Keynote address by President Nelson Mandela to South Africa-Malaysia Forum, Kuala Lumpur

8 March 1997

Chairperson; Leaders of Malaysian and South African business; Distinguished Guests; Ladies and Gentlemen.

Some five days ago, the South African government announced that the consortium of Telekom-Malaysia and SBC Communications had succeeded in its bid for a 30 per cent stake in South Africa's Telecommunications Corporation.

Intense negotiations are under way about important matters of detail. But, without pre-empting these, we are confident that this relationship will be sealed in a matter of weeks.

The agreement could not have come at a more opportune moment. For it is a practical reflection of an emergent strategic partnership between our two nations. And, in many respects, it is a prototype of our multifaceted relations.

Let us emphasise at the very outset that the agreement does not issue from feelings of sentiment towards one another, nor is it abased on considerations of political convenience. Rather, both sides will, in a variety of ways, profit from this telecommunications initiative.

What characterises this agreement - immensely historic as South Africa's first large act of privatisation - is the fact that Telekom Malaysia was part of the successful consortium because it brings into the equation advanced technology, expertise and, above all, an experience that is profoundly relevant to our own conditions.

The large investment that the agreement entails; the transfer of technology and skills; the partnership between government and business; the special benefits to poor communities; and the involvement of entrepreneurs from disadvantaged sectors of the population - all these are experiences that Malaysia possesses in abundance.

We are confident that this agreement consummates a phase in our relations: and that it constitutes a platform for even greater things to come.

Indeed, since our arrival in Malaysia two days ago, we have felt the pulse of this partnership-in-the-making. We have been struck by the knowledge of, and interest in, South Africa evinced by leaders in government and other sectors. We have been struck too by the objectivity of your assessment - an objectivity that finds expression in the long-term investments of Malaysian business in South Africa.

A number of faces among the Malaysian participants here are familiar to me personally, reflecting the intimate relations that our leaders at various levels have developed.

Our task today is therefore not merely to further appraise you of the many positive attributes that South And Southern Africa posses. Nor iis it to convince you of the benefits that accrue from co-operation. These you know and know too well.

The major challenge of this Second South Africa - Malaysia Forum, ladies and gentlemen, is to set in motion detailed discussions that will result in practical projects. If this august gathering achieved only this, then it would have been highly successful. But I am certain that it will also help in the process of placing our relationship in its proper context; and thus serving as a force of example to the regions to which we belong.

I should therefore take this opportunity to thank the National Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute, the Malaysia South-South Association and the incipient Malaysia-South Africa Business Council (which we are to launch later today), for the splendid organisation of the Forum and a programme that should help us achieve our objectives.

I am confident that, at the end of the day, Malaysian business and its South African counterpart will have forged new relations and reinforced those that already exists.

Those who have followed our interaction will agree that this was the positive result from the First South Africa - Malaysia Forum held in South Africa last year, during the visit of Prime Minister Mahathir. In many respects, the partnership that we celebrate today owes much to his own personal efforts: and his vision has not gone unnoticed among our people.


In the period since the first democratic elections in our country, relations between our two nations have grown by leaps and bounds. In a sense, this was a natural continuation of the efforts that we together put into the struggle to rid South Africa of the scourge of apartheid.

In that struggle, we knew that we were not sacrificing for its own sake. There was a human vision that we shared: to build a better life for all our peoples and to build a better world.

The journey to these ideals is yet to be completed. But we can draw comfort from the fact that Malaysians and South Africans are together putting shoulders to the wheel to change the lives of our people for the better.

By ensuring that trade between our two countries almost triples in three years, business in both our countries is helping to expand the industrial and consumption base of our societies.

The fact that Malaysia has become the fourth largest investor in South Africa - in the process overtaking many countries which may be better endowed - speaks of the interest that you have in ensuring that South Africa's young democracy is underpinned by a rising quality of life.

It speaks of the confidence you have in the prospect of our country and our region becoming a critical economic hub in a changing world.

This we say because most of your investments in areas such as property development, hotel accommodation and the petro-chemical industry are direct as opposed to ephemeral capital flows; they are long-term strategic projects creating new enterprises and new jobs; and they bring expertise and technology which will assist our country to improve its production base.

I wish to assure you that the same enthusiasm is shared by South African business. As you may have realised in previous engagements - and as you will certainly realise during discussions today - South African business leaders are practical, astute and hard bargainers.

The delegation accompanying us is very keen indeed to build on the relations that already exist, including investments and technology transfer in such areas as sugar filtration systems, pollution control mining, construction, defence and railway transport.

They are eager to become an active part of the massive mega-projects under way in Malaysia; they are eager to expand trade relations; they are keen to establish joint ventures in both our countries. Indeed, they welcome the challenge to become part of one of the economic miracles of our times.

