Speech at the end of the Consideration of the Budget of the Presidency
22 June 2001

Madame Speaker,
Deputy President,
Honourable Members:

I am going to do something that I do not normally do and which I do not like doing. I am going to speak about myself.

As we grew up, we were taught always to tell the truth. We learnt that we should always search for the truth and not be happy with repeating dogma, however widespread the belief that such dogma represented the truth.

We were taught never to fear to defend that we believed was right. It was said that we must respect people even as they hold views that are different from ours.

Furthermore, we should understand that to swear at people or otherwise resort to foul language indicates that the dialogue has ended and the stage set for a physical fight. We were taught that no self-respecting person tells untruths and that a person who does not respect himself or herself cannot expect others to respect him or her.

I am certain that there are many in this House who will recognise themselves as students who were exposed to these instructions.

I speak in this manner because of some of the things that were said yesterday, as the Honourable Members participated in the debate on the Vote of the Presidency.

I refer, in particular, to the charge that far too often we use the so-called 'race card'; that what we say and do leads to feelings of marginalisation and disempowerment among the Afrikaners; that discussion of racism leads to mutual accusations, more racism and new tensions; and that the real issue that divides our country is poverty, which can only be addressed through higher rates of economic growth.

The burden of these statements is that we should not discuss racism because to discuss racism is both racist and foments racism. Indeed one of the speakers said that calls for reconciliation have been replaced by debate on racism.

Observations were made that even as the international community seeks to address the issue of racism, this should not take place in our country, as will happen when the UN World Conference on Racism convenes in Durban two months from now.

Evidently, some of the matters that are legitimate and correct subjects for discussion are national reconciliation, self-determination for the Afrikaners, poverty and economic growth.

We must assume from this that what is spoken of here is colour-blind national reconciliation, colour-blind self determination for the Afrikaners, colour-blind poverty and colour-blind economic growth.

Let me hasten to state that I agree fully with the Honourable Members that we must pursue the objective of national reconciliation with the greatest determination. This is fundamental to stability in our country and the building of a new society without racial tensions.

The Government and the parties in government will not waver in their pursuit of this goal.

The Government will also continue to address the issue of the collective rights of the Afrikaner people, as it must respect and advance the collective rights of all language and cultural groups in our country.

This is an inherent part of the process of our national reconciliation and is therefore also fundamental to the building of a new society free of racial and ethnic tensions.

We also agree fully that we must sustain a concerted offensive against poverty, aiming at its complete eradication, and agree that this is one of the structural faults that characterise our society, which we cannot but attend to, using all means at our disposal.

We further agree that we must work to ensure that our economy achieves higher rates of growth, to generate the opportunities and the material resources we need to realise the goal of a better life for all.

In all humility, I would like to suggest that the Government does not need educating on any of these matters. What we said in this House yesterday refers to all these matters in one way or another.

Beyond what we said yesterday and have said before, an honest and unprejudiced assessment of what the Government is actually doing and has been doing, will show that, at the very least, we have striven to translate our words into action.

This was the central message of our statement yesterday. The country and the opposition parties will be at liberty to ask, in future, whether we have kept to what we said we would do.

Accordingly, on the issues of national reconciliation, the rights and aspirations of all national groups, poverty and economic growth and development, we will continue to do, ready to listen to criticism where we fail and ready to listen to the opinions of those who might not be in government, including the opposition parties that sit in this House.

Madame Speaker:

Let me now return to the matter of my educational upbringing and its relevance to the matters we have been discussing.

According to the advice we received yesterday, and before, from some of the Honourable Members of the opposition parties, one of the things we must do is to stand up and say that our country has no problem of racism, with the exception of occasional incidents of black and white racism.

We must then go on to say that the racial socio-economic legacy we inherited from our apartheid past is no longer a distinguishing feature of our society. We would then proceed to say that, in reality, South Africa is a society of equals, regardless of race, colour, gender or geographic location.

Such inequality as exists, we are required to say, is inequality between and among social classes rather than between racial groups. I presume that, in terms of this advice, and with regard to the provisions in our national constitution that talk about our racist legacy and prescribe that we must act to address this legacy, we must also stand up and proclaim that these prescriptions are irrelevant and are only of rhetorical importance.

Were I to rise anywhere to make these extraordinary statements, I would not be surprised at the accompanying hoots of derisory laughter and the universal conclusion that the President is truly unhinged - which brings me back to my education.

Respect for the truth as I see it obliges me to say that it would be eminently dishonest to pretend and assert that the legacy of centuries of colonialism and apartheid has been wiped out in a period of seven years, since our liberation.

Such an assertion would obviously be false.

