Closing address by President Nelson Mandela following debate on State of the Nation Address, Cape Town

12 February 1997

Madame Speaker; Honourable Members; Distinguished guests; Ladies and Gentlemen.

We have come to the close of the debate on the State of the Nation.

I think it is appropriate to thank all the participants individually and all the parties collectively for a lively exchange of views on matters pertinent to the lives of our citizens.

With each such debate, the consensus we share as custodians of our young democracy becomes clearer; and so do the areas of divergence of views on many issues is essentially about matters of detail and the process of implementation.

So obvious are the advances that we are making as a nation, and so clear the challenges that we face, that even if we hall from diverse backgrounds, even if we have disparate constituencies, even if our interpretation of the interests of these constituencies might differ, we all cannot but acknowledged that for each to succeed, all must succeed. We are one people with one destiny.

Honourable Members;

Thought not strictly within the purview of the debate, we were extremely heartened by the response of all sectors of society - particularly business and the working people - to the programme of action that we set out when we opened this session of parliament.

This morning I had the opportunity to exchange ideas for a couple of hours with the Afrikaanse Handelsinstituut. And, more intensely than before, the message that we are getting is that the country is on the right track; there is cause to be optimistic about the future; there are a great many opportunities that beckon, opportunities that we need to seize firmly with both hands.

This is not because the government seeks to be all things to all people; neither is it because we are loath to take sides among conflicting interests. It is because even in the context of these conflicting interests, there are certain basic issues that are a matter of course in the current era: the protection of fundamental human rights; economic growth and job-creation; speedy implementation of socio-economic programmes and decisive action against crime.

This is the foundation of our national consensus; our nation's tryst with destiny which we should redeem together in action.

That is the mood out there: this desire to get down to work for the benefit of each one of us individually, for the benefit of our families and for the benefit of society as a whole.

It is particularly noteworthy that most, if not all the speakers, restated their concern for the conditions of the poor: the millions of South Africans unable to make ends meet. Whatever the reasons behind these pronouncements, the fact of the matter is that they enhanced the quality of discourse in these chambers.

Indeed, this august body would not be worth its salt if it were to be impervious to those sections of our society who are in dire need, not of their own making; but because the ralson d'etre of the previous system was their subjugation, their humiliation, their ignorance and their decrepitude.

The task of rectifying this historical injustice is not that of the ANC alone. It behoves all of us to join hands to build a just and prosperous nation.

Honourable members of course posed many searching questions about the capacity of government to lead the nation towards this objective; and few questioned whether we have the policies and programmes to do so.

What then is the essence of the government's message for this year?

As most of the speakers acknowledged, South Africa has laid the foundation for speedier movement to a better life. By means of the constitution and legislation; through the beginnings of socio-economic delivery; by means of prudent and appropriate economic policies; and through the strategies and firm actions against crime, we have begun to change the lives of our people for the better.

Proceeding from this foundation, we have outlined the concrete targets for this year in all these areas - targets which we are committed to, and on the basis of which we should be judged. We have also outlined the many weaknesses there are in the government machinery; and we emphasised issues of co-operative governance, restructuring of the public service and improvement of the criminal justice system as critical to improving our capacity to transform society.

Of course there are limits to the kind of detail that can be contained in a State of the Nation Address. During the early part of this session, Ministers will elaborate on the issues that have been identified and many others. They will give more detail and, where applicable, blow-by-blow steps towards meeting these targets.

But what should be appreciated is that, for the first time, the executive has identified and committed itself to a whole gamut of concrete things that we seek to do this year.

We have set targets for delivery in line with the Reconstruction and Development Programme.

I suppose it is safe to assume that, because none of the parties questioned those concrete targets, we all agree that they are realistic goals for the year.

We therefore call on society, on members in the opposition, on members in the ruling party itself, to monitor the implementation of this programme, to identify weaknesses in its implementation and to make proposals on how the weaknesses can be corrected, and how, where possible, the process can be speeded up.

Hold the President to account; hold the Deputy President to account; hold the ministers, the provincial and local executives to account. Judge this government by its ability to meet the objectives it has set out. If it is not building on the foundation that has been laid then you can challenge its right to govern; if it is, then the successes should be acknowledged.

Madame Speaker;

Many concrete comments were made on a variety of issues. These have been noted and they are an invaluable contribution to the pool of ideas from which the executive will draw.

I wish to select only a few for special comment.

None of us would have failed to be moved by the assessment of the government's programme to assist the disabled. Many short- comings and corrective measures were identified. At times, it escapes us that we are talking of millions of citizens; and that what they desire and deserve are the simple things that we tend to take for granted. I wish to reiterate the commitment of the government to continue addressing these issues and to correct any short-comings that may exist in our programme.

Because of an approach that seeks to identify the negative, we professionals leaving the country, than the great contribution that South African scientists are making in all areas of endeavour. We pay tribute to them, and we once again commit our government to a science and technology policy that promotes the best in South Africa's brains; a policy that seeks to apply our scientific and technological research to the requirements of the country; and a policy that creates opportunities in the schools and universities for all children of talent to flourish.

Questions were also raised about the availability of Ministers to deal with concerns pertaining to language and culture. We have always stated, collectively and as individuals in the executive, that our doors are always open. Where programmes may not allow that matters are dealt with speedily, we would urge that this blockages. What we do know though, is that there is no other sensible alternative to dialogue.

In its comments on the issue of restructuring of state assets, the trade union movement welcomed particularly the government's commitment to consultation among all stake-holders, including management. There is broad consensus on these issues because the programme of government derives in part from discussions with trade unions, resulting in the national Framework Agreement with which all of us should be familiar.

The disparaging comments made about the role of this movement on this and other issues were therefore misplaced. It might ring familiar and reassuring to those who despise the workers, to paint the trade union movement as an ogre to be feared and to be felled at the slightest opportunity. But it does not help to clarify the question of the real forces involved in transformation; the array of partners, including government and business, who are working together to build our economy.

In this regard, Honourable Members, I wish to pose a few questions on the style of our discourse, within the context of our responsibility as leaders.

Firstly, on the issue of affirmative action: The government has stated its position over and over again, that what we strive to do is to ensure training, promotion and fair opportunities to a section of our society which was, by law, denied these rights. After years of deliberate neglect and exclusion, any other course of action would be disastrous. In any case, the constitution enjoins us to undertake this programme.

What message, therefore, do we send out as leaders, particularly in the name of constituencies that were all along privileged by law, when we characterise these efforts as racism?

Secondly, on the issue of crime: We outlined the progress that has been made on most priority crimes, the real weaknesses that are there for all to see, and the concrete steps we will be taking this year to address these issues.

We cannot claim to have realised everything we wish to achieve. But no one can question the commitment of this government to deal with the root causes of the problem, including firm action against corrupt officials in the criminal justice system, the setting of clear delivery targets and deadlines, legislation on bail conditions and minimum sentences, and steps towards a radical reduction in the number of commercial entry points such as the 36 so-called international airports - all of which issues I referred to in my opening address.

What message are we then sending out to society and to the outside world, when we assert that South Africa has become the most murderous country since 1994? Is this callous insensitivity to the fact that this government has eradicated the scourge of political violence and repression which left hundreds of thousands dead: murders whose gruesome nature is only starting to come out in the hearings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission?

Thirdly, on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission itself: Both in the negotiations on the constitution and in the drafting of relevant legislation, we all took great care to ensure that proper guidelines are set out about this process, so as to attain the two objectives of truth and reconciliation.

As it was mandated by us, the TRC is striving to establish the truth. It has approached its work fearlessly and in as impartial a manner as is possible. Many parties here have fallen foul to its rebuke - justified or otherwise - as the TRC leadership seeks to pursue an impartial, honest and transparent process.

As leaders, what message do we then send out to our constituencies, by questioning the body's integrity?

Madame Speaker;

I have selected these particular issues because they illustrate one critical lesson about our responsibility, all of us without exception. And this is that leadership means more than the articulation of the perceived self-interest of a constituency. It means avoiding as much as possible the temptation to arouse the base feelings of sections of a society that was, for so long, rent apart.

Leadership means leadership: It implies sometimes moving ahead of one's constituency and, not seldom, taking unpopular decisions in the interest of the country and all its people. In the end, our narrow constituencies and the nation as a whole will respect our integrity if we act honestly and with vision.

I am confident that we have in all parties, leaders who are able to rise above the narrow mind-set of one section of society. And this came through during the course of the debate.

Indeed, I feel strengthened in my conviction that there are good men and women among all parties and sections of our society; men and women who can identify weaknesses and dangers; and who are able to see the low road towards the precipice. But men and women who do not lose sight of the opportunities that beckon; men and women who are able to concentrate their minds on the high road towards justice, prosperity, peace and a better life for all.

It is in this spirit that I have made my remarks. And I am confident that we shall all pull together to build on the firm foundation that has been laid.

Let us get down to work!

Issued by: Office of the President

Source: South African Government Information Website