Response of the President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, to the Debate on the Budget Vote of the Presidency: National Assembly, 13 June 2007

Madame Speaker and Deputy Speaker,
Honourable Deputy President,
Honourable Members and guests:

Apart from the President, the Deputy President and the Minister in the Presidency, 25 Honourable Members participated in yesterday's debate on the Budget of the Presidency. I would like to thank all the Members for the support they expressed for our Budget, and the constructive proposals they made to improve the functioning of government.

Apart from anything else this emphasised the need for the Presidency, and the President in particular, at all times to be conscious of his or her responsibility and accountability to all our people without discrimination or partisan considerations, consistent with the prescripts contained in our Constitution.

I would like to believe that in this context we all heard and agreed with the appeal made by the Hon Dr Mangosuthu Buthelezi concerning the need for all of us to respect the Office of the President. I presume that Parliament will give itself time to consider whether the route he proposes to address this matter is correct and therefore examine his Private Member's Bill. However, whatever the outcome of that process, I do believe that he was indeed correct, as he has been in the past, once again to put on our agenda the vital issue of respect for the institutions of state as provided for in our Constitution, including the Presidency of the Republic.

I must say that I was also very encouraged by what seemed to be a great deal of consensus among the parties represented in this House about the challenges we face, and the need for all of us to respond to these challenges in a manner intended to build the kind of South Africa prescribed by our Constitution.

On many occasions in the past I have tried to communicate the message that the most fundamental and historic problems facing our country and people should be a matter of common concern, transcending the partisan boundaries that separate us.

Among these are the tasks of:

  • building a non-racial and non-sexist society
  • promoting national reconciliation, social cohesion, a shared national identity and inspiring our people with a feeling of hope
  • ensuring that we develop our economy to end poverty and guarantee a more equitable distribution of wealth
  • building a government machinery that responds adequately to the challenge of service delivery and,
  • placing South Africa among those countries on our continent and the rest of the world that fight for peace, democracy, human rights, tolerance, equality and mutually beneficial cooperation among the nations.

During yesterday's debate I gained the impression that by and large and if nothing else, at least we had indeed come to understand that all these are common challenges, even if our responses to them might differ.

However, the mere fact of recognising that these are problems we must all address together lays the basis for us to engage one another in constructive debate to see whether we could develop a national consensus about what needs to be done to change our country for the better.

Once again, I would like to thank the Honourable members for their interventions yesterday, which may indeed take us some distance away from our endless fractious debates to equally vigorous engagement in pursuit of common national goals, but, of course, without losing our individual party identities.

In this sense the Honourable Members did respond to the plea made by the Hon Craig Morkel when he suggested that we should replace the word "Opposition" with the words "Non-Governing Party", citing the Hon Dr Buthelezi when he said, "The word 'opposition' itself is loaded with gladiatorial connotations. Confrontation is inferred. Seizing the initiative often means waiting for the government to stumble or exposing some scandal or irregularity."

Happily, yesterday, it did seem that, again by and large, we came into the House without our gladiatorial armour and weaponry.

The Hon Mdlalose pointed all of us in the right direction when she quoted from Sandile Dikeni's poem, "A Love Poem for my Country", as follows:

My country
Is for unity
Feel the millions
See their passion
Their hands are joined together
There is hope in their eyes
We shall celebrate

But despite everything I have said, some comments made by the Hon Stanley Simmons and the Hon Sandra Botha perhaps correctly brought us face to face with the hard reality we have to deal with, of perceptions we have to confront, centred around what the Hon Leader of the Official Opposition denounced as "racial nationalism". Because of the important issues the two Honourable Members raised, I would like to deal with these two instances in some detail.

The Hon Simmons accused the Hon Minister Membathisi Mdladlana of making a racist remark directed against the Coloured people. The Hon Minister is not with us today as he is attending the annual International Labour Conference in Geneva. I will find occasion when he is in the House to address the grave accusation against him made by the Hon Simmons.

The Hon Simmons also criticised my Parliamentary Counsellor, the Hon John Jeffery. In this regard the Hon Simmons said that in response to his request "for an opportunity to discuss this issue (of a sense of belonging) around Brown people", my Parliamentary Counsellor had said "no one is fit to discuss the issue of coloured people".

Because of the seriousness of these assertions, I consulted the Hon Jeffery about what exactly had happened. He confirmed that indeed the Hon Simmons had requested to meet the President to discuss "concerns experienced amongst coloured people of being marginalised (sidelined) in the greater South African context".

The Hon Jeffery then inquired whether this would be a delegation of the United Party of South Africa (UPSA), arguing that no single political party, including the UPSA, could claim to represent and speak for the Coloured people. According to the Hon Jeffery, the Hon Simmons said he was speaking of a non-partisan delegation and mentioned some of the people who would be in the delegation, all of whom are among our leading citizens.

He undertook to speak to these, constitute the non-partisan delegation and revert back to my Parliamentary Counsellor. This has not happened.

The Hon Jeffery still expects the Hon Simmons to come back to him so that he take the necessary steps to arrange the meeting with the President requested by the Hon Simmons. I would like to assure the Hon Simmons that the Hon John Jeffery and I have agreed that I should meet the Simmons delegation whenever it is ready and available.

There is a rule of simple logic which says, two diametrically opposed statements about the same thing cannot both be correct. I must assume that the account I have just given represents what is sometimes described as a breakdown in communication, rather than an example of bad faith or misrepresentation of the truth.

However I must, at the same time, make the point that the story also tells us something about the persistence of the issue of racism in our minds and social reality, which resulted in conclusions being arrived at, that what was said in good faith in fact constituted a manifestation of vile racism.

Consistent with this frame of mind, the Hon Simmons said yesterday that, "The United Party of South Africa subsequently came to the conclusion that the Honourable President concurs with the Honourable Minister of Labour's (racist) sentiment, putting a question mark behind the sincerity of the Honourable President's calls for cohesion."

The best I can do in these circumstances is to assure the Hon Simmons that the President has been involved in the organised and conscious struggle against racism in our country for over 50 years, and assume that he and the United Party of South Africa reached the conclusion he announced yesterday about the anti-racist credentials of the President once again because of a breakdown in communication.

I am more than ready to meet the non-partisan Coloured or brown delegation he has presumably gathered, whenever he indicates to the Hon John Jeffery that the delegation is ready to meet us. I wish the Hon Simmons success in his work to constitute the delegation, and will formally inform the House once the requested meeting has taken place.

For her part, the Hon Leader of the Official Opposition said:

"Here, Mr President, are two latest examples of how the policies of racial nationalism divide our people and compromise service delivery.

"Just two weeks ago, the choices for three top medical posts at two Western Cape Hospitals were rejected by the Provincial Health department. Why? Because the candidates chosen by the institutions involved were white.

"The result is a double loss to South Africa, because one of the candidates has given up hope and is now going - as it were - into voluntary exile in Australia. This, while disadvantaged South Africans dependent on the hospitals in question are having to wait longer to get the treatment they need, because the posts are now empty.

"I cannot, for a moment, believe that is the intentional outcome of what you would like to achieve. But it is the outcome and, Mr President, you must take responsibility for it."

First of all I must express my appreciation for the remark made by the Hon Leader of the Official Opposition that I would not intentionally seek to deny our people adequate healthcare, as indeed I never would.

Secondly, I must assume that the Hon Sandra Botha said what she said in good faith, because she and the DA do care about the welfare of all our people.

Thirdly, I must presume that the Hon Leader of the Official Opposition based her comments on media reports and not any noxious concoction of fabrications brewed in the think tanks of the DA.

The specific media report to which I refer is an article that was published in the June 3, 2007 edition of the Sunday Times, under the heading "Race quotas cripple hospitals", with the subtitle "Surgery cancelled as province insists on hiring nonexistent black doctors".

And indeed, as the Hon Sandra Botha said, this article does state that the Western Cape Provincial Health authorities refused to appoint three white doctors to senior positions, that one of these has decided to emigrate to Australia, and that patients have to wait for long periods for treatment, because of the imposition of racial quotas.

Again because these, like those made by the Hon Stanley Simmons, are very serious allegations made by an elected representative of our people, I thought it was my responsibility to investigate what the Hon Sandra Botha said, in order immediately to correct what was evidently an eminently unacceptable outcome of our policies to build a non-racial society.

I would like to inform the Hon Leader of the Official Opposition and the House that the Sunday Times report, on which the Hon Sandra Botha based her comments, is entirely false. To repeat - the Sunday Times report, on which the Hon Sandra Botha based her comments, is entirely false.

Here are the facts. In 2005 the Western Cape health authorities published an advertisement requesting applications to fill the post of Principal Specialist (Anaesthesiology and Critical Care) tenable at Tygerberg Hospital. Three people applied, but one decided to withdraw before the interviews were conducted.

It was then decided to re-advertise the post in the hope that this would attract a larger number of applicants. Again only three people applied.

It was therefore resolved to consider whether these applicants met some particular requirements, despite the evidently poor response to the advertisement. Principal among these requirements was the consideration whether the applicants were registered with the Health Professions Council of South Africa as Specialist Anaesthesiologists with experience in all areas of Anaesthesiology and Critical Care. On this basis it was decided to interview all three applicants, all of whom are white.

However, two of them withdrew their applications before they were interviewed. The interviewing panel then went ahead to interview the one remaining applicant, the determination having been made that the obligation to provide healthcare to our people required that the post should be filled without further delay.

I am certain that the Western Cape will shortly make an announcement in this regard, based on the recommendation of the interviewing panel. I trust that the Hon Leader of the Opposition and the House will accept that all of us must await the announcement of the Provincial Government in this regard.

Reporting on this process, the Sunday Times said that "Dr Fred Mattheyse - one of the candidates whose appointment was deferred - is now leaving for Australia." It quoted Dr Mattheyse as saying, "I'm leaving reluctantly but I have reached a ceiling in my career here."

The truth however is that Dr Mattheyse was one of three doctors who were scheduled to be interviewed for the post at Tygerberg Hospital. He, together with another doctor, withdrew his application before he was interviewed, and therefore, naturally, was not interviewed.

In this regard I must repeat that Dr Mattheyse was competing for the post at Tygerberg Hospital against two white doctors, with no possibility that he could be passed over simply because there was a black, and less qualified, black doctor applying for the same post.

Dr Mattheyse may indeed have decided to emigrate to Australia, as the Sunday Times and the Hon Sandra Botha have said. But it is entirely false, and dishonest of the Sunday Times, to suggest that this was a result of the implementation of government policies that the Hon Leader of the Official Opposition characterised as "racial nationalism".

The Hon Sandra Botha spoke of "three top medical posts at two Western Cape Hospitals (that) were rejected by the Provincial Health department (because of this racial nationalism)". So far I have spoken of only one of these posts.

The Sunday Times said the Head of Surgery at Groote Schuur Hospital, Professor Del Khan, had said "the filling of two top posts at the hospital in the last six months had taken more than two years to finalise because the candidates had been white." Presumably, these are two of the three to whom Hon Leader of the Official Opposition referred.

Unfortunately, in the short period between yesterday evening and now, my office has been able to have only a telephonic conversation with Professor Del Khan, who confirms that both the posts that he referred to in the article have been filled with two white candidates. He stated that he had expressed concern about the delay in the filling of the posts, although he accepts that in order to redress the imbalances of the past it is necessary to do everything possible to find appropriate candidates, which may result in delays. The Western Cape Provincial Government is aware of a few cases where there were delays in the appointment of some senior medical staff, but, in the absence of particulars of which posts are referred to, is unable to confirm the allegations made by Professor Del Khan.

However, the Sunday Times article quotes another Professor at Groote Schuur Hospital, Professor Bongani Mayosi. He, contrary to what Professor Khan is alleged to have said, is reported to have said that "he had successfully motivated for three senior posts to be filled by white specialists, while training black specialists for the future."

This wording is highly tendentious. It is deliberately intended to convey two impressions consistent with the thesis alleging "racial nationalism". One of these is that in the Western Cape, it is always necessary to motivate for the appointment of white specialists, who would otherwise be excluded from the public service because of the existence of racial quotas. The other is that the days of the white specialists are numbered, as they will be replaced by black specialists once these have been trained.

Let me now deal with the truth. With regard to the three posts to which Professor Mayosi referred, these being three Principal Specialist posts, (and one Chief Specialist post), Professor Mayosi has said that in terms of the relevant employment policy:

  • the applicants had to be medical doctors and,
  • the applicants had to be recognised as scholars within the medical profession and registered with the Professional Health Council of South Africa as such.

It would only be after these two requirements were met that issues in our legislation concerning employment equity would kick in as only one of the factors in the selection process. It was on this basis that the three Principal Special posts were filled by three qualified white doctors, with no need to persuade anybody about the suitability of these candidates.

Professor Mayosi also says that, "No appointment of a deserving candidate has been refused on racial grounds in the Department of Medicine" at Groote Schuur.

Professor Mayosi insists quite correctly that our country is experiencing a serious shortage of many medical specialists. He sees it as his task to train as many young professionals as possible, including black professionals, to address this shortage. In the future situation of equitable skills availability across the racial divide, the playing field will have been levelled, making it unnecessary to invoke the equity provisions in our Constitution and statutes.

Professor Mayosi also says: "I must point out that we are striving to normalise the demographic profile of our staff at all levels in the Department (of Medicine), and we support the employment equity policy of the Department of Health of the Western Cape. In our search and selection process, we diligently seek qualified people who were previously excluded from training and employment opportunities at Groote Schuur Hospital and the University of Cape Town by apartheid laws and racist practice at these institutions. We use the register of the Health Professions Council to identify suitable equity candidates and invite them to apply for the positions. We work closely with hospital management in the process, and also ensure that…an appropriate succession plan is being developed in all divisions of the Department."

The Sunday Times reported that, having heard the details of its fabricated story, "The Democratic Alliance's health spokesperson, Gareth Morgan, said: 'this amounts to playing racial politics with patients' lives'."

Responding to this story, one of the Sunday Times readers wrote: "Perhaps the ANC will use this for their next re-election propaganda speeches, showing that they are determined to give black people a chance that they'd even sacrifice the lives of other people to make sure that the whites don't have the opportunity to take their jobs…

"They will certainly spare no lives to make sure white people don't get a job in South Africa, which I've been saying over and over. It's not about racism or correcting the wrongs of the past anymore, it's about getting white people the hell out of Africa where they don't belong."

Let us once again return to the difficult matter of the truth, contrary to the falsehoods peddled by the Sunday Times, which were seemingly readily accepted by the Honourable Leader of the Official Opposition.

Since last year, 2006, the Western Cape Provincial Health authorities have appointed 72 specialists, 55 of whom are white and 17 black, to serve in the public health system. The Sunday Times could have accessed this information without difficulty, before it published its dangerous falsehoods, as could have the Honourable Leader of the Official Opposition, before she advanced the extremely serious allegations she made yesterday.

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that this was not done because the false story told by the Sunday Times was, for particular partisan reasons, too good to check and verify. This same mind-set informs the persistent negative propaganda about our preparations for the 2010 FIFA Soccer World Cup, which strives to use the power of the word, conveyed in print and the airwaves, to present the actual and positive physical bricks and mortar story, visible to the naked eye at all the relevant stadiums, as being nothing more than a conjurer's trick, or a desert mirage, even where there is no desert!

I believe that anyone among us who decides to resort to untruths, thus to advance their cause, dreaming that this would indeed promote their cause, should bear in mind the difficulty to which Shakespeare's Hamlet referred when he spoke of the false comfort of false dreams and said -

Perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub,
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us cause.

As I said when I began this response to yesterday's debate on the Budget of the Presidency, I felt that we were at last beginning to move beyond the needlessly fractious debates of the past and had come into this House without our gladiatorial armour.

Despite everything I have said about the unfortunate remarks made by the Hon Stanley Simmons and the Hon Sandra Botha, I would like to think that I was not wrong.

Nevertheless I would like to say that there are some in our society who see it as their task to pull us backwards towards a future defined by the racial divisions and conflicts of the past from which we are striving to escape, the conflicts that killed Steven Bantu Biko, and Mapetla Mohapi, and Onkgopotse Tiro and countless others, sustained by the lies that were told then, which have as their kith and kin the lies that are told today.

I believe that those of us who serve in this House as the democratically elected peoples' tribunes, have a responsibility to repudiate all falsehoods propagated to provoke confrontation among our people, that are invented to impose on us non-existent differences that are impossible to irreconcilable, and that are designed to abort the birth of the new, by imprisoning our minds within an inert world of thought, that has no capacity to break out of an age of darkness that had required floods of human blood to destroy.

I believe that the Hon Mdlalose, borrowing the voice of a poet, and regardless of what might be happening on our streets today, was correct to say to us:

My country
Is for unity
Feel the millions
See their passion
Their hands are joined together
There is hope in their eyes
We shall celebrate

Tomorrow, H.E. President Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of Congo will address a Joint Sitting of Parliament and our nation from this podium. Whatever our own problems, this should give us an opportunity to salute and applaud the sister Congolese people for the truly great effort they have made and are making to pull their country out of unimaginable depths of despair.

Hopefully, we will request him to convey a message to his people that the people of South Africa, because of their own experience, remain determined to hold hands with their sisters and brothers in the DRC as they begin their journey along the difficult road towards transforming the Democratic Republic of Congo into the progressive African giant it must and will be, towards the resumption by the Democratic Republic of Congo of its place as a bright star over the African sky, towards its reassertion of loyalty to the agenda of African renewal for whose accomplishment the immortal African patriot, Patrice Lumumba, and esteemed member of our National Order of the Companions of OR Tambo, sacrificed his life.

Yesterday, the Hon Themba Godi of the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) of Azania ended his intervention with the words: "To our Palestinian brothers and sisters, we humbly counsel: Peace among the Palestinians, War against the enemy!"

I would like to take this opportunity to repeat after the Hon Themba Godi - to our Palestinian brothers and sisters, we humbly counsel: peace among the Palestinians!

As South African patriots, loyal supporters of the noble cause for the recovery of the national rights of the Palestinian people, the security of the state of Israel, and a just and stable peace throughout the Middle East, we cannot accept that the deadly fratricide engulfing occupied Palestine, especially Gaza, is either inevitable or desirable.

25 years ago, in 1982, addressing our own situation, our respected national hero, Oliver Tambo, said:

"We have…striven for seven decades to build one, common nationhood, with one destiny. Our shared experience of collective sacrifices in the struggle for a common goal has knit us together as one solid block of liberation. The comradeship that we have formed in the trenches of freedom, transcending the barriers that the enemy sought to create, is a guarantee and a precondition for our victory. But we need still to build on this achievement. All of us - workers, peasants, students, priests, chiefs, traders, teachers, civil servants, poets, writers, men, women and youth, black and white - must take our common destiny in our own hands."

At this hour of great suffering to the people of Palestine, which in essence is no different from the dismal period in our country when enemies of our people, with their collaborators among us, instigated and sustained what was described as black-on-black violence, we would like to convey to our brothers and sisters in the Fatah and Hamas the same message that Oliver Tambo conveyed to the then struggling people of South Africa.

Your shared experience of collective sacrifice in the struggle for a common goal must knit you together as one solid block of liberation. Your comradeship is a guarantee and a precondition for your victory in the struggle for the emergence of an independent State of Palestine.

This victory is not possible on the basis of an internal war for hegemony, fought by the powerless to gain power over the powerless, at great cost to the masses that have placed their hopes in the hands of the leadership of both Fatah and Hamas. The incontrovertible truth is that a just peace with Israel is not possible when Palestine cannot make peace with itself.

Once more we make the heartfelt appeal - those who have ears to hear, let them hear - above the din of the guns, the bombs, the mortar shells, and the angry shouts and the dirges of funeral marches in the desolate streets of the towns and the refugee camps of Gaza and the West Bank!

Let all of us learn from the inspiring African example of the Democratic Republic of Congo that, as the Book of Ecclesiastes says, "To everything there is a season, A time for every purpose under heaven: …A time to kill, And a time to heal;…A time of war, And a time of peace."

Again I would like to thank the Honourable Members for the constructive suggestions they made during the Budget debate, which we will follow up.

I would also like to join the Hon Minister Pahad and the Deputy President in thanking all our Members of Parliament, the Ministers and Deputy Ministers, the patriots in the Presidency who constitute the hard-working staff headed by the Rev Frank Chikane, everybody in all spheres of government, and everybody else in our country and abroad who have facilitated and supported the work of the Presidency, even to the point of lacing their compliments with words of flattery that feed our vanity.

In particular, taking advantage of the fact I am speaking in this truly august House of the elected representatives of our people, which all of us must respect, I would also like to salute and thank the Honourable Deputy President, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, whose extraordinary energy and dedication to her work and the welfare of all our people, whose ability to demand and get results from all of us without sounding like a shrew, whose humility and aversion to personal aggrandisement in any form, whose humanity and empathy shines through in the most adverse circumstances, whose capacity to stand up for the species of her gender, remain feminine, and still exercise effective leadership in what is still a predominantly masculine world, whose courage rises with danger, as the Hon Inkosi Buthelezi said when he spoke of Albert Luthuli, whose training as a conscientious teacher she cannot hide, and whose instinctive comradeship and ability to listen and admit her own and the mistakes and failures of the Presidency all serve as a glue that holds all of us together as one team, even as we see ourselves as superstars.

I do believe that through her actions she has taught and is teaching us an important lesson about what it means to be a true leader of the people of South Africa in the challenging conditions of freedom, in which it is very easy indeed for the liberators to transform themselves into self-serving masters and mistresses, rather than servants of the people.

Life imposes on all of us, the elected representatives of our people, the obligation to rely on our consciences, our sense of self-respect and personal dignity, and our minds, beyond party programmes and beyond short-term personal interests, to decide what is right and what is wrong. On all this will be based the realisation of the dream that, as Sandile Dikeni said - we shall celebrate.

I thank you for your attention.

Issued by: The Presidency
13 June 2007


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