Speech by the South African Minister for Foreign Affairs, Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma at the Belarusian State University, on 11 September 2008

Chancellor of the Belarusian State University, Prof. Vasily Ivanovich Strazhev
Vice-Rector in Natural Sciences, Prof. Viktor Vasilyevich Samokhval
Vice-Rector in Humanities, Prof. Vladimir Leonidovich Klyunya
Vice-Rector in Social Affairs, Prof. Vladimir Vasilyevich Suvorov
Head of the International Relations Service, Mr Vladimir Yuryevich Tikhonov
All Principal Officers of the University
Distinguished Guests

It is a great privilege and honour to have been invited back to this renowned institution. I would like to express my gratitude and pride to be associated with this University. I have fond memories of my first visit in 2007.

It is indeed a pleasure to be back in Minsk. The government and people of South Africa value their special relationship with the government and people of Belarus.

Minister Martinov and I agreed yesterday that our political ties and dialogue are indeed excellent, but that we need to continue to strengthen our economic ties to their full potential. The economies of both our countries are vibrant which creates attractive opportunities for the active expansion of trade and investment ties. We also agreed that we should continue to explore increased practical co-operation in fields such as education and academic exchanges, science and technology, skills development and cultural exchanges.

It is against this background that I am honoured to talk to you today about South Africa’s economic and social developments.
It is 14 years since that historic moment when Mr Nelson Mandela took the oath of office as the first democratically elected President of that beautiful southern tip of Africa – South Africa, our Motherland.

In his inaugural address on May 10 1994 he proclaimed that “Out of the experience of an extraordinary human disaster that lasted too long, must be born a society of which all humanity will be proud.”

Since then South Africa has been hard at work creating a better life for all its people. We sought to restore the dignity of our people, understanding that there is no dignity in ignorance, homelessness, hunger, poverty and fear.

For us freedom could not only be political. It has to include socio-economic rights, women’s rights and equality before the law in accordance with the highest law of the land - our constitution, which mandates us to build a non-racial, non-sexist and prosperous society.

South Africa was first colonised by the Dutch and then the British. The British eventually left as colonisers but handed power to the resident white minority at the exclusion of the black majority in 1910. This gave rise to the formation of the African National Congress in 1912.

Blacks did not enjoy any political and human rights. If you resisted repression you were either killed or imprisoned. This is why Nelson Mandela and thousands of others were persecuted and sentenced to many years in prison. A lot of patriots even lost their lives.

Black people were dispossessed of their land. Millions of people were forcibly removed from their land to make way for white settlement. The black majority was confined to only 13% of the land. These were mostly barren and unproductive parts of the country. In these areas with limited employment opportunities the indigenous black population lived in abject poverty.

Black people suffered discrimination in the labour market. As a result of the system of job reservation certain skilled high-paying positions were reserved for white workers while black workers were largely confined to unskilled and low-paying positions.

Because of this discrimination only a small number of black people managed to advance to professions like teaching, nursing and policing. An even smaller number of blacks were able to gain access to highly skilled professions such as engineering and medicine. 

In 1994 the first democratic elections in South Africa ushered in a new dispensation. From being a scourge of the world South Africa is acknowledged as having one of the best and most progressive constitutions in the world. The brutal apartheid system was finally brought to an end through the support and solidarity of the international community. Belarus as part of the Soviet Union played an important part in our liberation and for this we shall be forever grateful.

One of the key measures taken by the new democratic government was the implementation of a land reform programme to correct the historical injustices. We are now speeding up the process of land redistribution and agrarian reform with the aim of increasing black entrepreneurship in agriculture production by 5% per year. There has been considerable progress but a lot still needs to be done in this regard.

Government is seriously committed to stimulating the growth and development of small micro and medium size business. We are scaling up financial assistance and skills training to co-operatives and small enterprises especially those involving women.

Under the old apartheid system the black majority was largely denied the same access to quality education that the white population enjoyed. Blacks were subjected to an inferior system of education that was known as Bantu Education.

Today under the new democratic order the right to quality education for all South Africans is enshrined in South Africa’s Bill of Rights. Primary school enrolment has now reached 98% with girls numbering slightly more than boys. Secondary enrolment has now reached 85%. Early Childhood Development has been introduced and the number of children in this programme is steadily increasing. To correct past imbalances adult education programmes and literacy campaigns have been introduced.

Today, there is a noticeable increase in the number of black students at institutions of higher learning and in faculties which were hitherto dominated by white students.

The seriousness with which the new government approaches education can be discerned from the steady increase in expenditure on education since 1994 and also from the fact that education has remained the largest budgetary item. We firmly believe that education is a vital prerequisite for socio-economic transformation and particularly for the eradication of poverty.


The Government has introduced a comprehensive health-care system that seeks to provide quality and affordable health services and facilities to all South Africans.

The infrastructure for health delivery has been considerably improved. During the period from 1995-2007 some 1600 clinics have either been built or upgraded. Eleven new hospitals were built since 1998. A comprehensive immunisation programme for children has been introduced even in outlying rural areas.

South Africa’s approach to the huge health challenge has been focussed on primary health-care and encouragement of a healthy life style. South Africa has had a most successful anti smoking campaign and passed effective legislation in this regard. Of course, our biggest health challenge remains HIV/AIDS and Tuberculosis.

Although there has been considerable progress in dealing with health problems in South Africa the country still has an unacceptable number of casualties of infectious diseases and other diseases linked to poverty.


Under the apartheid system residential areas were segregated along racial lines, with black people being relegated to townships and informal settlements with poor infrastructure and lacking basic facilities and services. A large proportion of the population was dumped in poor rural areas with no sanitation, water, electricity and road infrastructure.

Over the past 14 years there has been accelerated development of sustainable human settlements and provision of basic infrastructure and services such as clean drinking water, proper sanitation, electricity, and transport and road infrastructure.

In the period 1994 to 2007, the government built 2.6 million low cost housing translating to 13 million people free of charge; we still need to cover another 2.1 million.

The number of houses with portable water is now at 87.2%.

Houses with access to electricity increased from 4.4 million in 1994 to more than 8.5 million in 2008.

Gender Equality

The new Constitution has guaranteed equality between men and women in our country and the Government has enacted legislation to promote the cause of liberation of women. There are still formidable challenges but the country has made remarkable progress in this regard. Today women occupy prominent positions in the country’s economic, social and political development.
Social Security

To address the legacy of the past, the new government has committed itself to implementing a social development policy and programmes directed at achieving sustainable social security. This includes provision of social grants and support for the very poor and vulnerable groups such as orphans, the disabled, the elderly and the chronically ill. Currently up to 12 million receive one grant or another.


The democratic regime inherited an economy distorted by decades of apartheid rule. The apartheid economy was oriented on servicing the interests of a small minority and left the vast majority outside the mainstream of economic development.

The new government had to overcome the apartheid legacy of stagnation and discrimination in the economy, massive inequality, unemployment and poverty and at the same time ensure economic growth. The challenge for government was to democratise the economy by promoting access to economic opportunities by black people but at the same time ensuring growth and sustainability.

To reduce a rather huge national debt and an unacceptably large budget deficit inherited from the previous regime and to revitalise a stagnated economy, the new government introduced a macroeconomic stabilisation strategy which came to be known as the GEAR which stands for Growth, Employment and Redistribution strategy. This programme has ensured macroeconomic stability and reduced the country’s budget deficit. Since 1994 the South African economy has for the first time sustained an unbroken period of positive economic growth rates.

On the strength of sound macroeconomic management since 1994 South Africa has developed a vibrant economy reflecting the following strengths:

  • Growth rate of 5.1% over the past 4 years
  • A real income per capita increase of 4% since 2004
  • 1.8 million jobs created since 2004
  • South Africa has the 26th  highest GDP in the world
  • South Africa is not only one of the world’s biggest producers of gold and platinum group metals but is also one of the leading producers of base metals and coal, accounting for a significant proportion of both world production and reserves.
  • South Africa has a relatively well-developed industrial and manufacturing base.
  • South Africa is the twentieth largest consumer of IT products and services in the world.
  • South Africa has developed unique innovations such as extraction of oil from coal technologies. 
  • South Africa is renowned for its sound financial services sector and very well developed regulatory and legal framework which provides the much needed assurances to foreign investors.
  • South Africa has a very well developed telecommunication and transport infrastructure.
  • South Africa has some seven commercial ports.


The new government has embarked on a massive infrastructure development programme to accelerate economic growth. Some R500 billion has been set aside for a number of transport, telecommunications and power-generation projects.

All things point out that we have built a much stronger economy than the one we inherited in 1994. 

Having observed these positive changes it is important to re-state however, that for this government, economic growth has never been an end in itself. The overall objectives have been and remain the reduction of inequality, addressing the challenge of poverty and providing more and more jobs. Equally, our success in achieving macro-economic stability is also not an end itself. It is a stepping stone and establishes conducive conditions for us to undertake much more complex longer term initiatives and strategies focusing on the real economy.

The sound macro economic policies and the low deficit mean we have more resources for reducing poverty and for investment into infrastructure.

Industrial Development

In the area of industrial development we are fast-tracking implementation of key sectors such as:

  • Agro-processing
  • Mining and metal based industries
  • Capital and Transport equipment
  • Automotives and components
  • Chemicals, Plastic fabrication and pharmaceuticals
  • Forestry, pulp and paper, and furniture sectors
  • Cultural industries
  • Electro-technical industries
  • Business process outsourcing
  • Aerospace, rail and marine industries
  • Tourism infrastructure development
  • Film industry

Since 2005 our vibrant automobile sector, has almost doubled in size with a ten-fold growth in exports.

In addition to the existing South Africa / EU Trade and Development Cooperation Agreement, we also concluded a free trade agreement with the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) comprising Switzerland, Norway, Lichtenstein and Iceland, that offers full duty free access for South African industrial exports to those markets. We have also pursued negotiations with MERCOSUR, comprising Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay, and we are close to concluding these negotiations. We initiated a similar negotiating process with India. We equally strive to increase our economic co-operation with Belarus, the Russian Federation and other Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

South Africa is one of the most diversified exporters in the world with more than 70% of its exports going to destinations in Africa, the EU, the USA, China, Asia, Japan and India.

Broadening Participation

Strong economies and successful nations are developed over a long period through sustained investment in people, productive capabilities and ensuring the greatest degree of participation by people in all forms of economic activities. To break the stranglehold of underdevelopment and the legacy of the past in our nation is going to require bold interventions focusing on unlocking the potential and will of our people. It is important that we foster greater numbers and diversity of entrepreneurs.

South Africa is honoured to host the FIFA Confederations Cup in 2009 and the 2010 FIFA Soccer World Cup.  We absolutely have no doubt that we will honour our undertaking to FIFA and the world community of soccer players and lovers to create all the necessary conditions for the holding of a successful FIFA Soccer World Cup tournament.


A lot of progress has been registered in the creation of a non racial, non sexist society; however, this cannot be achieved only through legislation, but through changing attitudes of people, their traditions and cultural beliefs. It will take a few generations before the creation and achievement of such a society.

Poverty: Since 1994 there has been significant progress in reducing poverty. More than twelve million received social grants. An estimated nine million people have been lifted out of poverty since 1994. But the challenge remains to reduce the widening gap between the rich and poor as during this period the incomes of the richest 10% of the population have increased at a much faster rate.

The rate of economic growth still lags behind the rate of urbanisation, thus putting considerable pressure on housing provision and other services and infrastructure.

Unemployment: Although the economy has created almost 2 million jobs since 1994 unemployment remains a serious challenge particularly among the youth. Part of the problem is the poor level of skills development which renders a large portion of the work-force unemployable. The shortage of skills is therefore a major constraint for economic growth.

As in other developing countries the recent increases in the oil and food prices pose serious development challenges.

Given our determination and resolve to create a better life for all, we are confident that we have the capacity to solve these problems.

We are certainly making good progress to meet these challenges.

I thank you.

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