Love for our country and all its people also tells me that because we recognise and accept the reality of this legacy, which condemns our country to continuing conflict and the failure of the project for national reconciliation, we must act to eradicate this legacy.

Because this is a legacy of racist policies, we cannot and must not avoid discussion of racism, precisely to ensure that we end racism in our country.

It would seem only logical that to cure an illness, requires in the first instance that the illness must be diagnosed correctly. Any failure to recognise the fact of the illness, can only condemn the sick person to a further deterioration of his or her health.

I would like to believe, Madame Speaker, that all this is simple enough. Yet, there is a problem.

The problem is that some of our compatriots, including some in this House, are uncertain and deeply fearful of the future. Trapped in the entrenched consciousness of the past, they cannot define themselves outside the categories of the past.

Accordingly, they see our country as one that is divided according to racial majorities and minorities, with conflicting and irreconcilable interests. It is in this context that they decry what they describe as 'majoritarianism'.

They also make passionate appeals to us to abandon our allies of long standing and take them on as our new allies.

They promise that they will come to us as representatives of a national minority or minorities, whereas we are defined not by what we stand for, but by the fact that we represent a racial majority.

The irony in all this is that those who make this plea walked out of the Government of National Unity and refused to form a coalition government with us in this province, when, by popular vote, we had emerged as the single largest party in the province.

To respond to the unfounded fears about the future among some of our compatriots, we are asked to avoid telling the truth. We are asked to say that the legacy of apartheid of racial divisions and disparities is no more.

To force us to tell falsehoods, the insult is thrown out that the very people who sacrificed everything to end racism in our country have chosen to entrench racism, for opportunistic political purposes.

The problem is that we will not turn our backs on what we learnt about the absolute necessity to tell the truth, painful as the telling of that truth might be.

On May 10 last year, we discussed the issue of Zimbabwe. Regardless of the fact that I had addressed the issue of Zimbabwe a number times by then, strident calls were still being made for me to make a strong statement on the situation in Zimbabwe.

It was clear to me that the reason for this insistence had nothing to do with Zimbabwe, but reflected fears that here, too, we might act in a hostile manner towards our white compatriots. I said that in this House, for which I was accused, yesterday, of having used 'the race card' once again.

According to Hansard, what I said was this:

"Here one has a black government across the Limpopo which is perceived to be doing particular things regarding this land matter. What guarantee do we have that the black Government this side of the Limpopo will not do the same things? That is what is driving this demand, not the resolution of the Zimbabwe question."

When I made this point, I believed it to be true and remain convinced that I was right.

On that occasion, here is what the Honourable Marthinus van Schalkwyk, leader of the NNP, said:

"Madam Speaker, I was not going to ask a question, but, in the light of the President's answer, I think I must make a short statement and ask a question, because he raised the issue, as he did outside in public, that it is a black government and that is why people here react in a certain way. Let me speak as a member of a minority. When we see, as members of minorities, what happens, inter alia, to minorities in Zimbabwe, yes, there is fear. It is not a politically correct statement, but I am reacting directly to what the President said."

It is true that the Honourable Member went on to say that the concerns of the minorities did not arise from the fact that we had black governments on both banks of the Limpopo, but from a matter of principle and the friendly relations between the ruling parties in Zimbabwe and South Africa.

Nevertheless, Madam Speaker, the point about national minorities had been made. At that point, I responded as follows:

"I perfectly understand how national minorities in any country would entertain fears like that. That is perfectly natural...Why will that thing that is happening there (in Zimbabwe) not happen here?"

On the 10th of May, 2000, the Honourable Member had the courage to tell the truth about the fears of the minorities. It would seem that by the 21st of June, 2001, that courage had deserted him and what was true in May last year, had turned into a 'race card' by June this year.

Madame Speaker:

I have discussed this matter at this length because the creation of a non-racial society is central to the historic task of building a new South Africa.

To achieve this objective, we will continue to tell the truth as we see it. We will continue to focus our energies on ending the racist legacy, which stares us in the face everyday. We will not be persuaded that the best way to deal with racism in our country is to pretend that the problem does not exist.

We are fortunate that we too are South African. We do not accept that there are some politicians who have an exclusive right and possibility to speak for the white citizens of our country.

The overwhelming majority of our white citizens see South Africa, quite correctly, as their home. They have no desire to and will not go anywhere else. They are committed to work to rebuild this country as their own.

They do not see our black citizens as a threatening horde of barbaric natives, but as compatriots with whom they work together everyday for the common good.

I would never insult them by suggesting that they say agreeable things when they talk to me, while they tell a tale of fear for the future when they interact with particular political parties.

Furthermore, Madam Speaker, nobody will convince me that the Afrikaners as a whole fear that I might stalk them in the night to wreak vengeance on unsuspecting women and children.

There are too many Afrikaners that I have trusted for many years and worked with to bring about change, and who have done so without asking for anything in return, for me to believe political stories that the Afrikaners, in general, are afflicted by a disease of irrational fear.

I know that there are some among our white compatriots who behave in unacceptable ways. Nevertheless, I am convinced that these are not representative of white opinion in our country.

I will stand up to proclaim these truths everywhere, whatever the political cost to myself. Perhaps needless to say, I will never seek to purchase popularity and approval by those who have the capacity to amplify their voices, by communicating what I know to be false, dishonest and dishonourable.

The high post we occupy demands that we act with integrity, not informed by any desire to achieve cheap popularity. In addition, Madame Speaker, we will not compromise the better future of our people, both black and white, in exchange for positive opinion polls and temporary political gain.

In this regard, Madam Speaker, I must make the point as strongly as I can, that our country is subject to too high a level of violence. Too many in our society have no respect for human life and for the inviolability of the individual.

I believe that all of us have become too accustomed to violence against persons, in all its forms. For years, by far the biggest cause of death in this country has been what, in statistical tables, is described as 'external causes of death'.

The Government must take the lead in communicating the message that we have had enough of the violence in our society. We must communicate the message that an injury to any of our people, is an injury to all of us. Together we must ensure that we give no quarter to criminal violence.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission is approaching the conclusion of its work. As Government, we will return to parliament with proposals about how we should build on the important work done by the Commission.

This will include the critical and complex issue of what the law describes as final reparations, which are an essential part of our process of national reconciliation.

We will also have to discuss the issue of how we handle any unfinished work that bears on political offences that were committed in the past, for which a sizeable number of our people did not apply for amnesty.

Madam Speaker:

Let me also take this opportunity to warn against the rush to reach conclusions on the basis of allegations or insufficient information. It might very well be an imperative of opposition to seize any opportunity to oppose the Executive.

However, I have been concerned at the ease with which some have found it possible to treat rumours and allegations as facts, driven, in part, by the wrong concept that the Executive is necessarily corrupt and suspect.

I believe that the Legislature must guard against the eventuality that the people arrive at the determination that members of parliament are more interested in attacking the Executive than in advancing the truth.

The Members of Parliament who sit in the Executive and the Executive itself, do not represent the epitome of evil, however much it might seem a beneficial political strategy to present them as such.

Madam Speaker,
Honourable Members:

The peoples of the world will gather in Durban towards the end of August to consider how humanity might respond to the challenges of racism, xenophobia and other discriminatory practices.

We will have to prepare to receive these delegates with our usual hospitality, ready to engage the serious issues that the World Conference will address.

Among other things, we will have to tell the peoples of the world what we are doing to end racism in our own country. I pray that we have the possibility to speak with one voice at this important Conference.

I trust that we will be able to speak honestly to all the delegates about what we have done, what we plan to do and the obstacles we face in our common struggle to create a non-racial and non-sexist society.

There is much that we can add to the positive outcome of the Conference. The world expects this of us. We should not disappoint this expectation.

The Honourable Dr Mangosuthu Buthelezi spoke of what might be done to give due respect to the office of Head of State. I thank him most sincerely for raising this question.

However, it is clear to me that our country still needs time to evolve its own conventions about how to handle this office. In the meantime, we will do whatever we can to protect the dignity of this office and to position it as a representative of all the people of our country, regardless of race or political affiliation.

I have referred some of the more specific questions raised by the Honourable Members to our Ministers, who will communicate our responses to the Honourable Members concerned. These include the matter of the former members of the Bophuthatswana Defence Force who opted for demobilisation.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the Deputy President and Minister Essop Pahad, Director General Frank Chikane, the advisors and the rest of the staff in the Presidency for the valuable work they do everyday, as well as their dedication which means that they never have any 'knock-off time'.

I must also thank the Ministers, Deputy Ministers and Directors General who have all carried out their tasks splendidly. I am not afraid to say that we have an excellent team.

I am very pleased that we have as many women Ministers and Deputy Ministers as we do, who are central to the accomplishment of the task of the creation of a people-centred society.

Tomorrow, Deputy Minister Ntombazana Botha will be burying her son, Lt Col Anthony Joseph Smith, officer serving in the School of Armour at Tempe, who succumbed to a brain tumour. I am certain that all of us extend heartfelt condolences to her.

I have appreciated the time I have spent in this House interacting with the Honourable Members and urge that the Honourable Members do whatever they can to contribute to the mobilisation of all our people to unite in action for change.

I thank all the members who had the possibility to participate in this debate. We noted all the comments and will consider them carefully.

I thank you also, Madame Speaker, as well as the presiding officers.

Our country is proud of everything you have done and are doing.

Thank you.


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