Response of the President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, to the Debate of the State of the Nation Address: National Assembly, Cape Town: February 17, 2005.

Madame Speaker,

Honourable Members:

I would like to thank the leaders of the political parties and other Honourable Members for their contributions to the debate of last week's State of the Nation Address. Altogether these added up to a formidable number of 55 speeches, covering a wide variety of subjects.

To avoid being shouted down, I will say nothing about their quality. Perhaps we should heed the words of the Honourable Bantu Holomisa when he says that: "We spend a lot of time answering each other in debates such as these, but often we do not answer the pertinent questions. I refer to the major questions facing the nation, the questions that directly influence the quality of life of all South Africans."

Nevertheless there is no doubt that the contributions raised questions that require attention, to varying degrees.

Obviously it is not possible for me to respond to the majority of these during this Reply. However the Presidency will attempt something it has not done in the past. We will do our best to respond to the individual Honourable Members to the extent that they have raised matters we can respond to without having to author whole books in reply.

In my response this afternoon I would like to address a few matters that I believe are of strategic importance in terms of the future of our country. Within this context, I will refer to one extent or another to some of the issues raised by the Honourable Members.

There are certain outcomes in terms of the development of our country that are fundamental to the very being of the ANC and therefore our government. I will mention only a few of these, all of which are consistent with the provisions both of the Freedom Charter and the Constitution.

One of these is the building of a non-racial society, consistent with the goal stated in both the Freedom Charter and the Constitution that South Africa belongs to all who live in, united in their diversity.

This means that we must realise the goal of the transformation of our country away from its racist part, while simultaneously pursuing the corollary objectives of national reconciliation and cohesion.

Our government is convinced that our very long and difficult struggle for liberation and its outcome, a democratic South Africa, would have absolutely no meaning if we did not work in the most determined and sustained manner to achieve this objective. We will therefore not waiver in our pursuit of this goal.

We will therefore not accept the advice given by the DA against what the Hon Tony Leon described as "the ANC's use of racial profiling for nearly every other purpose under the sun", having stated that "we cannot promote non-racialism if the government tries to classify land and property by race".

We will therefore deliberately, regularly and consistently seek answers to a whole variety of questions to understand whether our policies and programmes are succeeding to achieve the objectives contained in our Constitution.

Among others, we will ask:

How many black people have moved above the poverty line?

How many black people are employed and unemployed?

How many young black people matriculate with exemptions in mathematics and the sciences?

How many black people are skilled and have attained professional qualifications?

How many black people occupy managerial positions in the public and private sectors?

How many black people have gained access to land?

Taking these and other matters into account, how far have we moved towards the creation of a non-racial society?

Among other things, we will make a deliberate effort to study the ways in which the UK measures its progress towards non-racism, especially as provided in law and in the programmes of the statutory Commission for Racial Equality.

In this regard, we will seek to determine the practical effect of the statement made by the Commission that "the innovative legislation that came fully into force in England and Wales in May 2002 was about shifting the race equality agenda in the public sector so that it embraced a proactive, positive duty to deliver on race equality outcomes and good race relations."

Like the British people we will assess on a continuous basis whether our policies and programmes truly reflect "a proactive, positive duty to deliver on race equality outcomes and good race relations."
We will also draw on the experience of such U.S. statutory institutions as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which is legally mandated to fight against discrimination in the workplace, carried out on the grounds of national origin and race, among others.

We will also study the work of the EU watchdog, the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia, whose central task is "to help the EU and its Member States to establish measures or formulate courses of action against racism and xenophobia".

In the light of all this, the DA may argue that the UK, the US and the EU are, like us, trying to "re-racialise" their societies. Obviously we would reach the opposite conclusion that these three are at least trying to address the serious problem of racism in the UK, the US and the EU.

I am afraid that in this regard, perhaps the best we can hope to achieve by way of a national consensus is agreement to disagree.

Unlike the UK, the US and the EU, our government has an absolute responsibility to ask yet another set of questions and get specific answers to these questions.

Among others, we have to ask:

Are our policies resulting in the impoverishment of our white compatriots?

