Opening address by President Nelson Mandela at the Business Initiative Against Corruption and Crime

15 August 1995

Honoured Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen.

Today's launch of the Business Initiative against Crime and Corruption is both welcome and timely.

In the broad political context, it underscores the fact that our transition is the product of a nation that had reached the collective conviction that the time for change had come to pass.

In the immediate sense, this initiative brings together the cream of South Africa's leaders spurred on by the conviction that the time is now, to strike a decisive blow against crime and corruption.

On the few occasions that I have had the opportunity to follow the preparations for this gathering, I should say I was highly impressed by the deliberate intent to eschew theory and pious words. You have elected to focus on the practical things that we all need to do, against a scourge whose magnitude and dangers we fully recognise.

It is therefore a singular honour for me to open this historic conference. In congratulating Business South Africa and the Council of South African Banks, I also wish to warmly welcome our guests from the Southern African Development Community.

Your presence here today sends a clear message that the business community of our country and our region has taken the measure of the challenge posed by crime and corruption; and it is ready to join with government in fighting them.

It is often said that success should be the natural reward for hard work, initiative and moral uprightness. The opposite can also true. And such is the urgency of the challenge we face.

We need a collective sense of mission to change mind-sets; and to steer the nation away from a dangerous course.

Just as we extricated South Africa from the mire of conflict, we are now called upon to use the new tools at our disposal to build a prosperous, truly just and morally upright nation.

Democracy has taken root in our country and in our region, and with it have come peace and political stability. But all this will be little more than the shifting sands of illusion, if we do not take decisive measures to strengthen the moral fibre of our nation.

In this context, it is legitimate for us to examine the root causes of crime and corruption: the poverty that stares us in the face; the illegitimacy of the previous order which elevated lawlessness into an honourable deed; the sanctions era which made underhand dealings a glorified national pastime; and the low pay and repressive focus in the security and other public services which turned upon their head the moral standards that these institutions are supposed to uphold.

It is legitimate to argue that it will take much time and effort to change all this; that to heal the wound of moral decay will need patience and forbearance.

Yet this should not result in our being incapacitated. It should not postpone the concrete steps against crime and corruption which we need to take. The current leadership - both in the public and private sectors - should, today and not tomorrow, find feasible and practical strategies which bring practical results. Ladies and Gentlemen; As with everything else, in the case of crime we have to combine laying the basis for long-term change with immediate action. Certainly, crime can only be effectively dealt with in the context of successful socio-economic programmes. But, economic growth and programmes which will banish poverty are themselves subverted by crime and corruption.

The fact that a serious crime is committed in South Africa every 17 seconds cannot improve investor confidence, no matter what successes we register in other spheres. The fact that R18-billion of fraud is under investigation does not bode well for our economy. Economic growth, sound governance and crime prevention are interdependent priorities, requiring concerted and simultaneous action.

As in all our other endeavours, success is reducing crime to acceptable levels depends on a partnership of all social structures working together for common goals. In crime we have a common enemy. Criminals depend for their survival on finding refuge within the very structures of society on which they prey. Where we have scored success, it has been largely due to co-operation between communities and police.

Such co-operation has nothing in common with the impulse, sometimes understandable but always unacceptable, of people taking the law into their own hands. It has nothing in common with the kind of finger pointing that is at the root of suggestions that business should withhold taxes from government to pressure it to act on crime. Aad is not considered as criminal conduct. We hope that discussions in Europe and other parts of the world will result in concrete action on this matter.

Ladies and Gentlemen;

We have laid particular stress on steps by the private sector towards increased and more effective self-regulation because this would bring double benefits. It would help to cut crime; but it would also reduce the scale of public resources required to combat tax evasion and fraud. That would strengthen our national drive for fiscal discipline.

For its part, government regards it as a matter of the highest priority to provide the leadership and resources to ensure safety and security.

Amongst the government's first steps was to start the transformation of our police into an effective and legitimate service, freed from the legacy of its past role and based on community policing. Under adverse conditions, and amidst the uncertainties which transformation can bring, they have played their role in implementing the new anti-crime programmes. They deserve the admiration and respect of all of us.

The National Community Safety Plan has registered considerable success in bringing down levels of violent crime in the designated areas.

Corruption of various kinds has been the target of determined action by the government. These include the swift action of the Office of the Minister without Portfolio in the President's Office, in detecting and following up on the misappropriation of funds intended for the feeding of primary school children. A commission is busy investigating transfers of state land since 1992. Nine new anti-corruption units are in the process of being established by the South African Police Service in the provinces to supplement existing units.

The government has been actively co-operating with other countries and agencies, on a bilateral, regional and international basis. Co-operation, particularly amongst members of the Southern African Development Community has already registered positive results.

These initiatives are elements in what must become an integrated and effective long-term national crime prevention strategy. The Interdepartmental Committee. set up by Cabinet in May has gone a long way towards proposing the kind of strategies and structures needed to achieve this. This should encompass measures to ensure that our judicial system administers appropriate treatment of offenders.

The conditions for effective joint crime prevention have never been better. Today's initiative adds yet another brick on the wall between the past and a secure and safe future for all citizens.

I therefore wish you well in your deliberations. I am confident that there is assembled here the good-will and expertise that will ensure that, indeed, crime does not pay.

I thank you.

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation