Address by President Nelson Mandela at a breakfast meeting of the Foreign Correspondents Association

24 April 1995

Chairperson of the Foreign Correspondents Association;
Members of the Association;
Distinguished guests.

I should start off by apologising for the late cancellation of Friday's appointment. I do appreciate and sincerely regret the inconvenience - especially when one is dealing with a profession in which timing is as important as content. As Scott MacLeod of Time magazine will tell you, Friday's programme did not lend itself to such an engagement.

But I should also commend you for one thing. Never, in the few months in office, have I faced such pressure from my staff. Given their insistence, with all my protestations, I even started to wonder where their allegiance lay!

On a more serious note: as we approach 27 April, South Africa Freedom Day, it is crucial that we reflect on the elusive concepts of allegiance and freedom.

These are things that we, South Africans, have started to take for granted. This is perhaps because we have a government that has moved with speed to eschew symbolism, and start dealing with the urgent socio-economic questions facing the nation.

A common allegiance is what helps define a nation. You either have divided loyalties on fundamental questions or an overwhelming sense of pride and belonging. A nation-state without this attribute exists only in name. It survives by coercion and subterfuge. It is a time-bomb waiting to implode upon itself.

Such was South Africa under apartheid. Loyalties were premised on racial factors. Being South African filled many with shame. Destruction of the state was high upon on the a goodwill that the nation as a whole evinces today; its unity; its adherence to common fundamental political and economic objectives and many other issues - all these characterise a nation that has awoken from the slumber of barbaric self-destruction; a nation ready to tackle its problems.

Virtually all parties, structures of civil society, individuals at various levels of the social ladder, all owe allegiance to this new state. They all seek to achieve the central objective of reconstruction and development. The Government of National Unity represents this. More importantly, it also manifests itself in such forums as the National Economic, Development and Labour Council, where sectors with often contradictory aims strive together to find common ground and pursue the national interest.

It is given to our generation to marvel at this achievement. Future historians will be better placed to accurately identify the chemistry that made it possible. The one confident conclusion that we can make is that the time for real change had come to pass. South Africa was ripe for democratic revolution.

I have decided to use the word "revolution" deliberately; because the changes - the transformation - that we have to introduce now, are no less fundamental or thorough-going than in circumstances where the transition could have been extracted by other means.

But what our peculiar situation does, is to impose certain obligations on the transformers. The ripe moment that made it possible for the old regime to accept fundamental change also means that transformation should be accomplished not by decree; but through democratic constitutional and legal means.

And one thing is clear: lasting change is possible and even preferable in a situation in which the counter-veiling tendencies can openly challenge one another in a situation of peace and freedom.

Individuals are better off to assess their long-term interests and to choose preferable options, in a situation in which a culture of human rights is being established and consolidated. The deepening of democracy, which this transformation is in part about, does not have to await a debilitating conflict.

We therefore pride ourselves with the progress that we have made, firstly, with the fundamental rights and freedoms contained in the interim constitution. Freedoms of expression, the media, religion, association and so on reflect the formal part of the task. But we are determined that the government at all its levels should act in an open manner and be made to account when it fails to do so.

This opens up great possibilities for healthy national debate, the kind of engagement which itself puts pressure on leaders, especially those who seek to resist change, to co-operate.

We are therefore confident that the new constitution that will emerge from the democratically-delected Constitutional Assembly will widen and deepen these freedoms rather than the other way around.

To come back to the question of allegiance to the new democratic order: Actions that seek to undermine this order, through, for instance, boycotting its primary institutions, such as the legislature and the Constitutional Assembly, are bound to fail. Rather, all South Africans prefer to see their leaders expressing their views peacefully within the ambit of these bodies.

Any approaches taken, such as international mediation, should result from such rational discussion rather than blackmail.

To assert that fundamental change is preferable through constitutional and legal means, does not mean that there are no problems which tend to hamper such change. What it can mean is that some of those who fear change could seek to mobilise against it surreptitiously. It does also mean that measures to accommodate the old order could put a brake on what is urgently and absolutely necessary.

But experience over the past months has shown that South Africa's leaders are capable of finding solutions to such problems. The conclusion that we come to again and again is that an abiding commitment to democratic freedoms and human rights is the best antidote against attempts to undermine change.

It is in this context that the campaign of the government to deal with lawlessness, crime and anarchy should be seen. Where there are genuine grievances, these are then dealt with in negotiations and rational debate. Where the purpose is something else, this is easily exposed.

Effecting fundamental transformation through constitutional and legal means also means that the transformers should master the art of governance.

Firstly, it means speedy action to bring light to all the nooks and crannies of the old order; and consign all negative practices to the dustbin of history. This is the best route to lasting reconciliation.

And the fact that all significant bodies of political opinion have reached consensus on the issue of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is a major achievement; one towering example that our democracy is firmly rooted and it is guaranteed a permanent future.

Secondly, it requires deliberate expedition to put in place the legislative framework necessary for transformation to take place. This is an issue that we are grappling with, both at the level of the executive and the legislature. The result is that, while much progress has been made in planning, it has naturally taken time before visible results are seen across the board.

In the next few days, we will be making comprehensive public reviews in this regard. Suffice it here to say that South Africa is moving forward with confidence. The economic growth that is underpinned by the revival of manufacturing; the confidence of investors; progress in RDP projects; steps taken towards even more fundamental reprioritisation of public spending; a firm commitment to fiscal discipline - all these and much more, inspire confidence within society as a whole.

By saying this, one is also contesting the view that there is discontent and restiveness among certain communities about the pace of change. It is quite true that the poor, the homeless, the landless and the jobless want a speedy end to their wretched conditions. But it is inaccurate to assume that they believe that such an outcome can be achieved in one fell swoop. To conclude that they do not appreciate the efforts being made, and that they demand everything now, is in fact to question their reasoning faculties.

Of course, while this is our firm conclusion from interaction with the people; this does not mean that we should take them for granted. Thus the Government will always strive to speed up the pace of change.

The positive picture one has painted is not meant to discount the fact that we may have made mistakes. Certainly, some of the weaknesses we have identified were of our own making. Yet, one can safely say that, we have more often than not, erred on the side on caution: be it on socio-economic questions or on constitutional matters.

Above all, whatever mistakes we may have made, cannot subtract from the sea-change in the South African body politic. A new South African civilisation is in the making.

In conclusion, I should say that I have chosen to reflect on general matters because the detail belongs elsewhere.

But I do hope that I have left you with some food for thought; and thus made a humble contribution to the review features and documentaries dedicated to our first anniversary. I am confident that the discourse on the screens and leader pages, at least in this period, will leave South Africa and the world the richer.

I thank you.

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation