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