Response of the President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, to the Debate on the Budget Vote of the Presidency: National Assembly, Cape Town, 8 June 2006.

Madame Speaker,
Honourable Deputy President,
Honourable Members of the National Assembly,
Fellow South Africans:

I am certain that many of us present in the House today and others among our people, will recall the day, almost three months ago, when the Secretary General of the United Nations, the Honourable Kofi Annan, addressed our parliament and nation from this podium. That was on March 14.

I do not know what the majority of us felt and thought as Kofi Annan spoke about what our country has come to represent in the eyes of the world community of nations.

Later that day, the Secretary General told me that he spoke as he did, because he believed that we might perhaps be too close to our own experience, and too engrossed in our daily challenges, fully to understand the meaning to all humanity of what we have been trying to do during the very short period of 12 years of our liberation.

I regret now that I did not tell him what I felt as he spoke from this podium, in praise of the nobility, the wisdom and humanism of our people.

Up to now, I have not explained to him that I might have seemed tongue-tied, because I was truly humbled by what was said about us by such an eminent statesperson, an outstanding African, and the occupant of the high position of Secretary General of the United Nations.

I am certain also that, except for those who are prone to conceit and vanity, it is always difficult to know how to respond to genuine words of praise that are spoken with honest and disinterested intent.

Very often, both perversely and in a positive sense, such praise embarrasses those who are the subject of the accolades. This, I am convinced, describes the response among many of us as we listened to the Honourable Kofi Annan, three months ago.

If you will allow me, I will now proceed to remind the National Assembly about some of the things about our country that Kofi Annan stated from this podium.

Among other things, the Secretary General said:

"The truth is that development in Africa requires a new approach; and the good news is that South Africa is pointing the way. First, you are pointing the way by what you are doing at home. South Africa today reminds us all of the remarkable African capacity for forgiveness and reconciliation, despite the pain of racial discrimination and oppression.

"Your robust economy, stable democracy, support for the rule of law and - perhaps most important - your fully inclusive Constitution have made South Africa a beacon of tolerance, peaceful coexistence, and mutual respect between people of different races, languages and traditions.

"Your 'rainbow nation' shines out in the very shape and composition of this Assembly. As I look around this chamber I am impressed not only by the variety of races and colours that are represented, but also by the number of women. You put the General Assembly of the United Nations to shame!

"Secondly, you are pointing the way by what you are doing in your sub-regional neighbourhood...This is very important, because no country today can be unaffected by events in its neighbourhood, and it is the responsibility of the stronger countries in each neighbourhood to lend a hand to the weaker, without seeking to impose their domination.

"Thirdly, you are pointing the way through your leading role in Africa as a whole…South Africa is (also) pointing the way by what it is doing in the wider world.

"In his speech to the World Summit last September, President Mbeki referred to 'the widely disparate conditions of existence and interests ... as well as the gross imbalance of power', which define the relationship among the Member States of the United Nations.

"He identified these as the main reason why we have not yet achieved the security consensus that we must reach, if we are to maintain peace in the world on a basis of agreement and collective action rather than the unilateral application of power.

"I agree. I agree the imbalance must be redressed. But the imbalance itself means that those seeking to redress it do not have the leverage to impose their will on the rest of the world. Only with a good strategy and wise leadership can they make progress towards their goal.

"Today, the kind of things South Africa is doing at home, and promoting on the wider African scene, may show us the best way for developing countries in general to respond to today's world.

"In his valedictory address to a joint session of this Parliament, nearly two years ago, Nelson Mandela said: 'The memory of a history of division and hate, injustice and suffering, inhumanity of person against person should inspire us to celebrate our own demonstration of the capacity of human beings to progress, to go forward, to improve, to do better.'

"Indeed, my dear friends, I believe it has inspired you, and you in turn have inspired Africa and the world.

"Your Truth and Reconciliation Commission has given the world an idea, and a mechanism, which many other countries have used, or are now using, to confront an ugly national past.

"You have shown that a nation need not be imprisoned by its history; that even people whose communities have been in bitter conflict, and have endured or committed the worst injustice, can work together to build a common future.

"I believe this example can serve not only other individual countries, but also the world as a whole, which today is seething, seething with resentment based on past and present injustice, and with misunderstandings based on differences of culture and belief.

"Perhaps the most important task of the United Nations today is to help its Member States overcome those resentments and misunderstandings, both between communities within (their) borders and between different regions of the world. In that task, we have much to learn from South Africa.

"As F.W. de Klerk said in his 1993 Nobel Lecture, peace 'is a frame of mind in which countries, communities, parties and individuals seek to resolve their differences through agreements, through negotiation and compromise, instead of threats, compulsion and violence'.

"South Africa's particular wisdom, derived from its own history of overcoming resentment and mistrust, can be used to convince other countries that injustices and misunderstandings are not cured by confrontation or threats, since these only strengthen the determination of the powerful to keep power in their own hands.

"South Africa can teach all of us that, on the contrary, the way to (a) better balance lies through dialogue, and the establishment of mutual trust. Only in such an atmosphere can the weak win attention and respect from the strong.

"South Africa can teach its fellow developing countries to make good use of the United Nations, which is the natural forum for a global dialogue leading to better trust and understanding between rich and poor, between weak and strong, and so to a more balanced and inclusive way of taking decisions that affect the fate of all humanity."
What I have quoted is but a portion of what the Secretary General of the United Nations told our Parliament and nation on March 14, about what democratic South Africa has come to mean to the world community of nations.

It may very well be that some among us have, today, listened again to the words spoken by the UN Secretary General with a sense of disbelief.

If such disbelief exists, I will not question or challenge it. In any event, fear of the legitimate accusation of vanity imposes the outcome that it becomes almost impossible for me to claim and assert that the Secretary General was correct to arrive at the conclusions he boldly asserted from this podium.

That, in any case, is not the principal challenge we face in terms of what we need to do to respond to the humbling observations of the Secretary General of the United Nations.

I believe that the heart of the message of the Secretary General to the leadership of our people that sits in our Parliament, and our people as a whole, was and is that we have an obligation to live up to the practices he identified as constituting what our actions have meant with regard to the noble goal of conveying the message of hope to all humanity, that, indeed, tomorrow will be better than today.

I must therefore pose the question to all our Members of Parliament - was Kofi Annan wrong in his assessment of what we have done relating to our own country, our continent, the developing world and the rest of humanity!

I must ask of all our Members of Parliament - did Kofi Annan read us wrongly when he concluded that ours is a nation committed to the creation of humane and people-centred societies nationally and globally!

I must ask the question - was he mistaken in his view that the practice of human solidarity, breaching all the boundaries that might divide diverse societies, is the central impulse driving what we have sought to do to advance the dignity of all human beings, at home and abroad!

I must ask all our Members of Parliament - was he wrong to come to the conclusion that our actions during the years of democracy have been inspired by the message communicated by Nelson Mandela, when he said:

"The memory of a history of division and hate, injustice and suffering, inhumanity of person against person should inspire us to celebrate our own demonstration of the capacity of human beings to progress, to go forward, to improve, to do better."

I am convinced that all our Members of Parliament, the national collective of popularly elected leaders of our people, will, in unison, answer all these questions, saying that the Secretary General of the United Nations was right to conclude as he did.

Accordingly, the task that faces all of us together, regardless of our partisan political affiliations, is what we must do today, tomorrow and the day after, to sustain the message of hope and human fulfilment that Kofi Annan saw in the things we have sought to do together during the few years of our liberation.

Yesterday's Debate on the Budget Vote of the Presidency has convinced me that the Secretary General of the United Nations, the masses of our people, Africa and the rest of the world can indeed enjoy nights of restful sleep.

This is because this Debate communicated the unequivocal message that the national political leadership that constitutes the membership of the National Assembly, and the formations this leadership represents, are indeed truly determined to sustain the message of hope and human fulfilment that Kofi Annan saw in the things we have sought to do during the few years of our liberation.

Yesterday, you, Honourable Members, regardless of political affiliation, firmly stated your unequivocal support for our country's Presidency, correctly emphasising that this leading organ in our system of governance must continue to discharge its responsibilities, operating within the boundaries defined by our Constitution, as it has done in the past.

I would also like to express my profound appreciation for the positive statements made by many Members, across party lines, about me personally, within the context of the fulfilment of my responsibilities as President of the Republic. I value deeply, and without qualification, the support that the Honourable Members, from all parties, communicated in their heartfelt comments.

In this regard, I would also like to assure the Honourable Members that I fully appreciate the intent of the frank and critical remarks directed at the President by some of the Members.

I accept, unreservedly, that what informed these remarks was the legitimate objective to ensure that the President and the Presidency improve their performance in terms of serving the people of our country, and respecting their Constitutional obligations.

We will therefore respond to the concerns expressed by two or three of the Honourable Members.

However, I would also like to advise that should any of the Members seek to reach me quickly, they should contact my very capable Parliamentary Counsellor and Member of this House, the Honourable John Jeffreys.

It is not right that I hear about horrible and heart-rending stories of the murder and rape of children, and the appeals of the affected parents to the President in this regard, only because the National Assembly has scheduled a parliamentary debate involving the President.

I am convinced that we should consider ourselves privileged to accept the challenges that the Secretary General of the United Nations honestly and frankly laid at our feet on the 14th of March.

To discharge our obligations in this regard, I believe, firmly, that we should integrate in the national consciousness and psyche the profound observations made, among others, by the Hon Inkosi Mangosuthu Buthelezi, the Hon Kader Asmal, the Hon Bantu Holomisa, the Hon Isaac Mfundisi, the Hon Carole Johnson, the Hon Sindiswa Chikunga, the Hon Pandelani Nefolovhodwe, the Hon Don Gumede, the Hon Wilma Newhoudt-Drucken, the Hon Jane Matsomela, and others.

In this context I must also express appreciation for the remarks made by the Hon Tony Leon, and the manner in which he expressed his views. I was indeed pleased to note the fact that the Honourable Members truly respected his right to state his views by containing their heckling, making it possible for all of us to hear what he had to say, regardless of its merits.

I hasten to apologise for mentioning the names of some of the Hon Members who spoke yesterday, and excluding others. I value the important comments made by other Members of the National Assembly to whom I have not referred, and will take the necessary steps to respond to them.

These include the Hon Sydney Opperman, who clearly has problems about the Native Club, and, for whatever reason, seems to have decided, quite wrongly, that this interesting initiative of the black intelligentsia is the property of the President of the Republic.

In this regard, like the Hon Koos van der Merwe, I am happy that I, too, am a native of South Africa. I would therefore have no problem in approaching the Native Club to seek to participate in its activities. I hope I would find in its ranks the Afrikaners to whom the Hon Carole Johnson referred, who hoped that one day they would have the possibility to proclaim that they are proudly South African and African natives!

The Hon Dr Buthelezi, Kader Asmal, Bantu Holomisa, Don Gumede and others took the bold step to speak to the various fractious debates and activities our country has lived through during the last twelve months or more. I thank them for their considered and elevating views in this regard.

However, I would like to make bold to say that the things they said have a meaning and relevance that extend beyond whatever might constitute the events and statements that evoked their statements. What I will now say is perhaps nothing more than a declaration of faith, with no force beyond its moral force as a declaration of faith.

In this context, I am privileged to say that I am Proudly South African. I am proud of the people to whom I owe my being. I am humbled by the opportunity they gave me to lead them.

I have sought to play this temporary role fully conscious of the imperative never to act in any manner that is inconsistent with what the masses of our people consider to be the soul of our nation, as defined by a particular value system that continues to reaffirm the tenets of the traditional perspective of ubuntu.

I speak here of a people, regardless of race, colour and gender, that is truly cultured. The millions of our people know what is wrong and what is right. They know what kinds of behaviour enhance our dignity as a nation and what kinds of behaviour demean all of us.

They know of the importance that all our cultures attach to the notion and practice of respect and its relevance to the building of a civilised society that honours the dignity of all persons. They know that truthfulness signifies honesty and integrity. They know too that it is not necessarily he or she who has the loudest voice that is the wisest.

Surely, all of us who claim that we lead these masses have an obligation to honour, respect and promote the values they cherish, and resist all temptation to behave as though the fact of our leadership positions entitles us to dishonour the simple goodness that our people display everyday.

I know this as a matter of fact that our people deeply value the democracy they brought about through struggle. I know that they are convinced that this democracy guarantees that tomorrow their lives will be better than they are today. They know that it is only in a democratic and law-governed South Africa that they will realise their dreams for happiness and human fulfilment.

Because of all of this, I am certain that our democratic system is safe. Nevertheless I believe that all of us, severally and collectively, have an obligation to speak and act in a manner that further deepens and consolidates the great gifts of democracy and peace we secured at great cost. As the Freedom Park Trust always says - freedom was not free!

I thank the Honourable Members for their participation in a Debate that demonstrated that we are indeed firmly united behind the fundamental values and perspectives so clearly defined in our Constitution. I am certain that if the Hon Kofi Annan had been present in the House yesterday, he would have been reassured that his confidence in our country is not misplaced.

I am very pleased and honoured to thank our Deputy President, our Ministers and Deputy Ministers, the staff of the Presidency that is ably led by the Rev Frank Chikane, his fellow Directors-General, my advisers and the public service in general for the support they have given me personally, and the things they have done that seek to give meaning to the promise we made, that we have entered our Age of Hope.

Thank you.

Issued by: The Presidency
8 June 2006

 

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