Address by President Nelson Mandela on receiving an award at the Black Management Forum Conference

24 November 1995

Master of Ceremonies
Distinguished guests;
Ladies and gentlemen.

When the oppressed and disadvantaged take their destiny into their own hands; and when those divided in bitter conflict turn towards peace and reconciliation, that is indeed a collective act of extraordinary leadership. It is this achievement of our whole nation which you are honouring tonight. It is in that spirit that I humbly accept the award, on their behalf.

The theme of your conference - Black Economic Self Empowerment - reaffirms that faith in the capacity of those who have been excluded to take the lead in shaping a new and equitable order. It resounds as a pledge to join hands with government in its endeavours to address the legacy of apartheid, whether in business or more broadly.

The achievement of our shared objectives will depend on the fulfillment of that pledge, since they cannot be achieved by government alone.

For its part, government has a range of initiatives in place to ensure that the vast business and managerial potential which apartheid left untapped, is now released for the benefit of our society.

The major programme for the expansion of small, micro and medium enterprises is making good progress as it builds on the foundation laid in the policy conference held in March this year.

Government policy on the restructuring of state assets, will follow guidelines approved by Cabinet in August. They take into account the need to encourage the growth of small and medium enterprises, and to do so in ways which help create opening into the business world for those hitherto marginalised.

Foreign investors are being strongly encouraged to engage in joint ventures with emerging business. So too are the established sectors of South African business, whose power and resources owe much to their privileged position under apartheid. Such partnerships will not only open doors - they are also a highly effective way of transferring skills and knowledge.

Government is committed to a review of its procurement and tendering policy. One of the objectives is to provide opportunities for those disadvantaged by previous policies to catch up and help provide efficient services to people.

Black business is in position to make a special contribution to reconstruction and development, and built into the RDP are measures to ensure such participation.

The transformation of the public service places representativeness and affirmative action amongst the highest priorities for achieving a public sector that truly serves the people of this country.

In short, Government is ensuring that the opportunities are there for black business and management. But it will need boldness in seizing opportunities.

It will demand a readiness to face the challenges of the competitive world market to which we now belong. It will mean accepting the rigours of pursuing far-reaching goals with limited resources in a society that is eager for new standards of morality, accountability and professionalism in both the public and private sectors. One instance of which we should all be mindful in this regard, is that of the African Bank. In putting over R200 million into the bank, Government is counting on those qualities in management to ensure that a similar crisis does not recur.

The profits and the access to resources and decision-making power which flow from the opportunities that are opening should be used not only to reward enterprise and achievement. They should also be used to enhance the productive capacity and efficiency of companies and institutions, and their employees. Affirmative action, likewise, is a responsibility that must be embraced by its beneficiaries themselves, and extended to others.

For the most effective implementation of these policies and their further development there is a further requirement. While the number of black business organisations is a sign of vitality, it is also a weakness. A single and co-ordinated voice will increase the effectiveness with which needs are addressed. We hope that this conference will find a way to make decisive progress in achieving this objective, which has so far proved vexingly elusive.

This goes more broadly for business as a whole. One of our objectives in overcoming the legacy of apartheid must be the unification of each sector of our society, including business. No doubt, there will be difficulties on the path. But our society towards solutions in the broader interest.

Ladies and gentlemen;

I raise these issues because I am confident that the Black Management Forum, which represents a sector of society that formed itself under the most difficult of circumstances and when opportunities were few, has a critical leadership role to play under the favourable conditions of today.

Though still few in number, as professionals and managers you are well-placed to contribute to policy formation for the development of our enterprises, private and public.

One of our most urgent priorities is the rapid and extensive development of management expertise amongst the majority of our population who were excluded from such responsibility in the past.

The challenge for the BMF, and for black professionals generally, is to use the voice which their achievements have given them to help enlarge their own ranks. In so doing they will contribute to the realisation of the vision of a better life for all South Africans.

I thank you.

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation