Closing address by President Nelson Mandela in the President's Budget Debate after 100 days in office

22 August 1994

Madame Speaker and Deputy Speaker,
Deputy Presidents,
Honourable Members of the Assembly,
Comrades and friends,

I should from the outset indicate that this Budget Debate has been, for me, one of the most exciting moments since our historic elections.

I have listened attentively to the contributions of honourable members from all parties. The overriding impression we have is that all the remarks were of a high standard, reflecting the concern of all of us for the well-being of our country and our nation.

That these contributions covered a wide array of issues, itself underlines the enormity of the tasks before us. That the debate was at times heated, reinforces the remark that we made in the opening address, that we have at last a vibrant and robust democracy. All this gives one hope and confidence in the future.

Running like a red thread through all the contributions was an underlining concern: Does this government have clear perspectives? Are we simply going through the motions of governing? Are we extricating the country from the mess created by apartheid?

Madame Speaker,

We have taken the first major steps towards the fundamental transformation of our society. For a mere 100 days, these steps might be correctly characterised as tentative and their impact quite humble. But, from the comments that have been made, and the serious intent of the Government of National Unity, we can confidently say that the journey to a better life for all has started; and there is no going back.

Perhaps, we might be wary, unlike the Honourable Member and theoretician from the Inkatha Freedom Party, to invoke categories such as a "state of national democracy". However, in the Interim Constitution and the RDP, South Africa has clear objectives premised on an unprecedented national consensus. Our goals are set, and we are on course.

Most of the contributions coincide with our own views, and they have definitely enriched our opening address and deepened our understanding of what is required to succeed. As was to be expected, there were reservations and qualifications. All these have been noted and should be accommodated to the extent that they do not undermine the objectives of reconstruction and development.

Madame Speaker,

Whose achievement is it, that all of us can today feel proud of being South African; that the sense of liberation can be felt by all sectors of the population without exception?

Certainly, this is not an accomplishment of one or a few personalities. It is a collective achievement of all our people, of this parliament and of the Government of National Unity. All the parties here need to be commended: the NP, IFP, PAC,DP, Freedom Front and others.

From the point of view of initiating the basic policies that have now become national property, the African National Congress and its allies played a pivotal role. That is the ANC I lead - the ANC that the majority of South Africans voted into office.

As we traverse the road to the socio-economic emancipation of our nation, we should understand our long-term perspectives for what they are: South Africa's unique way of addressing its unique problems.

Invoking "-isms" of any kind does not bring us any closer to creating jobs, building houses, providing affordable health services and free quality education in the context of a growing economy. Our task is to work out concrete mechanisms to ensure that these needs are met.

We would be failing in our duty if we were to mislead any of our constituents about the true meaning of change: on the one hand, to pretend that change means that things will remain the same; or, on the other, to create an impression that everything can be achieved in one fell swoop.

It is also in this context that I wish to reflect on the sensitive question of the status of South Africa's languages, in particular the future of Afrikaans.

Our interim constitution spells out quite clearly that South Africa's languages should enjoy an equal status. This however should be understood against the backdrop of the fact that two languages have, during the years of apartheid, been promoted over others. This has permeated all aspects of life, including the areas of mass communication.

I am quite confident that we are all agreed that, as in other areas, there has to be change, to bring our reality in line with the noble ideals contained in the interim constitution. I am confident that we are also agreed that pursuing equality does not necessarily have to entail the down-grading of any of the languages, in so far as such a language is not being imposed on anyone - be it here in parliament, in the media, in education, at work and other areas. The challenge is how to raise the other languages to the level they deserve.

Pedantic reference to constitutional provisions or falling victim to emotive instinct will not help to resolve what is indeed a complex question. Creative solutions must be searched for, in honest consultation among all interest groups. I have started conferring with the ministry concerned as well as members of the SABC Board and cultural organisations such as the Federasie van Afrikaanse Kultuurverenegings to examine both the immediate and medium-term solutions to this question.

The aim is not to intervene in a matter affecting an independent public broadcaster, but to ensure that all the interested parties together seek solutions that would be in the best interests of the country. This demands sensitivity on the part of those whose languages have all along been relegated to the back-burner, as well as those whose languages have benefited from the system of apartheid. None of us should seek domination, whether premised on past policies, or in an endeavour to rectify past wrongs.

Most of the contributions from honourable members revolved around questions of reconstruction and development. Before dealing with some of the matters in a bit of detail, I wish to comment on a related matter.

Remarks have been made both during this debate and in the mass media about remuneration of public officials. A perception is taking root that this government is less than frugal in handling public finances. Measured against the programmes that we have started implementing and the details outlined by the Minister without Portfolio, these comments could easily be dismissed as irrelevant.

But we would be failing in our duty if we were to allow these perceptions to take root. We have stated over and over again that the recommendations of the Melamet Commission were meant to address a transitional situation. I have requested that the relevant Ministry should prepare guidelines for a permanent arrangement, and recommendations on this will soon be tabled for discussion. Through such public and transparent debate, the positions of various sectors and parties will then be aired in a constructive manner so as to set out parameters acceptable to society as a whole. We should act and be seen to act expeditiously to bring this matter to a satisfactory conclusion.

I have also requested the Department of Public Works to avail reports on the work being undertaken to renovate and furnish buildings earmarked for leading officials. Even if these decisions were taken before our time, and whatever the motivation then was, it is of utmost importance that this government takes firm control of all these matters.

Madame Speaker,

As we indicated in the opening address to this debate, and as the Minister without Portfolio has elaborated, structures have been put in place for effective and efficient management of reconstruction and development programme. This has meant a new culture within government as a whole, to ensure hands-on management by the ministers and the Office of the President.

Yet, we should constantly improve on this, to ensure that we do not allow at any time a sense of unguided drift at any level of government. This government is not engaged in administrative business-as-usual. Our task is to transform society.

Among the issues under discussion in the President's Office is how we ensure constant monitoring and timely interventions where necessary to reorient all departments to the major national tasks at hand.

This includes a system of regular reports from Ministries on the basis of guidelines dictated by reconstruction and development perspectives. This is necessary, over and above Cabinet meetings and Cabinet Committees, because such supervision should be pro-active rather than responsive. Related to this would be a restructuring of the Cabinet Secretariat and the President's Office itself, and, among other things, consistently determining the President's programme in accordance with national priorities.

The time has come, as one honourable member said, to transform the RDP from a vision into a set of practical actions. This we have started doing. One of the challenges is how we enrich the implementation process through the active involvement, at grassroots level, of members of all legislatures. This will of course depend on the policies and style of the various parties. However, for those who consider themselves mass-based, interacting with the people in the process of implementing the RDP, and accounting for it should be seen as an obligation.

In the process of doing this, we shall also be able to deal with the vexed question of involving, as equals, sectors of our population which have all along been marginalised. I refer in particular to women, the aged, the disabled and the youth. We are keenly awaiting proposals on how this can be accommodated, in statutory structures, under the direct supervision of the President. We have to ensure that all these interests are adequately taken care of, while obviating the problem of multiplicity of institutions. I trust that the bodies concerned will handle this matter with the urgency it deserves.

Madame Speaker,

As South Africa emerges from the shell of isolation to join humanity as an equal and active partner, many opportunities are opening up for us to benefit from the wealth of humanity's achievements. This, however, goes along with heavy responsibilities. In particular, two urgent issues have been on the agenda of government.

Firstly, a comprehensive policy position needs to be worked out to ensure that South Africa fulfils its obligations within the regime of arms production and sales. The broad guidelines regarding the sale of arms in line with our moral and foreign policy objectives and covenants of the United Nations go a long way in dealing with this matter. But the question is much broader, affecting such issues as the future of our missile technology as well as the scientists and technicians previously involved in the nuclear and biological weapons industries. I am receiving comprehensive briefings on all these matters, and I will be making public announcements in due course.

Secondly, as we become a full part of international trading arrangements, the impact of their regulations on our own economy needs to be examined from all angles. In particular, we hope that the issue of the impact of GATT regulations on our textile, automobile, chemical and electronics industries will be high on the agenda of the newly-formed National Economic, Development and Lab Council. The challenge in this regard is to find creative, integrated and cost-effective strategies to restructure our industries in such a way that our products become more competitive on the international market.

Current developments in Lesotho are of major concern to us. Needless to say, these developments have a direct bearing on stability in our own country, and they do impact on the principled question of the future of democracy in Southern Africa. I will be holding consultations tomorrow with the Presidents of Botswana and Zimbabwe to work out strategies of resolving this matter in a manner that benefits its peoples.

Madame Speaker,

There is no doubt that our country possesses the natural resources, the talent and the potential required to position if favourably among nations of the world. Our objective of meeting the basic needs of the people, through policies premised on economic growth and equity, fiscal discipline and judicious utilisation of our resources, is the sure guarantee to success. Together, through plodding industry and rational, practicable policies, we have it in our power to meet our targets.

South Africa can take care of its people; not because there are election promises to be met; but because all our people deserve a better life. Our responsibility is to make sure that this happens.

I once more thank you for your incisive contributions. I am confident that they will help improve our work as we strive to make our country a better place for all its people.

Thank You.

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation