Address by Nelson Mandela at the last meeting of the Senate

31 January 1997

Mr President;
Honourable Senators;
Ladies and Gentlemen,

To address you at this, the last meeting of the Senate, is a great honour and a privilege. I am speaking to a body of men and women who have honourably discharged the historical task to which they were appointed by our people. In so doing you have helped lay a solid foundation of our democracy.

Farewells do bring their measure of sadness. But this closure sets the seal on a transition of which you yourselves have been architects and builders. We are shutting the door on an interim arrangement for something more permanent. Most of you will continue to serve as elected representatives, though in new ways. Today's ceremony symbolises and affirms our transition to democracy.

The Chief Whip, I am told, had occasion recently to recall - or so he claimed - that a number of my previous visits to the Senate have been associated with a certain degree of controversy. The reason, I have no doubt, lies with this august body - you have clearly never been comfortable with the traditional perception of second chambers as bodies whose members are not very active or lively.

Inactivity was definitely not a characteristic of this house. Senators have eagerly fulfilled their tasks and participated fully in the activities of Parliament. Especially your contributions to the various parliamentary committees, and to the Constitutional Assembly and its committees, bear testimony to this fact.

At Kempton Park, amongst other things, a multi-tier system of government was negotiated. South Africa's fragmented and racially structured second tier of government, it was agreed, should be replaced by a completely new dispensation consisting of nine provinces.

We also concluded that there was a need for a senate or second chamber in South Africa, not only as an upper chamber of general review, but specifically to symbolise and promote the unity of South Africa and its people by giving expression to the interdependence of all provinces and to protect provincial interests.

In fulfilling your task of representing the provinces, you introduced new measures to enhance interaction between Senate and the provinces. You established links and functional systems which could not be foreseen at the time of drafting, and were therefore not addressed in the Interim Constitution.

Through such actions, in effect, you completed the 1993 Constitution. More than that, you also became involved with communities at grass root level to assist in resolving their problems. You set an example of how to bring government closer to the people; how to promote national unity and reconciliation.

In regard to your direct contribution to national unity and reconciliation, there is a general feeling that debates in the Senate usually exhibited few of the counterproductive features which sometimes occur when the robustness of democratic debate passes over to blatant party political posturing and even open hostility. Your dignified style of conducting business contributed in enhancing confidence in our young democracy.

Integral to the achievement of these objectives, was the Senate's role as an upper chamber of review in the legislative process. Your involvement in every piece of legislation passed thus far by our first democratically elected Parliament has helped us along the road of transformation towards a non-racial democracy that addresses the needs of all its citizens. One thinks in particular of innovative legislation concerning education, health services, language policy, local government and traditional affairs.

As the first generation of senators in a democratic South Africa, you have the vital task dismantling the Senate and reconstructing it into the National Council of Provinces in terms of the new Constitution.

Amongst the changes ushered in by our new Constitution, and new forms of allocation of revenue from central to provincial governments together with the shift to a system of co-operative governance, will greatly enhance the collective role of provinces in the governance of our democracy.

This is the context that gives the move from a Senate to a National Council of Provinces its particular significance. This is what endows the work of the NCOP with major responsibility for the well-being of our nation. This is what makes the work of the NCOP and its members radically different from that of the Senate and its Senators, and also different from the National Assembly.

It will require new ways of working and new procedures. It will require wisdom and creativity in finding practical ways of accomplishing what could be a labyrinthine task of reconciling nine provinces and central government. It will require embracing the spirit of our new patriotism which subordinates pomp and ceremony to the need to grapple with the practicalities of nation-building, reconstruction and development, while accommodating regional diversity. It will require, initially at least, a focus on what is central to the role of the NCOP, rather than that which is ancillary.

For the past three years you have been central to the creation and refinement of the concept of co-operative governance, as constitution-makers and in practice. Your experience will be invaluable in building a spirit of mutual trust and good faith.

Ladies and gentlemen;

Throughout the life of this Senate, I have followed you in the execution of your functions and tasks with great pride.

I would like to thank you all for our contribution to the governance of our young democracy.

These thanks are addressed also to the officials and secretariat of the Senate who performed their task in a most competent manner. I am confident that those of you who will be part of the secretariat of the NCOP, will continue to perform your work in the same manner.

This is an occasion for acknowledging the role of the Chief Whip and the other Whips for the guidance and leadership that ensured that the Senate carried out its work with efficiency and dignity. For that, we thank you.

I know that you will all share with me in wanting to pay special tribute to two people who, above all others, have endowed the work and the proceedings of the Senate with their own wisdom.

Govan Mbeki, Oom Gov, has more than six decades of service in the struggle for freedom and development. For most of that time he was at the centre of our country's unfolding history, as activist; organiser; intellectual; teacher; prisoner of conscience; journalist, writer and leader. The restrictions placed on him after his release from prison in 1987 could not deflect him from the sacred task of mobilising for freedom. His role in what has come to be known as the miracle of the South African transition is immense, and the Senate has been fortunate in its Deputy-President.

When the history of our transition comes to be written, the name of Kobie Coetzee will also be amongst those of our leading miracle- workers. From 1985 he quietly but tirelessly paved the way for the negotiations which delivered us from the conflict which could in time have devastated our divided nation. He is an example of the fact that there are good men and women in all communities who, under the right conditions, emerge as the true leaders of our nation.

Ladies and gentlemen;

May I wish you well in all your future endeavours. To those of you who will retire, my best wishes for a peaceful and untroubled resting period.

We know that all of you will help us in what is now our central challenge - to build on the foundations which our nation has laid in its first years of democracy.

I thank you!

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation