Statement by President Nelson Mandela on the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty

17 October 1996

This International Day for the Eradication of Poverty is very important to us. It help us focus on our central challenge - to eradicate poverty.

Although South Africa is said to be a middle income country, most of our people live like those in some of the poorest countries in the world.

The rights enshrined in our new constitution will be empty and our democracy will remain fragile, if they do not bring with them improvements in the lives especially of those who bear the burden of poverty and inequality.

Poverty brings hunger, disease, inadequate shelter and homelessness. It hinders the education of children and leaves them on the margins of our society, squandering a wealth of human potential to contribute to the building of a prosperous South Africa.

As a caring society, we cannot fold our arms and leave this blight on the lives of millions of our people. That is why, as a government, we have declared war on poverty.

Amongst the first steps that our democratic government took was to initiate programmes focused on the most urgent needs of the poor. These included the renovation of dilapidated school buildings; nutrition schemes for young school-children; free health-care for pregnant mothers and young children; and the repair and creation of infrastructure in both rural and urban areas.

Those programmes were the beginning of our Reconstruction and Development Programme whose goals guide us to this day.

The brief review released today of various government initiatives that focus on poverty, outlines the progress that has been made. There are measures of short-term relief and others that provide longer-term access to such essentials as land, water, electricity. For millions of people change has begun in ways that make a real impact on their daily lives.

The challenge is to build on this start that we have made.

We are in a strong position to do so.

We have had to develop new frameworks and plans for tackling poverty, and we have gained much from the experience of our initial steps. The establishment of democratic local government has greatly strengthened our capacity to implement programmes of reconstruction and development. And we are resolutely committed to identifying blockages and cracking down on fraud and corruption.

Our macro-economic strategy is a framework for sustained economic growth that will create the jobs and the resources for reconstruction and development. It is a framework that will create the conditions in which health-care, housing, education and the other needs of our people can be addressed.

Above all, government will continue to make its programmes to eradicate poverty, our number one priority.

These goals cannot be achieved by government alone. The poor - in rural areas and informal settlements; amongst women and youth; the disabled and the elderly - have always been ready to take the initiative to change the circumstances of their lives. In the spirit of Masakhane, it is they who will be the driving force to uplift their own communities, in partnership with government and other sectors of society.

Our contribution to the struggle against poverty is not confined to South Africa. No country in our region or continent can eliminate poverty on its own.

In conclusion, let us use this International Day for the Eradication of Poverty to recommit ourselves, as a government and as a nation, to practical and realistic programmes that will ensure that ours is a country that attends to its people's most basic human needs.

Let us ensure that all South Africans are provided the opportunity to live lives of decency and hope.

Let us join hands to banish the needless scourge of poverty and inequality from our land.

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation