Opening address by President Nelson Mandela in the President's Budget Debate in the National Assembly, Cape Town

15 April 1997

Madame Speaker;
Honourable Members;
Ladies and Gentlemen.

When Honourable Members approved the current budget, some two week ago, you authorised a powerful instrument for the implementation of government policy. You reaffirmed your commitment to the goals of reconstruction and development which you were mandated by the electorate to meet.

It is therefore a special privilege to come before you, the nation's elected representatives, to account within the framework of the budget.

We are proud that in our State of the Nation Address at the opening of this session of parliament, Government was able to lay before you a programme of action for the year, with concrete and specific targets.

We did not hesitate then - nor will we do so now - to emphasise that the achievement of these goals requires a national effort to address weaknesses in government which we frankly identified, including, in particular, problems of capacity and management in the national, provincial and local spheres of government.

We presented government's programme of action in this focused way, because over the past three years we have laid the foundation for effective implementation. This foundation includes the work of Ministries, in conjunction with the Presidency, to develop integrated approaches to the implementation of policy; and to organise themselves in clusters defined by our principal policy objectives.

This exercise has strengthened the Presidency in promoting coherence in government. It has also reinforced our keen awareness of the need to improve government's communication on the progress it is making, the difficulties it encounters and the weaknesses it has identified.

Reading the reports by all Ministers on their progress and plans brought many pleasant surprises, to me personally, at the achievements being registered. However, this also measured the extent of government's failure to make its activities sufficiently visible to the public.

Cabinet has adopted the recommendations of the Task Group on Government Communications; and we expect those charged with implementation to make good speed in their work. However, we do appreciate that the expected improvements in government communications still lie some way ahead.

Because the public has the right to this information; because it must be common property of the nation, we have taken the step of producing a Mid-Term Report to the Nation. That report will shortly be available, and detailed information in that regard will be provided by the South African Communication Service.

Honourable Members;

The two months since the opening of this session is indeed a narrow space within which to expect overall progress. And yet even in that short time there have been notable achievements.

Central to our mandate is the sustainable improvement of the lives of all our people, especially the poor. This is the yardstick by which all our actions and policies should be measured.

The budget strengthens government's hand in this regard, with its increased allocation to social services, in excess of the previous year's rate of inflation.

In concrete terms this means more of our nation's resources being devoted to welfare and poverty alleviation; it means expansion of the programmes for free health care and nutrition of young children at school; it means further resources for infrastructure, housing and other services.

We are encouraged that these resources will be put to good use.

For instance, we are counting the days remaining before the number of people who have gained access to clean water since 1994 reaches one million. It is only a matter of weeks till half a million housing subsidies will have been issued.

We could go on. We are on track to complete the more than one thousand projects under the Municipal Infrastructure Programme by the end of the year. By that time the number of clinics built will have passed 400; and the number of electricity connections well over one-and-a-half million.

Indeed, we could go on and on. But the message is clear: the lives of millions have begun to change and the pace of delivery is accelerating.

Madame Speaker;

Even when we are taking the greatest pains to make the work of government open for all to see, the complexities of our institutions may hide important matters from easy vision.

A case in point is the allocation of funds to what is commonly referred to as RDP projects. When the RDP Office was closed, we emphasised that it had attained its purpose of using the RDP Fund to launch the reprioritisation of government expenditure. Reconstruction and development became the joint day-to-day responsibility of every department, provincial government and local authority; it became the programme of government as a whole in partnership with civil society.

The nation is, however, owed an account of the consequences of the change. It has a right to know that the socio-economic projects in progress when the office was closed continued, and that there are currently 72 programmes in progress comprising 252 projects.

The budget for 1997/98 allocated over R4,3-billion for carry-through costs of these projects. This provides resources for free health services; nutrition programmes; community water supply and sanitation; bulk infrastructure; land redistribution; urban renewal; spatial development and the KwaZulu-Natal peace initiative. It will bring the total of government funds allocated to specific RDP projects to over R19-billion.

In order to ensure that these funds are indeed used, and used effectively and efficiently, a project management team in the Ministry of Finance is constantly monitoring the situation and assisting departments and provinces where possible.

Thus, one year since we closed the RDP Office, we can truly say its work has become the joint and collective responsibility of government as a whole, integrated in a much broader and comprehensive programme of fundamental transformation.

The momentum in our programme to improve the quality of life can be observed also in the economic sphere. Recent economic indicators continue to provide compelling evidence that structural changes have indeed put us on the path to sustained economic growth.

Whether it be productivity; export performance; utilisation of capacity; or fixed investment, the prognosis for the long-term improves by the month. Our macro-economic strategy is steadily but surely starting to bear fruit.

The acquisition of a strategic equity partner for Telkom has demonstrated how the redeployment of state assets can mobilise resources for the critical tasks of job-creation, the provision of affordable services and the infusion of skills and technology into our economy. Further restructuring in progress will promote these objectives as well as black economic empowerment and the reduction of the public debt.

And, if any reassurance were required, we wish to reiterate that such restructuring will be done on the basis of wide consultation, and commitment to the Framework Agreement reached with the labour movement.

The Telkom acquisition and other recent major investment announcements testify to confidence in the long-term prospects for growth and development in South and Southern Africa.

Tomorrow Cabinet discusses a draft bill on basic conditions of employment before it is put on the table for public debate. In the context of the new Labour Relations Act, and together with the Green Paper on skills training, these measures will determine our capacity as a society to ensure that working conditions match the ideals of our new democracy. They will mould our ability to revolutionise our economy and to seize the opportunities which our entrance into the global market has brought us.

These are to opposing objectives, to be set off one against the other. Rather they are complementary. It is of vital importance to the nation that business and organised labour, and indeed all other stake-holders, do as they have done before, and find mutually acceptable solutions.

In like measure we all have an interest in ensuring the success of our job-creation policies. While conferences are no solution, the proposal for a major summit on employment and growth, later this year, has merit. It will sharpen the national focus on this most critical of goals, and it should promote the adoption of additional forms of intervention.

Honourable Members;

Our striving as a nation to deepen and entrench our democracy drew inspiration from our people's response to Constitution Week. It showed beyond any doubt the place that our new constitution has in the hearts of our people. It has become one of the keystones of the New Patriotism.

The inauguration of the new National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces is to be followed this week by the establishment of the Council of Traditional Leaders, at last bringing these leaders formally into the national institutions whose task it is to consolidate democracy and deepen national unity.

From an epoch of humiliation and blackmail, our traditional leaders can now exercise their freedom within the context of a just, non-racial and non-sexist society.

In so far as governance is concerned, our urgent challenge remains that of improving capacity to implement our programmes.

In this regard the recent Inter-Governmental Forum made an important contribution to giving concrete content to the principle of co-operative government. It emerged with practical proposals which will promote alignment of the nine provinces within the framework of national policy. The next Forum, which will pay particular attention to Provincial Growth and Development Strategies, will be held in May, to synchronise plans on such economic matters as investment, infrastructure development and restructuring of state assets.

Further, it is encouraging that the decision of the Inter-Governmental Forum to make the combating of crime a high priority, has already resulted in four provincial summits within the framework of the National Crime Prevention Strategy, to give more teeth to the partnership of government, police and communities.

Although the overall statistics give reason to believe that we are turning the tide on violent crime, we require an even greater mobilisation of every sector of society in fighting this scourge.

Government for its part is fully in support of the police who are bearing the brunt of this battle in difficult and often dangerous conditions. It is committed to ensuring that they, and the rest of the criminal justice system have a greater share of national resources, and this is reflected in the budget.

Lasting solutions to the scourge of course lie inevitably in the medium and long-term.

