Response of the President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, to the State of the Nation Debate: National Assembly, May 27, 2004

Madame Speaker,
Deputy President,
Honourable Members,
Fellow South Africans:

Last Friday, speaking on behalf of our national government, we detailed a programme of action covering the period immediately ahead of us. As we reminded the House then, when we presented the State of the Nation Address in February, we said that the President elected after the 2004 elections would table such a programme of action.

We deliberately avoided detailing this programme in February because we did not want it to be expunged from the public mind by the inevitable cacophony that would accompany the then forthcoming elections. It seemed to us then, as it does now, that it would be necessary for as many of our people as possible critically to engage this programme of action, outside the context of the election campaign.

We consider this engagement to be of the greatest importance. This is because it remains our firm view that we should unite as many of our people as possible, together to pursue the goal of a better life for all.

I am therefore pleased to acknowledge with sincere thanks the generally positive response of the Honourable Members to the detailed programme we presented. I also accept that nevertheless the opposition parties have a right and duty to criticise our performance where they think this is justified and necessary.

The point has also been made, quite legitimately, that the setting of time frames will assist these parties properly to monitor the implementation of our undertakings and enhance the effectiveness of parliament in exercising its function of oversight over the executive.

I have also been informed that quite a few of our newspapers called on us to implement what we had voluntarily committed ourselves to implement, with no pressure or prompting by anybody. I would like to assure the editors that we would not have made time specific commitments unless we knew we would honour them, unless we knew we had the capacity to fulfil them.

I hope that in addition to being vigilant and vocal observers of the process of the birth of the new South Africa, the Honourable Members will also roll up their sleeves and join the millions of our people as builders of that new South Africa.

I am certain that these millions would applaud this engagement, regardless of the political affiliation of any of the builders of the new non-racial, non-sexist and prosperous South Africa. Again I would like to confirm the government's commitment to work with all the Honourable Members, together to accelerate the process of the reconstruction and development of our country.

However, it would appear that there are some in our country who find the notions of national consensus, national unity and united national action very discomfiting. To explain this discomfiture, those who are uncomfortable with these concepts and practices, seek to argue that national consensus and united national action constitute a threat to a necessary diversity of opinions in our country and a vibrant democracy.

Yesterday, the Hon Lechesa Tsenoli referred to the protracted and continuing struggle of our national liberation movement to unite our people. In the past we worked to unite all our people against racism and apartheid, in favour of a democratic South Africa.

We worked to unite all our people to achieve a peaceful resolution of the historic conflict in our country, in favour of a democratic South Africa.

Today, we continue to work to unite all our people to eradicate the painful legacy of racism and sexism we inherited from our past, in favour of a democratic South Africa.

We continue to work to unite all South Africans to defeat the scourge of poverty and underdevelopment, in favour of a democratic South Africa.

We will strive to unite all our people to implement the programme of action we announced on Friday, in favour of a democratic South Africa that truly belongs to all who live in it. We will do this because we are convinced that our unity gives us the possibility to accelerate our advance to a South Africa that is free of poverty and the racial, gender and geographic disparities bequeathed to us by our history.

But as we have said, it would appear that there are some in this House and the country who think that the imperative to sustain our democracy argues against the desirability of seeking the national unity around common goals that has been and continues to be a fundamental feature of the historic effort to set our country on a winning path.

Obviously we disagree with this proposition and approach. Nevertheless, perhaps we will have to be satisfied with the reality that our inherited, current and different life experiences over many centuries dictate that we should accept that some among us genuinely and honestly believe that the effort to construct a people's contract is inimical to democratic practice.

I am certain that the very thoughtful intervention of the Honourable Andries Nel will have helped all of us the better to understand the philosophical basis that informs this divergence between us and those of our compatriots who see an inherent and irreconcilable contradiction between concerted national action and the entrenchment of democracy.

I trust that this deeper understanding will also help all of us to accept that the holding and propagation of views with which we fundamentally disagree, does not necessarily make those with whom we disagree unpatriotic, as various Honourable Members of the Democratic Alliance said.