How many white people are employed and unemployed, especially in the context of our policies?

How many young white people matriculate with exemptions in mathematics and the sciences, especially in the context of our policies?

How many white people are skilled and have attained professional qualifications, especially in the context of our policies?

How many white people occupy managerial positions in the public and private sectors, especially in the context of our policies?

How many white people are landless, especially in the context of our policies?

We have to ask these and other questions because whatever we do to respond to the Constitutional imperative to build a non-racial society, to eradicate the legacy of colonialism and apartheid, we must, at the same time, achieve the vitally important objectives of national reconciliation, national unity and cohesion.

Yesterday, the Hon Pieter Mulder appealed to all of us to speak frankly. Perhaps to my peril, I will do exactly as he advised.

It is clear to me that some Honourable Members believe that our pursuit of the goal of the transformation of our country to become truly non-racial, and therefore the property of all of us, is a scarcely disguised attempt at so-called reverse racism.

What this says is that it is not possible deliberately to uplift the overwhelming black majority, disadvantaged by three-and-half centuries of racial domination, without disadvantaging the white minority whose exclusive welfare had been the central preoccupation of three-and-half centuries of white rule, whatever its form, its changing historical expression, and its impact on various sections of white South Africa.

In this context, I have read arguments that those of us who are products of the struggle for the national emancipation of the black people are guilty of gross distortions of the history of the Afrikaner people. I have no doubt that in the presentation of the whole, we may very well have misrepresented some of the parts.

In the last two days, I heard this point argued in this House from two diametrically opposed positions, the one by the Hon Pieter Mulder and the other by the Hon Marthinus van Schalkwyk. Perhaps the time has come that we challenge our intelligentsia to engage this discussion, in the frank manner suggested by the Hon Pieter Mulder.

Perhaps the Ministers of Education, the Presidential Working Group of Leaders of our Institutions of Higher Education, and the Commission for Linguistic, Cultural and Religious Rights should take the initiative to answer the question - what stories about our past shall we tell the young and the generations to come!

Whatever else may come out of these processes, the point however is that they must empower all our people, black and white and united in their diversity, to act together to achieve the inseparable objectives of non-racism, national reconciliation and national cohesion.

Regardless of its detail, the history that would be told, would communicate the unequivocal message that whatever the effort to make peace, as Zulu and Afrikaner built a simple monument of stone pebbles at Ncome River, as the Hon Pieter Mulder recounted, there could never be permanent peace while the peacemakers, with smiling faces, searched for an opportunity each to secure superiority over the other, rather than equality and a shared destiny within a common motherland.

Let me therefore return to the question - is it possible to build a non-racial society, to eradicate the consequences of white racism, without substituting this with black racism!

Expressed in more practical terms - is it possible to implement an affirmative action, catch-up policy, in favour of the black section of our population, without simultaneously implementing a discriminatory policy focused specifically at white exclusion!

I heard some Members of this House give the categorical answer to this question - no! The Hon Pieter Mulder argued that such affirmative action is a necessary evil.

He argued that necessary as it may be, it is nevertheless evil and should be terminated within a specific time frame that we must set, in the same way that we had agreed that the historical moment of the passage of the 1913 Land Act should be the cut-off point with regard to land claims.

Naturally, the Hon Motsoko Pheko argued quite correctly that the 1913 Land Act only served to entrench the process of violent land dispossession that had taken place earlier. Accordingly, to use this date as the cut-off point, was merely to endorse the process of dispossession that led to the constitution of the native reserves, the so-called homelands, the Bantustans, and the system of group areas, specifically on the basis of the 1913 Land Act.

Correct as he may be from the point of view of historical fact, what the Hon Pheko seems to ignore is the fact that in 1993, 80 years after the adoption of the Land Act, we entered into an historic compromise. According to that covenant, we entered into an exchange that we would abandon all our claims to the land the African majority had lost before 1913, as a result of violent colonial dispossession.

In return we expected two things. One of these was that such dispossession as took place after 1913 would be addressed without resistance on the part of those who benefited from land dispossession after that date.

We also expected that those who had something to lose as a result of the dismantling of the colonial legacy would accept that a democratic system of government would be put in place. Naturally, this government would ensure that at least the post 1913 land claims would be settled without undue delay.

Our experience with regard to the latter speaks for itself. To all intents and purposes, the vigorous defence of property rights even over land forcibly acquired since 1913, which rights are protected in terms of our Constitution and laws, to buy all our people peace and democracy, has served to nullify the historic compromise of 1993 with regard to the land question.

For ten years our government has accepted this outcome, and will continue to do so. It will continue to prevail over the people to agree to live with this reality. Perhaps perversely in the eyes of some, including the Hon Motsoko Pheko, we will continue to insist that the land question must be dealt with in a manner that is consistent with our Constitution.

Everything I have said with regard to the land question should communicate the message that all of us, as South Africans, need to understand that as the struggle for freedom from white minority domination had its price, so will our efforts to achieve non-racism and national reconciliation have their price. That price will have to be paid by both black and white South Africans.

But for the experiment to succeed, to achieve non-racism and national reconciliation a mere ten years after the end of three-and-half centuries of racism, racial conflict and racial domination, requires an extraordinary visionary imagination from all our people, black and white, united in their diversity.

It calls for what may perhaps be called a miracle of true national reconciliation, and the miraculous discovery that after all, South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white, united in the diversity.

The practical consequence of that discovery would be that all of us take this truly on board, and into the depths of our consciousness, that South Africa cannot but be as black and white as it is.

All of us would have to internalise the reality that our very collective future depends on the ability of all our people to understand that the success of black South Africa is conditional on the success of white South Africa, and that the success of white South Africa is conditional on the success of black South Africa.

If indeed we all came to understand this, together we would have to answer the question as to what white South Africa should do to ensure that black South Africa succeeds, and what black South Africa should do to ensure that white South Africa succeeds!

In answering this question, we would have to make a determination about the price each one of us is ready to pay to contribute to the greater good, without which our better future cannot be guaranteed.

Madame Speaker;

We also agree with the argument advanced by the honourable Holomisa in favour of a developmental state that plays an important role with regard to the growth and development of the economy. It is in this context that we have always rejected attempts to make us reduce the role of the state in the transformation of our country as articulated by Honourable Tony Leon when he said that "we must choose smaller government and bigger individuals". What government has done in the last decade, to change the living conditions of the poor and marginalised for the better would not have been realised if we had a "smaller government and bigger individuals".

And indeed the honourable professor Ben Turok is right when he says that: "The market favours the strong, so the disadvantaged need supporting institutions. This is where there is a role for the state, and this is why we have broad based economic empowerment, policies on labour intensive methods, new institutions for micro-credit, cooperatives and the rest of our new legislation. If we do not use these mechanisms we shall have white economic domination forever."

It is because as government, we do not want to see the legacy of apartheid becoming a permanent feature of our lives that we will continue to strengthen the democratic state so as to make it a powerful tool that would forever help the poor to realise the dream of a life free of poverty, free of hunger, free of unemployment and free of underdevelopment.

Madam Speaker;

I would also like to address the matter raised by a number of speakers in this house. This is the allegation that the government's empowerment programme benefits the few.

I would like to say that as we work for a South Africa whose prosperity should benefit all who live in it, I agree that this programme of opening up economic opportunities to black people should not benefit only the few.

In the last four years, the Department of Public Works has consistently awarded between 57-62% of its contracts to BEE companies with last year's contracts valued at more than R1,5 billion. I am confident that if the honourable members checked the names of those who got these contracts, they would not find the names of those that are always given as examples of BEE benefiting the few politically-connected individuals.

From 1997 to last year, Telkom spent nearly R24 billion on BEE. During the 2004 the company procured 57,8% of its services from BEE suppliers. Similarly between 1998 and 2004, Eskom spent R26,6 billion on BEE in the areas of procurement, community development and rural development. Transnet has since 2003 achieved the objective of spending 50% of its discretionary funds on BEE. Again, none of those who benefited from these transactions, and others in other state enterprises, are the few politically connected individuals. This pattern repeats itself in all government's departments and state enterprises and is a response to the directive of government that economic empowerment must be broad based.

