offer hope to all our citizens, to use the words of Daniel Lemmer.

I trust we all listened carefully when the Honourable Mosibudi Mangena warned that those who do not feel our pain should beware of the arrogance they display when they argue that ours is but a phantom pain.

We have, in the past, spelt out what we need to do to ensure that we protect, promote and respect the cultural, linguistic and religious rights of all our people. We have not departed from these positions and will continue to work to do the things we promised to do.

The difficult tasks to which we referred also include the common challenge to ensure that our economy grows, develops and meets the material needs of all our people.

To meet this challenge, we will need more Daniel Lemmers and a continuous recognition of the fact that the search for partisan political advantage will not necessarily take us to where we need to get with regard to the economic objectives we have to accomplish.

We have to sustain the fight against poverty, among other things by implementing the various programmes of which we spoke last Friday, incorporating within this the objective of ending the racial and gender imbalances in our society. This too will be done.

Just over six months ago we spoke of the work we have to do to combat and prevent crime, detailing various measures that would be implemented.

That work continues and includes the preparation of new gun laws, whose importance was demonstrated only yesterday when an unacceptable criminal assault was made against the High Court in Pretoria.

It included the establishment of new law enforcement units, raising the professional capacity of the Police Service, the improvement of our judicial system, focussing on the high crime areas in our country and so on.

This work will continue with the urgency which our situation demands.

Yet another of these difficult tasks is finding the modus vivendi between the democratically elected institutions of government for which many of us across party lines fought for and the structures of traditional authority in some of our rural areas.

Again as we indicated last Friday, we will interact with our traditional leaders to arrive at a resolution of this matter in a manner that, among other things, respects the rights of all our citizens, including the traditional leaders, as enshrined in our Constitution.

The construction of a properly functioning, corruption-free, people oriented and affordable system of governance is critical to the achievement of many of the tasks we confront.

Among other difficult things, we will therefore implement the programme some of whose elements the Honourable Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi indicated when she addressed the National Assembly yesterday.

Last Friday we said that while we are ready to engage in genuine consultations with regard to the taxi industry, it was a mistake to think that the government could be intimidated into taking wrong decisions.

Statements reported yesterday attributed to some people within this industry, raising doubts about the possibility of a 'peaceful and amicable' resolution of issues affecting this industry will not help. If the intention of these statements is to force us to take decisions driven by fear, those intentions will not realise their objectives.

Accordingly, I would like to repeat this, that it is a mistake to think that the government can be intimidated into taking wrong decisions.

The difficult tasks of which Daniel Lemmer spoke include the realisation of the objectives of the African Renaissance of which we spoke when we participated in the Millennium Debate towards the end of last year.

We will work with everybody both within our country and in the rest of our Continent who is genuinely committed to the achievement of the life and death objectives of peace, democracy, stability and development on our Continent, undeterred by those who are ready to resort to foul means to subvert this effort.

I am convinced that the tasks we have mentioned and others constitute a national agenda that calls for the united effort of all our people.

Peace on our Continent and the elimination of poverty and unemployment, racism and sexism in our country, the suppression of crime and the fight against AIDS, the promotion of the rights of all sections of our population and the restoration of the dignity of each and every South African must surely be treated as central challenges which we are all committed to address everyday, by word and deed.

Surely, all of us must heed the heartfelt plea made by the Honourable Manie Schoeman, that we must continue still to fight to overcome all mistrust among us, to emphasise what unites rather than what divides us, to encourage inclusive processes of change and to see ourselves as a people that shares a common destiny.

No greater good can be done than to work without any apology to anyone towards the realisation of the vision that Manie Schoeman conveyed to us and to the country.

Let those who will, work together to bring the gift of hope to all of us.

I am certain that you join me as we wish Bafana Bafana success in the semi-final match they will play tonight as they advance towards the recapturing of the African Cup of Nations.

I thank all the Honourable Members for their participation in this important debate.

Thank you.

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