In addition, I would like to take this opportunity once more to confirm our determination to pursue the centrally important element of our programme of action - the mobilisation of all our people to join the people's contract for progressive change, as was urged by such Honourable Members as Fezile Bhengu and Ben Mthembu, who spoke yesterday.

Happily, the overwhelming majority of our people, regardless of race, class, gender and age, agree that we need the people's contract, and are ready to be part of this exciting advance in our continuing pursuit of the goal of national unity and reconciliation.

We took this matter further in the State of the Nation Address when we said:

"These circumstances (relating to the global celebrations of our 10th anniversary of freedom and the success of our bid for the 2010 Soccer World Cup) suggest that perhaps the time has come for the emergence of a united movement of the peoples of the world that would come together to work for the creation of a new world order. This would respond to the urgent need to address the concerns and interests of the billions on our universe who are poor and marginalized, as are the same masses in our country who must be the principal focus of our efforts to build a caring and people-centred society."

I know that there are some in this House and our country who dismiss this proposition as being nothing more than a mere flight of fancy, an extravagant pipedream. They are certain that any attempt to build such a united movement of the peoples of the world would be a futile and wasted effort.

Again we hold a different view, based on what we have seen with the natural eye. The outcome of our General Elections, the national celebrations of our First Decade of Freedom, and the powerful explosion of joy at the decision of the FIFA Executive Committee about the 2010 Soccer World Cup all told an extraordinary story of how far we have progressed towards the emergence of one nation united by common humane national goals.

The joy we experienced in our own country was replicated throughout our continent of Africa. In their millions, the ordinary African masses spontaneously took to the streets of their cities, towns and villages repeating the words that passed among the people of Rwanda - "we have won!"

Yomi, a Nigerian, called a radio station and said: "I feel like jumping up and shouting 'Uhuru'!" Another Nigerian, Adekunle Ayewo, said: "Boy oh boy, Africa has arrived and I am so happy!" President Nujoma spoke proudly of "the songs and dances in the streets of our cities and towns of Namibia last Saturday".

A Cameroonian, Patrice Nde, said: "(South Africa) is a country of great achievements. Come 2010, Fifa will not regret having awarded the World Cup to (South Africa). I will open a special bank account into which I will save some money for (going to) the tournament." The champion athlete of Mozambique, Maria Mutola, said: "I am extremely delighted." The Senegalese musician, Ishmael Lo, said: "South Africa was always way ahead and it will be a glorious event for the whole of Africa."

President Kufuor of Ghana said "Ghanaians from all walks of life are very enthused about this triumph with its many prospects for prosperity that lie ahead for the Continent... It is our hope that through this tournament our nations will be brought even closer to enable us to forge ahead for more glory." Michael Oti Adjei wrote in the "Ghanaian Chronicle" "The whole continent was immersed in the joy of South Africa triumph in Zurich."

President Toure of Mali said, "We are happy that (South Africa) has been chosen to host the event." The Communications Minister of Egypt, Nabil Benabdallah said "this win...is a victory for the whole African continent." Fisho Mwale, Deputy President of the Football Association of Zambia, said "All of us are winners and I am headed for my champagne glass."

Mr Sepp Blatter, the President of FIFA, said: "With South Africa being a multi-cultural and a multi-racial country, it is a dignified representative of Africa for the organisation of the World Cup. It is the beginning of a new era in Africa..."

A comment posted on Ghanaweb said, "Thank God South Africa won!"

But beyond, and in addition to these and many other reported comments, was the amazing spontaneous festival that erupted throughout Africa on Saturday, May 15, with millions of the simple folk who constitute the African masses happily living out the thought - Thank God South Africa won!

The commentator on Ghanaweb described South Africa as "a most authentic African country." He said that contrary to many other African countries, it has "the best road infrastructure; the best schools; the best hospitals; the best everything. No wonder that black Africans (throughout Africa) now deem South Africa a HEAVEN..."

The millions of Africans who celebrated with us on May 15 were making the statement that they would like to see all our countries having "the best road infrastructure; the best schools; the best hospitals; the best everything".

They were saying that what we have sought to do in our own country to change the lives of all our people for the better and to build a stable democracy in our multi-racial, multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society is consistent with the best aspirations shared by Africans throughout Africa. They are confident that the African Union and NEPAD will succeed to unite our continent in a common effort to achieve its renewal.

On Friday and elsewhere we commented on the way the peoples of the world joined us to celebrate our First Decade of Democracy, in certain instances, as in New Orleans in the United States, taking to the streets, as did our continent when we were granted the opportunity to host the 2010 Soccer World Cup. The peoples of the world were also making the same statement as did the African masses, indicating their readiness to join with these masses to build a better world.

Madame Speaker:

Yesterday's press carried reports of the highly successful launch by our National Treasury of a $1 billion 10-year global bond. These reports indicated correctly that this was "the lowest coupon on record for a South African dollar-denominated bond", which also had "the lowest spread yet for a South African dollar-bond".

The Treasury Director General, Lesetja Kganyago, also correctly observed that all this "reflects investor confidence in South Africa", and that the fact that it was oversubscribed, constituted a "resounding vote of confidence in South Africa".

All this and everything else we have said must surely inspire all of us to redouble our efforts to accelerate the process of the reconstruction and development of our country. I trust that our National Parliament will respond to the call made by some Honourable Members so to organise its work schedule to give Members the possibility to participate in the process of the implementation of the programme we announced last Friday.

Inevitably, we will also have to continue to respond to the minority inside and outside our country, which continues to propagate negative images of our country. Earlier this week, the CEO of Anglogold, Mr Bobby Godsell, alerted all of us to the continued existence of these negative sentiments among London-based fund managers.

Correctly, he said that we must join in a concerted effort to put out positive messages about ourselves. Describing the concerns of the fund managers as "wrong", he said that some elsewhere in the world held the view "that everything in Africa is bad, resulting in it not being competitive."

Again quite correctly, Mr Godsell called for a speedy implementation of the new mining legislation, which he said, "should put to bed international scepticism about expropriation".

It is most unfortunate that we still have others in our country who engage in conveying the negative images about ourselves that Mr Godsell spoke out against. For instance I have been informed that some within the mining sector are involved in an international campaign to demonise the new mining framework, approved by this Parliament, which other mining companies, such as Anglogold, are "very keen to (implement) as soon as possible", to quote Mr Godsell.

Something similar took place after the publication of the Report of the FIFA Inspection Group. On the subject of "Safety and Security in the Country", the Group said: "General information indicates that South Africa shows a lack of security, but the Group was not aware of any such claims during the visit, although it was possible to read press reports on some violence in marginal areas during our visit to the country...We therefore came to the conclusion that as long as people attending the 2010 Soccer World Cup kept within certain boundaries, they should not encounter any trouble. After (a) presentation (by the Police Service) we concluded that they have enough experience with this kind of event to handle them without difficulty."

After the publication of the FIFA Report, there were some in our country who insisted that safety and security was a matter of major concern to FIFA, whereas the Inspection Group had said that during its visit to our country it was not made aware of any substantiated claims of lack of security that would endanger our hosting of the Soccer World Cup.

The challenge we face, as identified by Mr Godsell, is also reflected in outrageous observations made by a US-based company that provides country risk profiles to the global investor community, like the fund managers that Mr Godsell spoke about. Among other things, in a report dated 1 March, 2004, this rating company says:

The passage of legislation to expedite the process of land redistribution "(creates) the potential for a rise in illegal land seizures...Add to that the likely eruption of conflict over crime, unemployment, corruption, and a possible third term effort by Mbeki, and the country appears to be headed toward a future that looks less like the rainbow nation envisaged a decade ago than a country headed toward considerable political, economic, and social upheaval."

It says that by standing for a second term, "Mbeki...has already defied Mandela's precedent by seeking re-election..."

South Africa is "a de facto one-party state".

"The government has also been unable to cope with (illegal) land occupations, themselves a consequence of the failure to move forward on land reform..."

"The military has been troubled by the difficulty of defining its role since apartheid ended. Officers hope that future roles in African peacekeeping will boost morale."

