Speech of the President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, at
the Africa-America Institute Gala: New York, 19 September 2006.
of all, I would like to thank the Africa-America Institute for giving us the opportunity
to participate in this AAI Annual Awards Gala. Anybody familiar with the struggles
of the African people against colonialism and apartheid will know that for many
decades, the AAI has occupied a place of honour as a friend of the peoples of
Africa, a steadfast voice for the liberation of our Continent, respect for the
dignity of the African people, and the preparation of the professional cadre that
we need to reconstruct and develop our now liberated countries.
I am therefore
privileged to have the opportunity provided by this Gala to convey our thanks
to the Institute, its past and present leadership, and all partners of the Institute,
for everything they did and are doing to advance the cause of the all-round emancipation
and upliftment of the peoples of Africa.
In this regard, I am honoured
to express our congratulations to our friend, the Honourable Alan Hevesi on his
most appropriate selection for the AAI Economic Bridge-Builder Award. We are also
honoured similarly to congratulate Professor Phumla Mtala for the AAI Distinguished
The first Europeans to settle in South Africa occupied the
present Cape Town just over 350 years ago, in 1652. The first violent conflict
between the indigenous African population and the white European settlers, provoked
by seizure of the land of the Khoi by the latter, took place within the first
five years of this initial process of the colonisation of our country.
began the inter-twined processes of the dispossession and impoverishment of the
African people, the entrenchment of white minority domination, and the resultant
conflict between black and white that only ended with our transition to democracy
in 1994, 340 years after the first clashes between the Khoi people who live in
the Cape and the Dutch settlers.
It would therefore not have come as a
surprise to the distinguished audience present here tonight, many of whom played
an outstanding role in the US and global anti-apartheid movement, that the Constitution
of democratic South Africa prescribes that we should work to build a united, non-racial
Indeed, throughout the first twelve years of our liberation, to
date, we have insisted that our central task is the eradication of the legacy
of colonialism and apartheid. This includes the fundamental task to restructure
and deracialise our economy and ensure its sustained growth to generate the resources
we need to end poverty, underdevelopment and unemployment, end the gross racial
and gender imbalances in the distribution of opportunity, income and wealth, and
build a better life of prosperity for all South Africans, without regard to race,
colour or gender.
In January 1987, the late President of the ANC, Oliver
Tambo, addressed a meeting here in New York hosted by the AAI and the Foreign
Policy Association. Among other things he said: "In our proposition as to
what South Africa should look like, we do address the question of the economy
too. And our starting point is what any economy should serve - the people. The
economy should be so handled that the wealth is equitably distributed. Under apartheid
and under the existing system, there is no (re)distribution of wealth, experts
have said. What there is, is abject poverty affecting millions of people in the
midst of that wealth. It is a glaring injustice which must be redressed
It is precisely to redress this glaring injustice that we have put in place
what we have deliberately entitled Broad-based Black Economic Empowerment, the
issue I have been asked to address tonight. In this regard, our parliament approved
the enabling legislation in 2004. The Act states the objectives of Broad-based
Black Economic Empowerment as:
- promoting economic transformation in
order to enable meaningful participation of black people in the economy;
a substantial change in the racial composition of ownership and management structures
and in the skilled occupations of existing and new enterprises;
the extent to which communities, workers, cooperatives and other collective enterprises
own and manage existing and new enterprises and increasing their access to economic
activities, infrastructure and skills training;
- increasing the extent
to which black women own and manage existing and new enterprises, and increasing
their access to economic activities, infrastructure and skills training;
investment programmes that lead to broad-based and meaningful participation in
the economy by black people in order to achieve sustainable development and general
- empowering rural and local communities by enabling access
to economic activities, land, infrastructure, ownership and skills; and
access to finance to black economic empowerment.
intervention to attain these goals is based on our firm conviction that we would
be making a fatal mistake if we decided to depend on the market to correct the
disastrous economic outcome born of 350 years of colonialism and apartheid. In
other words, we remain firmly of the view that no trickle down effect, even in
the context of an economy growing at high and sustained rates, can succeed to
help us produce the non-racial and non-sexist society that our objective reality
and our Constitution demand.
In addition to what our government
and the public sector in general are doing to meet the black economic empowerment
objectives I have cited, there is another process of black entry into the economy,
which tends to attract media attention, and is wrongly described as representing
the essence of what we mean when we talk of black economic empowerment.
refer here to private initiatives taken by some black people especially to purchase
equity in existing major companies through business deals they negotiate privately,
and finance with money they borrow from the banks, again privately.
processes, which are perfectly normal in any capitalist economy, are often falsely
described as the very essence of the public sector black economic empowerment
programme, despite the fact that, while supporting them in principle, the government
does not get involved in any of these entirely private sector deals.
addition to this, various industries within the private sector have adopted or
are processing voluntary Black Economic Empowerment Charters, which elaborate
the steps they would take to open up greater black participation within these
industries. Government welcomes and fully supports this development.
must also make the point that the progress of the black economic empowerment programme
is also predicated on our success in addressing the enormous infrastructure deficit
that continues to afflict the historically black urban and rural residential areas.
That required infrastructure includes electricity, water and sanitation, transport
What everything I have said means is that:
have set aside funds to finance the development of micro, small and medium business,
as well as cooperatives;
- the state corporations, and indeed some private
companies, are using their procurement budgets to promote the development of small
and medium black business;
- government is currently considering accessing
some of the goods and services it needs exclusively from small businesses, further
to expand its preferential procurement programme;
- we have put in place
training programmes to provide skills in business management;
- a large
skills development fund has been put in place, with the necessary institutions
to undertake the training;
- we are currently reequipping and revamping
our vocational training colleges to produce larger numbers of skilled workers
and artisans; and,
- we have initiated an expanded public works programme
to absorb as many unskilled workers as possible, provide skills training to these
workers, and employ them to address the infrastructure shortfalls, among others.
I am pleased to report to this distinguished Gala that we are indeed
making progress towards the achievement of the objectives of our Broad-based Black
Economic Empowerment programme. We are determined to accelerate that progress,
bearing in mind that it will take time to eradicate the centuries-old legacy of
colonialism and apartheid. We are convinced that we will, in the practice, continue
to give meaning and concrete expression to the promise we have made, that we have
entered our Age of Hope.
I would like to thank the AAI for using this Gala
to celebrate Black Economic Empowerment in our country because that constitutes
the celebration of a critically important initiative in our sustained effort to
build a non-racial and non-sexist South Africa.
In the face of the stubborn
persistence of the scourge of racism throughout the world, and the need to guarantee
the dignity of all our people, we have no choice but to succeed in the task to
transform ours into a truly non-racial society. We continue to count on your support
to achieve this noble objective, in the interest of all humanity.
Issued by Department of Foreign Affairs
19 September 2006