However, precisely because of the advances that have been made in our relations, we can afford to be honest enough to say that we have only started to tap the potential that exist.

And we hope that at the end of today's meeting, and at the end of our visit to Malaysia, we shall have examined this potential fully and taken practical decisions to exploit it to maximum affect; to build a partnership among equals; a bond among allies; a strategic association between nations which share many common interests.

Ladies and Gentlemen;

We are inspired by the fact that the broad canvass on which these relations are anchored, is a matter that is passionately engaging the minds of the Malaysian government and the Prime Minister in particular.

The international vision of increased strategic co-operation among countries of the South is one that we fully share. As such, we have found Malaysia a reliable ally in the Commonwealth of Nations, in the Non-Aligned Movement and in the United Nations, in efforts to strengthen the power and influence of developing nations and to restructure world affairs in line with the demands of the new age.

Indeed, over many centuries, relations among countries such as ours had been so structured as to satisfy the interests of the colonial powers. They were mediated by this imperative even in the early post-independence period. This undermined the potential that exists for these countries to come of their own in world affairs.

Today, great potential exists to reverse this. That is why we place such a high premium on our relations with Malaysia and other countries of Southeast Asia.

The Southern African Development Community - bringing together nations with 150-million people, countries with abundant natural resources, and governments which have gone a long way in securing peace and stability - is itself seized of the question of expanding links with ASEAN.

There is much that we know we can gain from this relationship. There are many lessons that we know we can learn from your experience. Above all, the joint and individual initiatives in our region have laid the basis for Southern Africa to become one of the most convenient destinations for investments. It has the potential to emerge as one of the most vibrant economic regions as we enter the new millennium.

It is in this context that we are taking active part in the Indian Ocean Rim initiative; and we are heartened by the decision that was taken at the meeting of Rim partners a few days ago, to move towards a charter to establish and regulate these relations.

Given its strategic geographic location, Southern Africa will also play a central role in the efforts to extend these relations to Latin America.

The potential that these initiatives will unlock defies description; we are only starting to appreciate it. What we do know is that, as governments, as business and other sectors of society, we are witness and indeed midwives to a new international order in the making. The challenge is whether we are ready to exploit it to the full.

It is a challenge that we hope this Second South Africa - Malaysia Forum and future fora will start to grapple with. It is a challenge that affects how we conduct ourselves within our own countries to take full advantage of the opportunities that beckon, and to overcome the difficulties of a changing world.

We in South Africa are confident that we have set ourselves along this road.

Having established a democratic and legitimate government at all levels, our urgent task is to ensure that the fruits of political freedom include a rising standard of living. And this depends, above all, on rapid economic growth and development.

Since 1994, all indicators show that our economy has entered a period of sustained growth. Though currently at the rate of 3 per cent, indications are that our economic growth is based on solid foundations, represented by phenomenal increases in fixed invest ments, expansion of manufacture and diversification of our exports.

Within South Africa today, large projects costing hundreds of millions of Rands are under way; and they will reshape the structure of our economy, the infrastructure within the country and the region, and our skills and technological base. Through these projects and many other measures, we also aim to change the structure of ownership of wealth, to bring in those previously excluded, into the mainstream of the economy.

Government is also playing a critical role to ensure that services are expanded to all sectors of the population. It is playing an important role in initiating infrastructural programmes costing billions of Rands and building partnerships with the private sector.

But all this is being done by means of restructuring the budget to meet new priorities rather than expanding the budget deficit. In fact, we have met our targeted deficit of 5,1 per cent this year, and we intend to reduce this to 4 per cent in the coming budget year.

These programmes form part of our strategy for growth and development; a strategy whose success will depend on massive investments from both local and international business. And we have made it our business to continually improve the environment for investors. Tax incentives for designated areas of investment, a one-stop investment processing centre and the principle of equal treatment for foreign investors are only some examples of the conditions you will find in our country.

We aim to attain a growth rate of 6 per cent by the year 2000 and to create at least 400 000 jobs a year.

Chairperson, ladies and Gentlemen;

South Africa is on the way to these objectives. If anything, the Malaysian example shows that we can achieve this and much more.

Our confidence and determination to meet these targets derive also from the fact that we know, as South Africans, that in the end, nation-building and reconciliation, and the very survival of our democracy depend on these economic imperatives.

We are fortunate that we have emerged into the family of free nations with so much experience to learn from. Indeed, our visit to Southeast Asia has been in itself an exciting learning experience.

Rest assured that at the highest levels in the governments of Malaysia and South Africa, the will and the determination are there to create the most optimum conditions for co-operation. The strategic partnership between our two nations has developed firm roots.

We are confident that, as business, you will be equal to the task.

Issued by: Office of the President

Source: South African Government Information Website