"The police are widely viewed as both inept and corrupt. Even after their conviction, most notorious criminals are able to bribe their way out of incarceration."

"The road to the elections and their aftermath are likely to be bumpy..."

We are fortunate that the overwhelming majority of the Honourable Members who participated in the Debate rejected this fundamentally false image our country projected by people who have a clear agenda to see us fail.

But the fact that this negative campaign persists, despite everything that has happened in our country over the last ten years, emphasises the need for us to join in united action to address the challenges we have all identified, relating to the pursuit of the goal of a better life for all our people.

It is clear that in the end, those who are intent deliberately to propagate falsehoods about our country will be proved wrong and defeated more by what we do than what we say.

The public responses of our ministers, premiers, mayors and heads of the state owned corporations to the State of the Nation Address indicate the firm commitment of the public sector to implement the programme of action we announced last Friday.

We have also been greatly encouraged by the positive response of the private sector, the trade unions and the rest of civil society to that Address. We look forward to the further strengthening of our links with both these social partners, together to meet the goals we indicated in the State of the Nation Address.

Two days ago the African Peace and Security Council was launched at the Headquarters of the African Union in Addis Ababa. This has sent out the important message that our continent is extremely serious in its resolve to confront the challenges that have plagued the African millions for a very long time. In this regard, necessarily and correctly, among other things, the Council took further decisions to reinforce the intervention of the African Union to end the bloody conflict in Darfur in Western Sudan.

Yesterday in Kenya, the Government of Sudan and the SPLA concluded their negotiations and signed the peace agreement so dear to the Sudanese people and the peoples of Africa. We would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the negotiating parties, as well as President Mwayi Kibaki, the government and people of Kenya and others who had the patience to work with the Sudanese negotiators to produce an excellent result.

We are ready to discharge the responsibilities entrusted to us by the Sudanese and the African Union, to lead the African process in support of the post-conflict reconstruction of the Sudan. A peaceful and democratic Sudan will add to the defeat of those who, as Mr Godsell said, hold the view that everything in Africa is bad.

Today the staff of the President's Office has been enlarged by the inclusion of 7 young girls studying in various schools in Cape Town. I am pleased that they are sitting in the House Directors' General box with their boss for the day, the Director General in the Presidency, the Rev Frank Chikane. They are here because we are participating in the national campaign to "Take a girl child to work".

Among other things they worked on is the response to the Debate I am currently tabling before the House.

In addition to participating in editing the draft, they have also contributed some additions, some of which we have included in the text. I apologise that I cannot include all of them today, and will use them in other speeches.

Noélle Koeries of Holy Cross High in Maitland says: "I look forward to the day when a person will be viewed as a person. On paper we are all equal, but in reality the struggle for equality continues. We must forever remember that we are human beings before anything else and that makes us worthy to be appreciated and acknowledged."

Annika Hendricks also from Holy Cross says: "I am very glad that this country has a democracy which our forefathers fought for. South Africa definitely has the potential to shine and is live with possibility. Today I am very proud to say I am a South African. Being a young woman in South Africa, I want the people of our land to recognise the rights of women in future, not only for me but for the generations to come. Women are going places...Equality for all."

Delia de Villiers of Brackenfell High School writes: "In a country such as South Africa, with its diverse and vibrant cultures, it is of crucial importance that people, especially women, are encouraged and empowered to rise above their circumstances to make a valuable and progressive difference in society."

Zandile Mazwayi of Good Hope Seminary Girls High School writes: "South Africa is only ten years old and therefore it is likely that in our growth process we are likely to make mistakes. I therefore make it every South African's task, instead of fighting over who makes what mistakes, let us rather help show each other the way...Let us focus on involving the youth more in Parliament."

Nandi Dlelapantsi of Harry Gwala Senior Secondary School says: "Today's Dream is definitely tomorrow's Reality."

I could not agree more both with her and all the others.

I thank the Honourable Members for their contributions to the Debate and thank you all for your attention.

As we said last Friday, let us get down to work in a people's contract to build a better South Africa and a better World.

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