Response to the Debate on the Vote of
the Presidency, National Assembly, 19 June 2003
First of all, I would like to thank you for your good
wishes on the occasion of my birthday yesterday. In
this regard, I would also like to express the resolve
that all of us in government share that as long as we
are charged with the responsibilities we carry as the
national government of our country, we will continue
to use all our energies honestly to serve the people
of South Africa to the best of our abilities.
In this regard, I would agree fully with the Hon Dr
Mangosuthu Buthelezi that "our people need the
full measure of attention which our Government can give
them and we hope that the Presidency will be able to
provide its tested and strong leadership to move the
country forward on the path of development at a much
faster pace and on the basis of a vision which allows
us to draw value from being Africans born and bred in
the unique country of South Africa." I am certain
that the occasion of the debates on the various budget
votes of the various departments gave this House the
opportunity to assess whether the Government is responding
to this call, to give our people the full measure of
attention they need. Yesterday and other times in the
past, in this House and elsewhere, we have sought to
emphasise the fact that indeed the government has decided
to pay particular attention to the effective implementation
of the policies we have adopted. We are doing this and
will continue to do so.
The Hon Mr Ditshetelo said our effectiveness in this
regard is compromised by the fact, as he put it, that
"we simply think he is preoccupied with issues
that are hundreds of miles away from home. We say charity
begins at home....The perception among ordinary South
Africans is that our President does not care, nor has
the time to listen to their cries. This is a reality
we cannot simply ignore, it is informed by our people's
daily experiences." I am afraid I do not agree.
Obviously, the Hon Member and I talk to different South
Africans. But beyond this, we will continue to be preoccupied
with issues that are hundreds of miles away from home.
I am certain that we have no choice in this matter,
unless we decide to extricate ourselves from the process
of globalisation, to lose interest in the development
of the rest of our continent and abandon a value system
that has characterised our struggle and movement for
national liberation for many decades, the value system
informed by international and human solidarity, the
solidarity that played such an important part in our
national effort to end the system of apartheid.
South Africa is linked to the rest of Africa and the
world at large in many ways. We are not a small village
stuck away in the middle of nowhere, which the world
passes by and which does not even know that the rest
of the world exists.
We do not support the notion that our country can develop
and emerge as a winning nation on the basis of its isolation
from the rest of the world. The "issues that are
hundreds of miles away from home" to which the
Hon Member refers are very directly relevant to whether
we succeed in the effort so to transform ourselves into
a winning nation.
It may also be that some among us are unaware of the
value that many in the world attach to the contribution
of our country and people to the solution of the problems
that confront humanity as a whole. Apart from anything
else, this makes it necessary for all our people, and
not just the government, to respond to this high international
level of confidence in our country's capacity to contribute
something valuable to the improvement of the human condition.
It would be incorrect to walk away from this obligation
and uncharacteristic of us as a people that is very
conscious of the inner sense of the concept of ubuntu,
and the oneness of all humanity. We should not build
a Chinese Wall between what is domestic and what is
foreign and present a false dichotomy between what we
do at home and what we do abroad. Immediately, we cannot
separate our destiny from the destiny of the rest of
our continent. At the same time, we understand this
fully that we can best contribute to a successful African
Renaissance if we succeed and are succeeding in the
task of the reconstruction and development of our own
country. Indeed, it is precisely because of the advances
we are making in this regard that so many in Africa
and the rest of the world value our country's participation
in the global effort to confront the common challenges.
The Hon Dr Pieter Mulder said "according to some
political commentators, two factors are causing all
the problems in Africa: diversity and a refusal to tolerate
dissent." I can think of other reasons that cause
all the problems in Africa, poverty and underdevelopment
being central among them, which among other things,
leads to an intense struggle for limited resources.
But of course I am not a political commentator.
Nevertheless we fully recognise the importance of diversity
and tolerance of dissent in the overall process to transform
both our country and the rest of our continent. Other
Honourable Members also correctly drew attention to
the important issue of the diversity that characterises
our country, and sought to suggest what we should do
to respond to it, respecting the necessary diversity
of views in this regard.
But I believe that an important starting point in this
regard is the approach taken by such Hon Members as
Renier Schoeman and Annelize van Wyk among others.
As the Hon Members will recall, the Hon Renier Schoeman
"While being mindful of and sensitive to the pain
and suffering and conflict of the past, and even of
the present, I can, irrespective of my own past, play
my full role in every way I can, to help build a South
Africa that is caring and worthwhile and a better place
for all its people....I must not only be proudly South
African but I must also want this country to succeed
and to play its rightful role in our continent....I
must be part of an individual and a collective effort
to actually make it succeed." The Hon Annelise
van Wyk said: "I believe that the challenge now
is to live for our country....South Africa and her people
need us now. It needs all our talents, our commitment,
our love and passion. We need to live for our country.
We need to live for South Africa. That is the highest
sacrifice we can now make." I believe that if we
heed the advice of these Honourable Members, we will
be able to do what the Hon Cassie Aucamp pledged his
party to do, to "play its part positively to address
(our) challenges and to solve (our) problems."
The difficulties we face were highlighted in an article
that appeared in one of the weekend newspapers this
past Sunday. In this article, Prof Amanda Gouws, head
of the political studies department at the University
of Stellenbosch, in which she discusses the attitudes
of students at Stellenbosch to the challenge of national
Among other things, she says: "What do we say
to white students who claim they are too young to be
responsible for apartheid injustices? "I hear this
regularly in my politics classes. For many black students
of the same age, the wounds of apartheid still hurt,
but because they are in a minority in the classroom,
the debate about reconciliation is always uneven and
"Collective guilt is difficult to explain to students
who do not want to engage with apartheid history anymore.
They believe reconciliation is a 'feel-good concept'.
They think the truth came out during the TRC process,
that victims have forgiven the perpetrators and that
we now all live happily ever after.
"To them the socio-economic dimension of reconciliation
smacks of reverse discrimination where they have to
'pay the price for political decisions they were not
"We have not yet moved beyond the politics of
the past where we can have open debates about the past
and where students can formulate their own position
on reconciliation. Transformation is still viewed as
something 'imposed from above'.... "The problem
is that the university is still 'the host' welcoming
'the other' to an institutional culture where minority
students have to accept the rules of an existing culture.
Thus group politics, as they were in the past, remain
the prevailing strategy.... "Interests are therefore
defined in racial terms and not across racial boundaries....Students
have not progressed beyond the us/them divide - clearly
because white and black students do not share the same
interests and have not developed a collective voice.
Reconciliation is the status quo.
"A consequence of this perception of reconciliation
is that white students can remain passive - they have
to do nothing to change the status quo, while black
students have to be politically engaged to change it....
"Thus the challenge remains: how can reconciliation
be brought down to the grass roots level?" I have
quoted Prof Gouws at some length because of the important
matters she raises. I am convinced that all those among
us who are genuinely interested in national reconciliation,
ready to respond to the challenges our country faces,
in the manner suggested by the Hon Members Renier Schoeman,
Annelzi van Wyk, Cassie Aucamp and others, should study
Prof Gouws' honest and frank observations with great
Those of us who care to know the truth, as she has
sought to establish it, know that what she describes
is not peculiar to the University of Stellenbosch or
merely to students. It describes a situation that continues
to prevail throughout our society. Indeed, I have heard
the sentiments shared by the students expressed in this
very House with great passion and conviction.
I must confess, Madame Speaker, that I also liberally
quoted Prof Gouws because if I or another had made the
same observations as she does, we would have been accused
of "playing the race card", as the saying
goes, signalling that those we seek to address have
decided to close their ears and minds to what we seek
This matter came up even yesterday. For example, the
Hon Tony Leon said: "But it is on President's Mbeki's
watch that South Africa has moved from the politics
of the rainbow nation and reconciliation to the politics
of race-labelling and race-baiting." And as Prof
Gouws said: "Reconciliation is the status quo.
A consequence of this perception of reconciliation is
that white students can remain passive - they have to
do nothing to change the status quo, while black students
have to be politically engaged to change it....Thus
the challenge remains: how can reconciliation be brought
down to the grass roots level?", and I would add,
including the parliamentary grassroots? Madame Speaker:
The struggle against racism will be with us for a long
time. This is because the racist legacy of colonialism
and apartheid will be with us for a long time. Neither
I nor any other member of government draws any joy from
We who have known racism for countless generations
would shout in great jubilation if one day it could
be said that the scourge of racism in our country and
the world is no more. When we speak of racism and racial
stereotypes we do so because we know the hurt caused
to those who are victims of this racism.
As long as we suffer this hurt, so long we will continue
to fight to defeat that which hurts millions. There
are some among us who are keen that we should say nothing
about the hurt we feel. They treat our continuing struggle
against racism both as the very denial of national reconciliation,
and a deceitful political manoeuvre to achieve short
term partisan political gains.
When we speak of the hurt that affects millions, a
few tell us that we are neither entitled to feel such
hurt, nor allowed to state what we feel. My advice to
these is that they should desist from telling us what
to feel, think and say. I would like to advise them
that we fought for our liberation precisely because
we refused that anybody should tell us what to feel,
think and say.
We did not achieve liberation in order to perpetuate
a master/servant relationship in our country. In this
regard, let me make this matter clear once and for all,
there is nobody in our country or anywhere in the world
who is going to stop us from confronting the cancer
of racism and continuing the struggle to build a non-racial
There is nobody in our country or anywhere else in
the world, who will succeed to convince us that what
we should feel, think and say is what they tell us to
feel think and say. The repeated charge that we play
a so-called race card is not going to deter us from
continuing the struggle to defeat racism.
Between me and some of my white compatriots, there
is a great divide, a chasm, on the issue of racism,
in the manner described by Prof Amanda Gouws. They do
not like any reference to the issue of racism perhaps
because they want to forget the past. On the other hand,
we neither want to nor we will forget the past.
These white compatriots argue that to advance national
reconciliation, we must end the struggle against racism.
We disagree. Persisting racism and racial disparities
in our country constitute an obstacle to the achievement
of the goal of national reconciliation.
Precisely because we seek and value national reconciliation,
we will continue the struggle against racism. I have
even heard it said that the transformation process in
which we are engaged is inimical to the goal of national
Even Madiba's name is dragooned into this argument.
Thus he is presented as the great proponent of a process
of national reconciliation consisting of a rainbow nation,
minus the central element of transformation - to which
Prof Gouws referred, when she wrote: "Reconciliation
is the status quo." The white compatriots to whom
I have referred say that apartheid is a thing of the
past, and that to refer to it is to pull the country
backwards. We disagree. Any denial of the past and its
impact on the present would make it impossible for us
to focus on the real problems facing our people, which
are problems arising from the legacy of colonialism
These white compatriots accuse us of racism when we
talk about racism and expect us to heed what they are
saying. When they speak of racism, shifting the blame
onto the victim, they expect that we should keep quiet
even as they give themselves the right to speak. In
other words, they communicate the direct message that
they have a right to set the national agenda, and we
have a duty to accept that agenda.
Prof Gouws has said that in the classrooms of Stellenbosch
University, "the debate about reconciliation is
always uneven and acrimonious." In the context
of the situation we have sought to describe, this debate
will be uneven and acrimonious in this House and elsewhere
in our country, as long as the situation persists that
some among us treat the views of those who know what
racism means, with disdain and do not heed the call
made by the Hon Dr Pieter Mulder for all of us to tolerate
Fortunately, there are many in our country, both black
and white, who understand very well that reconciliation
is not just a 'feel-good concept', that the finalisation
of the work of the TRC did not end the need to strive
for reconciliation, that reconciliation is not, and
cannot be the status quo.
This was demonstrated yesterday in the important statements
made in this House, on this matter, by both black and
white Members of Parliament. It was illustrated by the
presence in the House of the young people, both black
and white, the great achievers who yearn for the new
and reconciled South Africa, born out of the process
It is on these South Africans that our country will
continue to depend for the success of the twin processes
of transformation and national reconciliation. Accordingly,
I would answer the question that Prof Gouws posed by
saying that recociliation is being brought down to grassroots
levels! Perhaps the question we should ask is what more
should we do to speed up the process of ensuring that
national reconciliation reaches more of our people,
resulting in the engagement of our challenges in the
manner indicated by the Hon Members Renier Schoeman,
Annelize van Wyk and Cassie Aucamp!
It seems clear to me that there are some in our country
who are not ready to respond to the call made by these
Honourable Members, who neither accept that our country
must go through a process of fundamental transformation,
nor see a role for themselves as active and conscious
participants in the historic process to achieve true
national reconciliation among our people.
However loud their voices, we should not treat them
as though they constitute the determining factor with
regard to the future of our country, because they are
not. We should leave them to go their merry way to fish
to their hearts' content for corrupt men.
Today, 90 years ago, the then parliament of our country
passed the 1913 Land Act. As the Hon Manie Schoeman
said yesterday, "it is right that we continue to
focus on this contentious issue (of land)" which
he! correctly described as an "emotional issue".
While agreeing with the Hon Manie Schoeman that we
need to move forward faster, we can say without hesitation
that we have made a good beginning as we continue to
focus on this contentious manner. Of great importance
is the fact that our country has not been torn apart
in a violent conflict to address the land question,
even though the process of land dispossession through
the centuries was accompanied by unequalled violence.
That we have moved forward as peacefully as we have
is a tribute to all our people, including the white
farmers. If we needed any example to show what we as
South Africans, both black and white, can do to transform
our country, heal the wounds of the past and achieve
national reconciliation, we need look no further.
The overwhelming majority of Hon Members and parties
that spoke yesterday conveyed a message of hope about
the future of our country and people. I am certain that
the masses of our people were inspired to hear those
voices of hope, as we were. For this I would like to
thank the Hon Members most sincerely. We will continue
to study their statements to see how we should respond
to the many suggestions that were made.
However, I should also make the point that it is less
than becoming that some Honourable Members abuse the
privilege of being members of this House by spreading
falsehoods, as did the Hon Rev Meshoe when he spoke
about an entirely non-existent "attempt by government
to remove Christmas and Good Friday from our calendar",
to use his words.
The Hon Manie Schoeman ended his statement with the
following words: "We are privileged to live in
this wonderful country at this point in our history.
Like the proverbial rocket, ready to be launched into
space, the countdown has begun - in fact, we are already
in the lift-off phase. Black and white are taking hands
to ensure the success of our mission. Indeed, success
I thank you.