Address by President Nelson Mandela to Parliament of Zimbabwe

19 May 1997

Mr Speaker; Your Excellency, President Robert Mugabe; Honourable Members of Parliament; Distinguished guests; Ladies and Gentlemen.

At the swearing-in ceremonies of leaders of the great kingdoms of Mapungubwe, Great Zimbabwe and Khami, the presiding officers always underlined:

"You are the chief of everyone; father of orphans and of those who suffer."

In this way, the new chiefs were reminded of their responsibility as leaders of all, but guardians of especially the poor.

I stand before you in awe at the profundity of these words; at an injunction that has carried through generations, to ring even truer today on the responsibility of the men and women who have been elected by the people to lead modern Zimbabwe.

Such is whence our institutions of democracy derive their mandate; such is whence they claim legitimacy; such is the lodestar that should guide their actions.

The civilisation of Mapungubwe, Great Zimbabwe and Khami succumbed to the destructive power of better-armed force from across the oceans. The settlers came and they conquered. They sought to obliterate everything that these kingdoms stood for. The rewrote history in their image to deny the very being of this African civilisation - for how could they justify their own blood lust!

But in the end, the vainglorious expedition that defined might as right had to face an ignominious defeat.

And so today we stand before you, the torch-bearers of a great tradition; a civilisation that had to wade through blood and tears to reassert itself; patriots who protested injustice and took up arms when the need arose, so that Zimbabwe could become Zimbabwe once more.

In this, my first state visit to your country, I have come to reaffirm the kinship and solidarity among our peoples; a kinship that is not the creature of leaders of the current age; but a product of millennia of trade and exchange of expertise; decades of sharing trenches in struggle; a bond of blood and mutual sacrifice.

It would therefore be misplaced for me to thank you and the people of Zimbabwe for the solidarity that helped set us free. But it is worth saying that, as much as we could stand on mountain-tops to cry out: 'Free at last", when Zimbabwe gained her independence; we have come to you in this august body, the highest organ of government in Zimbabwe, to report that South Africa is firmly in the hands of the people, comrades!

Mr Speaker;

The irony of our kinships is that it is only now that we can reciprocate that memorable state visit by President Mugabe to our country in 1994, deservedly the first by an African Head of State. For hardly a few months pass without a visit by myself to your country. Zimbabwe is to me a home away from home.

A few months ago, we were honoured to attend a very special occasion for the President; and I need not mention which it was, because, since then, he has appeared ever younger and ever more vivacious. We share in your joy, Mr President.

Our visit this week is thus a cherry on the top of a fraternal bond among brothers and sisters; among one people, in one sub-continent, with one destiny.

I should indeed take this opportunity to pay tribute to President Robert Mugabe whose contribution to the political and economic progress in the sub-continent has always been critical: a statesman whose force of example during the years of bitter struggle, whose wise counsel during our difficult negotiations process, whose profound advice as we entered government amidst threats by hostile forces, and whose ideas about the future of Southern Africa, are highly cherished by our people.

From the political campaigns that started in Fort Hare in our own country, through to prison and chimurenga, you have, Mr President, been a hero to our people.

As the leader of what we can characterise as the geo-political centre of the sub-continent, and with your immense experience, it is only natural that you are the head of the SADC Organ for Politics, Defence and Security. And it is a matter of days before leaders of the continent gather in this city for the Summit of the Organisation of African Unity - a well-chose venue which will emerge with an appropriate chair for the coming year.

For this, we congratulate you Mr President, and through this august Assembly, the people of Zimbabwe.

Honourable Members;

Through the years of our own struggle in South Africa, the people of Zimbabwe displayed in abundance their calling as the guardian "of orphans and of those who suffer".

You faced debilitating destabilisation, destruction of property and, above all, the loss of many Zimbabwean lives. But you did not flinch. Among your sons and daughters, many were active in our underground structures. Some eminent personalities spawned here, became leaders of our own liberation movement. We pay tribute to all of them, including in particular the heroes who paid the supreme sacrifice as guardians of the poor and oppressed.

Yet we know to keenly, that for this sacrifice to consummate itself at the summit of these heroes' desires, we who are leaders must act today as enjoined by the forebears, to build a better life for all, especially the poor. If the leaders of old built a civilisation that could stand its own in the world, our task is to make the ideal of Africa's renaissance a reality today, and not tomorrow.

With the advent of democracy in South Africa, we can say with confidence that the battle against poverty has been joined. Jointly and severally in the sub-continent, we have it within our power to ensure that freedom for all our people should mean liberation from hunger, ignorance, disease and social deprivation.

Indeed, under the guidance of Zimbabwe and other states of the region, much progress has been made in the past few years - progress that we can all be proud of.

Steadily but surely, we are putting in place the programmes required to build SADC into a fully-fledged economic community, a free trade area, bustling with big and small projects under construction, to facilitate transport, sharing of technology, rationalisation of energy and water resources, and to harmonise our financial relations.

Steadily but surely, we are strengthening co-operation among our police and judicial institutions, in order to ensure that criminals do not find a haven in any one of our countries. In the area of defence, if anything were required to demonstrate our joint approach to security and international obligations. Operation Blue Hungwe a few weeks ago was a shining example of this. And between our two countries, we are sharing training facilities and expertise on an on-going basis.