Madam Speaker;

For us, as a nation, to realise the dream of a united, non-racial and non-sexist society we have to succeed with the programme of the empowerment of women. In this regard, for instance, although government has made some good progress since 1994, the percentage of women in management positions in the public sector is still below the 30% target set for 2000, with current figure standing at 27,75%.

According to the Catalyst census into South African Women as Corporate Leaders, of the total 3 125 directorship positions, only 221 are held by women. Only 11 women chair the boards out of 364 chairpersons and there are only seven female CEO's and managing directors in comparison to 357 males.

Clearly, the government, parliament and the private sector need to look at how we can accelerate the process of ensuring that we move forward faster towards the goal of gender equality.

Madam Speaker;

The honourable Dr. Pieter Mulder also mentioned some disturbing criminal cases involving a doctor and an elderly farmer, one threatened with death because he is white and Afrikaner and the other beaten to death. The police must follow-up these cases and apprehend those responsible for these crimes, so that they face the full force of the law. As we said on Friday we will continue to improve the capacity of the police services so that criminals such as those cited by the Dr. Mulder are dealt with accordingly.

Dr. Mulder made a threat that if I "want to make people angry" I have "to insult their history, their hero's and their ancestors". This was with reference to place-name changes. Dr. Mulder proceeds from a historical distortion perpetuated for centuries by the colonial and apartheid rulers that when white people of our country arrived in South Africa they found no blacks. Accordingly, when these whites arrived in the different areas of South Africa these places had no names because they were empty forlorn pieces of land and the current black citizens, who are presumably aliens, have no heroes and no ancestors who belong to these areas. I would like to urge Dr. Mulder that if we are to build a South Africa that belongs to all who live in it, we should be prepared to learn the true history of this country without distortions, without propaganda and without threats.

In this regard, I believe that the approach taken by Honourable Marthinus Van Schalkwyk points us in the right direction. He said: "…The point is that acceptance and respect for history cannot come from one side. We cannot say that we insist on the inclusion of the previous National Anthem in the present one, or that we insist Afrikaans must get proper or even special recognition but then, when we ourselves are called upon to respect and understand deserving symbols of the struggle, we suddenly intellectualise about why this is not possible. A common history presupposes a broader view and the greatness of spirit which has become the hallmark of South Africa - but which must still permeate to all corners of our country."

Madam Speaker;

Another important matter raised during the debate is the question of the protection of the Afrikaans language. We have dealt with this matter on many occasions in this chamber as well as with meetings with many other leading Afrikaans speaking people of our country.

As the honourable members know, we have always responded positively to the need to protect Afrikaans because we are motivated by our commitment to the constitution which enjoins us to protect and promote all cultures, languages and religions as part of achieving the objective of building a united, non-racial and non-sexist society.

And as Minister Mdladlana said during the debate, Afrikaans is a South African language and this government will at all times defend this language as we will do with all other languages. I am quite confident that many South Africans, because they fully understand that we are united in our diversity, would also be prepared to defend all our languages, including Afrikaans.

At the same time, government has also been receiving numerous complaints about Afrikaans being used, especially in some schools, to exclude black learners from government schools. In some instances, black children have no choice but to learn Afrikaans because this would ensure that they are admitted at these schools. Clearly, nobody, including the honourable members who have raised concerns about this matter, would agree that language should be used to deny fellow South Africans access to schools or other facilities.

The Minister of Education has already agreed to meet some Afrikaans speaking people to seek an equitable accommodation with regard to these matters.

But clearly, the more we understand one another's languages and cultures, the better would we overcome prejudices and misunderstandings and accordingly make a contribution to building the solid foundation that is so critical for a non-racial and non-sexist South Africa.

Honourable Members;

Let me again thank all the members who participated in this debate. I hope that even where there are disagreements, given the different philosophical and ideological views we hold, members will still find a way of engaging the programme we have placed before parliament and the nation to help accelerate the important process of creating a developed and prosperous South Africa whose citizens will, through their collective efforts, defeat poverty and underdevelopment as well as create a non-racial non-sexist society.

I thank you.

Issued by The Presidency

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