In the short term, in addition to on-going campaigns, a series of joint high density crime prevention operations was launched yesterday throughout the country. Additional members of the National Defence Force have been tasked to assist the police. All other institutions involved in the National Crime Prevention Strategy will be playing a part, including the full capacity of our intelligence structures.

The campaign will continue until its objectives are met, and the criminals have fully understood that we mean business.

In the course of this and other work, we need to pay urgent attention to the problem of capacity. Addressing this weakness is not an alternative to implementation and delivery. It is an essential requirement and by-product of implementation and delivery.

The quality of life for our people will not be improved by the billions allocated to extending social services if departments, provinces and local authorities lack the capacity to use the funds purposefully and without undue delays, and if they do not work together in a co-ordinated way.

The level of crime will not come down just because the resources available to the criminal justice system have been boosted. If the responsible agencies do not have all the necessary operational and managerial skills, and if communities do not accept their responsibility to join the police in combating crime.

Economic growth will not be sustained nor will our competitiveness improve without a massive injection of energies and resources into training and retraining, from boardroom to shop-floor.

In short, while the budget spells out our choices as a nation and helps us toward their realisation, achieving them depends on our own actions.

In particular, success will elude us unless we frankly and urgently address the serious capacity problems we face: in the civil service; in the criminal justice system; in our provinces and local authorities; in our economy.

This includes ensuring maximum co-operation between elected officials and the employees in public service. The constitution is clear on this relationship; on the issues of political authority and operational autonomy. But ultimately, what we shall always require is mutual confidence that derives from integrity and mutual trust in pursuit of common objectives.

We are also encouraged by the increasing number of successes that are being reported in rebuilding the relationship between communities and government as the Masakhane campaign takes on renewed vigour.

That relationship is part of the broader partnership between government and the rest of society, a partnership that is at the heart of a still more fundamental condition of our success, namely the building of a new and united nation.

Madame Speaker;

The various strands of our once-divided society are increasingly bound together in the New Patriotism. In our efforts at nation-building, a solid foundation has been laid.

Yet we are burdened with the legacy of decades, indeed centuries, of deliberate division, conflict and hostility. It would be a mighty error to imagine that three years could eradicate all trace of what kept us apart for so long.

Today, in some ways, the old fault lines in our society are showing more sharply.

We, as leaders, must therefore keep vigilant about actions, words and attitudes that could erode the cement we are casting. We must constantly renew our commitment to work consciously for that new South African nation. We must regularly take stock, critically and honestly, of the progress we are making; assessing where we may be going wrong; asking ourselves what we are doing to contribute to nation-building and reconciliation.

In any change of such historical magnitude, there will be uncertainty and anxiety amongst those who may experience loss of exclusive power and privilege; or on the part of those who perceive themselves as a minority.

We hope that our efforts - not that we are alone in this - have clearly and unequivocally signalled that national unity and reconciliation are at the heart of this government's policy, as we build a better life for all.

In particular, we are conscious of the concerns that some Afrikaner people have, regarding in particular, the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

It is, of course, no longer as easy as it once was to speak in any monolithic way about "Afrikaners"; just as it is not that simple for anyone to claim to speak on behalf of the Afrikaner people. Afrikaners are spread throughout our society: in different spheres; holding different positions and different view-points; speaking in different voices. Afrikaners are an inextricable part of our Rainbow Nation, reflecting amongst themselves the rich diversity which is its strength.

Yet we do take note of the voices raised in Afrikaans concerning the TRC; voices suggesting that it represents a witch-hunt. This is not the occasion to argue this at length. The objectives and intentions of the TRC are clearly set out in the interim Constitution and in legislation.

We must emerge from this process with a clearer picture of that part of our history. We must do justice as far as we can to those who suffered. And we must end up on the road to lasting reconciliation, determined never to repeat such injustices one against another.

There is no place for any sense that any racial, ethnic, linguistic, religious or other group is collectively in the dock. The diversity of Afrikaner people means that Afrikaners will know that wen a specific perpetrator of gross human rights violations who is Afrikaner appears before the Commission, it is not the Afrikaner in general who is being called to account. Because, as with other language and cultural communities, it is not in the nature of the Afrikaner as such to be brutal to others.

All of us, as a nation that has newly found itself, share in the shame at the capacity of human beings of any race or language group, to be inhumane to other human beings. We should all share in the commitment to a South Africa in which that will never recur.

Honourable Members;

There is a further condition for the success of our plans.

One of the great privileges of being the elected Head of State of a democratic south Africa is the opportunity it brings to help establish our nation's rightful place in the international community. In particular the last few weeks have been especially rewarding. As we build relations across the board, Asia and Africa have particular importance.

The visits we made to six countries in South and Southeast Asia during the last month have promoted our economic links with some of the fastest growing economies in the world; economies with a common experience to ours of transcending a legacy of colonialism and oppression to achieve growth and development.

Ancient trading links to the mutual benefit of Africa and Asia, disrupted by colonial conquest, are being revived under modern conditions. Asia has in the short span of our democracy become our second largest trading bloc after Europe.

The strengthening of bilateral relations feeds a growing interaction between Southern Africa and Asia, a development further promoted by the adoption of a charter in March for the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Co-operation. At the same time it has become clear that South and Southern Africa, because of their strategic location, are destined to play a central role in the extension of these co-operative relations to Latin America.

We are glad to have been able to make some small contribution to promoting a resolution of the conflict in the Great Lakes region and Zaire in particular; and to have facilitated the process in Angola which last week saw the installation of a Government of Unity and National Reconciliation. Our approach to these and other issues is that nations should have the right to determine their own destinies, in the context of peace, justice, as well as open and accountable government.

We do have a self-interest in these developments; because peace, stability and democracy in those countries are a prerequisite for our own success. They are part of the building blocks towards the rebirth of the whole region and the entire continent; towards the African renaissance whose time has come.

These events have placed further demands on our National Defence Force to take part in peace-keeping operations. As we speak, the SANDF is taking part in joint military exercises in Zimbabwe to build the region's capacity for undertaking peace-support operations; and indeed to give concrete expression to the objective of joint security.

These developments in Asia and Africa reflect a shift of historic proportions in South Africa's role in the world, an expression of our choice to develop a special relationship with countries and regions with similar challenges and interests.

South Africa is maturing into an active partner in shaping a new world order of peace, justice, equity and development. In this context, hand-in-hand with our natural allies in the developing world, we shall continue to call for the restructuring of the United Nations to meet the demands of the current age.

I should also take this opportunity once again to congratulate the SANDF and the South African Navy in particular, on the occasion of its 75th anniversary. Few can have been unmoved by the sight of ships and sailors from nations across the world, gathered in Table Bay to pay tribute to the navy of our new democracy. And fewer still would have failed to appreciate the requirements of the defence force for modern equipment, within the context of the Defence Review under way.

Madame Speaker;

We have referred, among others, to the need to further build our capacity to implement the programme of transformation; the need to improve government communication; and the formation of policy clusters to improve planning and implementation.

These are but some of the measures that we are taking to improve management of government. They relate to our won capacity in the President's Office and the Presidency in general to supervise, on an on-going basis, the work of government as a whole.

The experience we have gained over the past three years has made it possible for us to improve this element of our work.

In the coming weeks Ministers will be setting out in their budget votes details of the programmes for which they plan to use the resources which you have, in principle, allocated them. As we move towards a medium-term expenditure framework, it is our conviction that this process should be made more meaningful and more transparent.

I am confident that the Ministers' reports will confirm, with the necessary detail, that government has the programmes in place to build on the foundation we have laid. They will show that, in the way we are addressing basic needs; in our actions to invest in human resources; in the building of the economy and entrenching safety and security; and in democratising the state, we are slowly but surely achieving the reconstruction and development of our country.

The foundation for a better life has been laid. The clarion call of the moment is: Forward ever!

Source: South African Government Information Website