Indeed, Honourable Members, all these developments reinforce our conviction that Southern Africa has the potential to become one of the dynamos of the continent. Nay more, its strategic geo-political location affords it the opportunity to become a major economic hub in relations among countries of the South.

Recent discussions that we have held with leaders of Southeast Asia and Latin America have brought out in bold relief the need to strengthen this partnership in a changing and challenging world. It is a world that we cannot afford to accept as passive objects: we have to help shape it. And yet to do so, requires that we command the economic and political power of a united community of the South, that can stand its own in the courts of the mighty.

Southern Africa has set out along this route. If we implement the programmes that we have devised, we shall, as we enter the new millennium, be able to compete and to excel. We do have the objective attributes. As a market of more than 130-million people; as a region rich in mineral resources and unique eco-tourist potential, we have what it takes to become a rapidly industrialising region. As a polity that has achieved stability and democracy, we have the potential to attract even more real productive investments. The challenge is how we utilise these attributes by mobilising our people - workers, business, professionals, peasants and others - to take their destiny into their own hands.

During the course of last year, the positive economic trend that has become characteristic of our region has continued: with an average economic growth rate of 6 per cent.

The abiding lesson from this experience is that there is much that is to be gained from the pooling of our collective sovereignty, rather than the submergence of others to the dictates of those who may be more powerful.

Mr Speaker;

Without arrogating to ourselves a different status compared to others, we can proudly say that Zimbabwe and South Africa have become an important hub of SADC programmes.

To us in South Africa, it is a matter of strategic importance that Zimbabwe is our largest trading partner on the continent. Yet we cannot draw comfort from the fact that such trade is weighted heavily in favour of one partner; nor the possibility that exchange of finished products could in fact, in the long-term amount to "beggaring-thy-neighbour".

Our relevant ministries have been seized of this matter; and we are encouraged by the progress that they are making regarding joint projects; in the programme to phase out tariffs and other barriers to the mutual benefit of our two countries; in improving road transport; as well as in putting in place systems on protection of investments and double taxation that will facilitate further investments. The 20 or so cross-border projects identified by our governments are only the beginning.

We may not be proceeding with the pace that the situation demands, we may, in some areas be far from concrete agreements; but the reality is that the will is there to normalise bilateral economic relations within the context of Southern African integration.

It is also a matter of proud record that our two parliaments have started a fruitful partnership to learn from one another as we strive to build institutions that are universal in their content and objectives, but truly indigenous in their form. We are grateful to you, Mr Speaker, for the active role that you have played in forging these relations.

On matters economic, it was heartening for us to note that Zimbabwe is registering high rates of economic growth, after years of difficulties deriving from an imposed adjustment programme.

As we strive to improve on our own economic performance, we shall pay keen interest in your experiences. We shall do so, inspired by that injunction of centuries: you are the guardian of orphans and of those who suffer!

For, real as the challenges of globalisation may be, unavoidable as some of its dictates are, collectively we can do much to blunt their worst consequences; and proceed in the direction and at a pace determined by the national interest to improve the well-being of especially the poor.

Indeed, while economic imperatives can be presented as neutral and driven by an internal logic, at the end of the day, the question is whether it is the orphans and those who suffer who benefit from economic growth and restructuring.

Our own efforts with the reduction of the budget deficit while reprioritising spending; our attempts at measures and incentives to attract investments; our emphasis on skills-training and spatial development - all these and other initiatives aim to create jobs and build a competitive economy.

For such growth to be a basis for development, for it to benefit the poor, investments should be systematically targeted, and public resources and public service should be re-oriented in line with the new needs. In other words, there should be a partnership between government and business, premised on the real needs of the country.

We are confident that armed with the collective experience and joint efforts of the countries of the region, we shall succeed.

Honourable Members;

Success in any of our countries and in the region as a whole depends critically on success in neighbouring areas. Indeed, our African patriotism dictates that we should strive for such collective success beyond our own environs.

Thus we celebrate without equivocation the progress that the people of Angola have made to resolve their political conflict and get down to work to rebuild their social fabric and their economy. This victory is our victory.

Thus we have striven to the best of our ability to make a contribution in finding a truly African solution to the problems in Zaire and the Great Lakes Region. It is given that complex problems spanning decades will not lend themselves to easy solutions. But the time has come for Africa to take full responsibility for her woes, use the immense collective wisdom it possesses to make a reality of the ideal of the African renaissance whose time has come.

It is a renaissance that must mean that Africa refuses to be a passive onlooker in a changing world, hapless victim to modern machinations of the forces historically responsible for her woes.

Only in this way can Africa assert her right to be an equal partner in world affairs. Indeed, we have the right to claim and the obligation to ensure that Africa occupies her rightful place in the new world order in the making.

Mr Speaker and Honourable Members;

We in South Africa are convinced that our region and our continent have set out along the new road to realise Africa's dream of her renaissance.

In the relations that we build across the continent; in the integration that we forge in our region; and in cementing the kinship between our two countries, we are inspired by this new dawn.

We owe it to the heroes who paid the supreme sacrifice, to relate to one another and to our peoples as leaders of all, but above all, as guardians "of orphans and those who suffer".

Now that colonialism and apartheid have been consumed by their own fires, the time has come to act, and to act in the interest of the people. History enjoins us to do so; and we dare not fail.

Thank you.

Issued by: Office of the President

Source: South African Government Information Website