Address by President Nelson Mandela at launch of Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (Denosa)

5 December 1996

Master of ceremonies,
Minister of Health; National Chairperson of Denosa,
Nurses from outside South Africa,
Distinguished guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

One of our nation's major achievements in two-and-a-half years of democracy has been the adoption of the new Labour Relations Act. This product of negotiations between labour, business and government introduces a new era in labour relations.

For the first time our country has labour laws that provide basic democratic rights to all, employer and employee. For the first time we have a framework in which those whose relationship was once almost entirely conflictual, can now find common ground in helping to shape a strategy for the growth of our economy, for the protection and nurturing of our human resources.

The launch of Denosa today represents another important step forward, It opens new possibilities for the contribution which professional organisations and unions can make to nation-building, transformation and reconciliation.

Nursing, perhaps more than most professions, was deeply divided by apartheid. The divisions had a serious negative impact on the profession, some of which you may still have to grapple with for a long time to come. They undermined your capacity to achieve common objectives. They flew in the face of the ethos and practices of our new democracy.

We have come here today not just to celebrate the launch. We wish also to show our support and endorsement of the steps you are taking to unify South African nursing.

As a unified force you can play a central role in transforming the national health system, especially in improving access to primary health care. You cannot afford, to continue in the subordinate role to which you were previously confined. Government regards you as a critical asset of our nation. Denosa must become not just an interested party merely representing nurses interests, but an active agent of change. In doing so you will be aware of opportunities for improvements and of progress made in addressing concerns of nurses. You will know of problems and challenges facing the nursing community and the rest of the country. More importantly, you will be part of a team that will develop joint strategies to deal with the problems and challenges of building a better life.

On at least one occasion in the past two and a half years, we have had the unpleasant experience of crossing swords. We cannot claim to have resolved all the problems that led to conflict: but we can proudly say that we have started together to find lasting solutions. Together we have learnt valuable lessons from that experience.

Be assured that we value your great contribution to the health of the nation and its well-being. We fully appreciate the difficult conditions under which you work. We do realise the dangers to which you are exposed in the service of the people. Along with Marilyn Lehana and many others who have perished in the course of duty, we salute you all. You are our heroes and heroines.

One of the challenges of transformation is to eliminate the last traces of the uncaring ethos that the past imposed on the profession. We are heartened by DENOSA's belief that nurses should stand together to safeguard not only the dignity and rights of nurses, but also those of patients as well. The dignity of your profession will be enhanced by the quality of service you render and your success in cultivating and strengthening the caring ethos.

Caring should also be extended to under-serviced and rural parts of our country. Fellow South Africans in these areas have equal entitlement to health care along with all other citizens. The health department is working on incentives to attract more health workers to these areas. But without your commitment these systems may not achieve the success we expect them to achieve.

Though you have still to complete the unification process, this launch demonstrates the commitment of all of you to make a success of it. Co-operation with other stakeholders should be your watchword: including with those who are not part of your organisation.

We have great and realistic expectations of Denosa, and so does the rest of the country. You dare not let us down.

I thank you.

Source: South African Government Information Website