Response of President Thabo Mbeki, to the Debate on The State of The Nation Address


Madame Speaker,
Deputy President,
Honourable Members:

One of the major events in the global political calendar last year was the UN Millennium Assembly. As the House is aware, this Assembly adopted an important Millennium Declaration.

We participated in the preparation of this Declaration as well as its adoption. Accordingly, we made a commitment to strive for the realisation of the objectives contained in the Declaration.

One of these relates to the issue of poverty. In this regard, the Millennium Declaration said: " We will spare no effort to free our fellow men, women and children from the abject and dehumanising conditions of extreme poverty, to which more than a billion of them are currently subjected. We are committed to making the right to development a reality for everyone and to freeing the entire human race from want.

" We resolve therefore to create an environment - at the national and global levels alike - which is conducive to development and to the elimination of poverty...

" We resolve further: to halve, by the year 2015, the proportion of the world's people whose income is less than one dollar a day and the proportion of people who suffer from hunger and, by the same date, to halve the proportion of people who are unable to reach or to afford safe drinking water.

" We must also take note of the fact that the Declaration includes a special section on Africa which commits the world community: " To take special measures to address the challenges of poverty eradication and sustainable development in Africa, including debt cancellation, improved market access, enhanced Official Development Assistance and increased flows of Foreign Direct Investment, as well as transfers of technology."

For its part, the Human Development Report 2000 of the UNDP said: " The 1995 South African Participatory Poverty Assessment described the reality behind the statistics. It reported that millions of citizens are plagued by continuous ill health, experience extraordinary levels of anxiety and stress (and the accompanying realities of violence and abuse vented mainly on women and children) and perform harsh and dangerous work for low incomes. There is pervasive demoralisation and fatalism. A sense of hopelessness and an inability to alter the conditions of life is a defining feature. Yet all this is matched by the courage and perseverance with which South Africa's poor attempt to hold these ravages at bay." This Report was very correct to draw attention to the fact that poverty is not only expressed in shortage of food shelter and clothing.

It is also expressed:

in ill health;
in high levels of anxiety and stress;
in the prevalence of a spirit of disempowerment and hopelessness;
in high levels of crime, including violence among the poor themselves, especially against women and children, in many instances accompanied by substance abuse;
in further entrenching discrimination against women;
in destructive ignorance and superstition; and,
the destruction and denial of the human dignity of millions of people.
I would like to thank those Members of the National Assembly who focussed their comments on or integrated in their interventions the centrally important issue of the fight against poverty.

The majority of our people are poor. A significant minority among them is very poor.

As members of the House have said, we cannot speak of the new South Africa if we fail to deal with the urgent challenge of poverty.

If we are to speak of important matters on the national agenda, of matters that are of pressing concern to the greatest numbers of our people, the elimination of poverty and the racial and gender disparities that continue to characterise our society, occupy pride of place.

If we are to speak of matters that must continue to take pride of place in all the programmes of the government, the restoration of the human dignity of the majority of our people, and therefore the eradication of poverty and racial and gender inequalities, are those matters.

The government programme for 2001 we announced in the State of the Nation Address and the more detailed programmes the Honourable Ministers have communicated to the country during the last few days through the media, are all focused on this matter.

We need a larger economy growing at high rates to be able to generate the material resources that would enable our country to meet the needs of our people.

We need to effect the ways and means by which this economy will develop in a manner that enables it to absorb those who are unemployed as well as the new entrants into the labour market.

The realisation of these objectives requires that we achieve much higher levels of new public and private investment into the economy than we have so far achieved.

The Government has made its commitment towards the accomplishment of this goal and will proceed to implement the investment plans we have outlined, including those that will be implemented by the state corporations.

The Honourable Minister of Finance will also address this matter when he presents the Budget next week.

The job creating growth to which we are committed also requires that we pay particular attention to the development of small, medium and micro enterprises.

The Government is determined to assist in making capital available for investment in these sectors of business and will therefore act on this matter.

The growth of our economy also depends on its competitiveness. We will therefore implement the measures that are within our means, to contribute to such competitiveness, including the reduction of input costs, of which we spoke, and increasing labour productivity through the vigorous implementation of the Human Resource Development Programme.

We renew our call to business and organised labour themselves to respond positively to these initiatives, so that through united action, we can expedite our advance towards the eradication of poverty in our country, raising our level of development and restoring the dignity of all our citizens.

Similarly, the Government will continue to intensify its work directed at improving the quality of life of our people in other ways. Accordingly, the implementation of our rural development and urban renewal programmes will take place.

Through these programmes, we aim to reach the very poor in our country, those most in need of the basic necessities of life, who have to contend with the most abject poverty, paying particular attention to women, the youth and the disabled.

It is not the intention of these programmes to distribute welfare hand-outs, but to help generate sustainable development that will pull the people affected out of endemic poverty and entrenched underdevelopment, permanently.

The Government recognises the fact that in the short to medium term, many people will still not be able to enter the economy as income earners. These will continue to require direct government assistance to alleviate the impact of poverty.

It is for this reason that we will, as we have already announced, work to expand the social safety net, bearing in mind what the economy can afford and the need for us to achieve the correct balances between social and economic spending.

This year, Statistics South Africa will conduct a new population census, Census 2001. This important exercise will help us once again to gain a more accurate and up-to-date picture of our reality.

I appeal to all our people and institutions fully to cooperate with Statistics South Africa to facilitate the successful conclusion of the vital and necessary work it has to do.

Madame Speaker:

The Honourable Ministers working in the criminal justice cluster have more than adequately addressed the issue of safety and security, which, as we have said already, is fundamental to the better quality of life for all we all seek to achieve.

As the masses of our people have grown accustomed to the fact that now we have a democratic state and government, and no longer an apartheid state and government to which they were naturally hostile and from which they were alienated, their participation in determining their destiny has increased.

We must encourage this trend. In this regard, a special responsibility falls on the shoulders of the political parties.

Among other things, we must encourage the people to take an even more active part in the community-police fora, and urge them to continue to communicate to the law enforcement agencies and other organs of state any information they may have on corrupt and criminal misconduct. As some Members of the National Assembly have said, we must all work to mobilise the masses of our people to be involved in these programmes of social upliftment.

The political parties in particular and other mass based formations will have to make a special effort to help develop a veritable mass movement for development and change, to speed up the process towards the eradication of poverty.

Again we appeal to those who have skills and other resources they can bring to support the efforts of this movement, to notify especially their municipal governments of their availability to work for change.

Madame Speaker:

Everything points to the need for us to continue to focus on the challenge of youth development. All the programmes we have announced will concentrate on the youth, among others.

In addition, during this year of the 25th Anniversary of the Soweto Uprising, the Presidency, the National Youth Commission, the Ministries and Departments of Sports and Recreation, Arts and Culture and Education will cooperate to develop programmes to draw larger numbers of our youth into sports and cultural activities, including those directed at the promotion of traditional culture and sports.

These programmes should also enable us to take the necessary steps to bring up our youth in the context of a new value system aimed at ensuring that they grow up to be good and responsible citizens.

Clearly, the youth organisations will be critical to the success of this programme as they will have to mobilise and inspire the youth to get involved in what should be an act of self-development.

Madame Speaker:

The legislation enabling the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission empowers the President, by proclamation in the Government Gazette, to reconvene the Commission for the purpose of completing its final Report, after the Committee on Amnesty has completed its work.

It is expected that the Committee on Amnesty will complete its work next month. This will enable the Committee on Reparation and Rehabilitation and the TRC itself to prepare their final reports. This will also enable the Government to complete its own work on the complex issue of final reparations. In the meantime, we will continue to meet our obligations with regard to interim reparations, as we have done.

I would also like to take this opportunity once more to pay tribute to our National Defence Force for the valuable work it continues to carry out at home and abroad.

At home, it has continued to play a significant role in the fight against crime.

As I speak, it is also involved in humanitarian work relating to India and Mozambique, helping to deliver relief in the aftermath of the earthquake and the renewed floods in these two countries, respectively.

Others of our military personnel serve in peace keeping operations in other parts of Africa and will be increasingly involved in these operations.

Madame Speaker:

The Honourable Members may be aware of the announcement made this morning concerning Anglo American plc and De Beers.

In this regard, I would like to thank the Chairperson of De Beers, Mr Nicholas Oppenheimer, and the other leaders of De Beers and Anglo American for the courtesy of discussing this major corporate restructuring with us ahead of its finalisation.

An important result of this transaction for our country and economy will be the immediate flow into South Africa of foreign currency estimated at US $2.8 billion, or about R21.8 billion.

I would also like to express our sincere appreciation for the confidence in the new South Africa demonstrated by a group and a family that have played a major role in our country's economic growth and development for more than a century.

One of our daughters and mothers, Miriam Makeba, has, in reality, become a citizen of the world.

She has distinguished herself on our continent and beyond as one of the most well-known and beloved musicians and personalities of our era.

During her period in exile she made valuable friends and became internationally recognised for her music. She has not only been active in music and the political arena, but has made valuable contributions to and has been recognised for her work in the social, cultural and humanitarian fields.

Her fearless humanitarianism earned her the Dag Hammerskjold Peace Prize in 1986. The ordinary people of our Continent gave her the title, Mama Africa!

As we strengthen our bonds of friendship and solidarity with our fellow Africans and to reinforce our work in this regard, I am pleased to announce that I have appointed Mama Africa, Miriam Makeba, as South Africa's Goodwill Ambassador to Africa.

Madame Speaker and Honourable Members:

Ahead of us is an exciting period of our country's renaissance. It will be marked by our steady advance towards the elimination of poverty rather than the expanding pauperisation of the majority that has been one of the distinguishing features of our country for 300 years.

It will be distinguished by the recovery of the identity and pride of the millions of Africans that colonialism and apartheid sought to transform into a depersonalised mass of disposable commodities.

It will experience the flowering of all our diverse cultures and languages without antagonism among them, constituting the essential building blocks towards the formation of the South African nation and identity.

We will be involved in the creation of the situation in which an African people will contribute something of great value to the rest of the world, a non-racial society whose racial and cultural diversity will serve as a factor of strength and enrichment rather than one of division and conflict.

The day will dawn when we, as Africans, will, as all our people desire, restore the situation that obtained at periods now dimmed by the mists of time, when Africans were in the vanguard of the advance towards higher levels of civilisation.

Poor as they were, uneducated as they were, barefoot and poorly-clothed, and while the theoreticians argued - on the one hand this and on the other hand that - the masses of our people carried the burden of our struggle for democracy, peace, non-racism, non-sexism and prosperity.

I know it as a matter of fact that these great masses will join the historic struggle in which we are engaged, for fundamental change and development.

The political leadership gathered in this House will have to take its own decision as to whether it will lead or follow these masses.

To the faint-hearted and cynical, who will mock the strivings of the people because they do not want to join in the offensive to make a decisive break with our past, what we will say, in seTswana, is - sesafeleng, se a tlhola! I thank you for your participation in the debate and your attention.

Bheki khumalo
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