Address by President Nelson Mandela at a lunch hosted by the Thai Board of Trade, Thai Chamber of Commerce and South African Thai Chamber of Commerce, Bangkok - Thailand

17 July 1997

Mr Chairman;
Distinguished guests;
Ladies and gentlemen,

I thank you most sincerely for inviting me to meet with you today. It is a great honour to share ideas with leading decision-makers in a successful economy in one of the world's most dynamic growth regions.

It must be said that I have a distinct disadvantage in comparison with you - economic policy and business skills were not taught in the prison on Robben Island!

However it does not take great learning to know that we live in an age when many nations, including South Africa and Thailand, face the common challenge of turning a legacy of underdevelopment and poverty into sustained economic growth and socio-economic improvement. Nor that we do so in a world in which economic power is still very unevenly balanced between developed and developing countries.

South Africa is eager to learn from those who have succeeded in meeting this challenge, like Thailand and other countries of Southeast Asia. And we are keen to strengthen mutually beneficial economic relations between our two countries.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Democracy, which we have achieved with the support of the international community including Thailand, has brought South Africa the chance to address the basic needs of our people.

We are proud that South Africans have put behind them a long history of conflict and division; and have forged a national consensus around the need to eradicate the legacy of that history. This has brought political stability that only a short time ago few thought possible.

Like other developing nations, we seek these goals within a rapidly changing and globalised world economy. Thus, as we consolidate democracy, reconcile our nation and pursue our programmes of social upliftment, we are also restructuring our economy.

Already millions of lives have begun to change as a result of programmes of electrification; housing; land reform; water supply; nutrition and primary health care. We now have a unified schooling system and compulsory free education is being phased in.

Of course this is only the start of a task that will take years to achieve. But these socio-economic programmes and our economic policies are together creating a climate for growth.

Fiscal discipline, measures to boost productivity and encourage investment in export-oriented sectors; along with reduction of trade barriers, are stimulating deep-seated changes in South Africa's economy. Stagnation has turned into sustained growth; capital outflow has been reversed; inflation is almost half what it was and expected to fall still further. We have increased social spending at the very same time as cutting the government deficit.

Most important, the underlying trends point to long-term success. In particular the recent growth has been driven by private sector fixed investment. Manufacturing now makes up 25% of our output and a surge in manufactured exports has helped improve our balance of payments.

This initial success has given us the confidence to set still higher targets. We do need more than the 3% growth we have been achieving, in order to create more jobs and resources for reconstruction and development. Our target is 6% growth and 400 000 jobs per year by the year 2000, and the signs are tat we are on track.

We have also been opening the highly protected economy we inherited from the apartheid era. Tariffs have been lowered beyond World Trade Organisation requirements, and a phased relaxation of exchange controls on South African citizens is making steady progress.

Our freedom also meant the end of the destabilisation of Southern Africa. We are busy working with our neighbours to realise the potential of the Southern African Development Community as a framework for development co-operation. A regional approach to infrastructure is already a reality and SADC is on course to become a free trade area within eight years. That will mean a market of 150 million people and an immense natural resource base.

Whether it be a matter of market-size, investment opportunities or furthering common interests in world economic forums. Thailand and South Africa's membership of their respective regional associations, SADC and ASEAN, strengthens each of our countries. Further co-operation between our regional organisations will benefit us all.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Closer relations between our regions are bearing fruit. A doubling of South Africa's trade with this region has helped make Asia our second largest trading bloc after the European Union. Thailand is our third largest trading partner in ASEAN. The double taxation agreement already in place between our two countries and the trade agreement being finalised are signs of a maturing economic relationship. So is our co-operation in the combating of crime.

I have no doubt that the recent large Thai investment in South Africa is only the first of much more to come.

I say this with confidence because for an economy and a private sector as dynamic as Thailand's, there are many profitable trade and investment opportunities in our country and our region.

This is not only because of the markets and the rich resource base. It is not just because of the vast tourism potential in both directions which has only just begun to be tapped. It is also because the strategy for growth and development in South and Southern Africa is based amongst other things on a partnership of public and private sectors.

Foreign investment in particular not only brings resources into our economy, but also new skills and new technology. Joint ventures with foreign investors also help empower those who were previously excluded from business by past policies.

The openings for investment are being created through the restructuring of state assets: through South Africa's Municipal Infrastructure Programme, through industrial mega-projects of which some 20, each costing half a billion or more, are operating or under construction; and through very large development initiatives combining new infrastructure with large-scale industrial and commercial development - some of these initiatives, like the Maputo Development Corridor are joint efforts of Southern African countries.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The fact that one of our hosts today is the South African - Thai Chamber of Commerce shows that the private sector has not been waiting for others to lead the way in building economic links between our countries. I wish the Chamber well in its efforts to increase business co-operation between South Africa and Thailand. You should take encouragement from the fact that both our government's give high priority to developing economic links between our countries.

Today's meeting confirms what we have found throughout our brief visit to your country, and our visits to your fellow ASEAN members in Indonesia this week and elsewhere four months ago.

In all our meetings and encounters - with business people, with government, with intellectuals, indeed with people4 in every walk of life - we found men and women who were ready to join hands with South and Southern Africa.

In a few hours I will be leaving Thailand and South East Asia. When I return to my country and I will be able tell my people that here we have friends indeed; fellow-workers for growth and development; partners in peace and prosperity.

I thank you!

Issued by: Office of the President

Source: South African Government Information Website