Address by President Nelson Mandela to National Council of Provinces, Cape Town

29 August 1997

Mr Chairperson,
Honourable Deputy Chairpersons;
Premiers and MECs;
Honourable Delegates;
Ladies and Gentlemen

It is both an honour and a humbling experience for me to make my "maiden speech" in this august Council.

Many years hence, historians will marvel at the creative application of Honourable Delegates to set up and nurture the National Council of Provinces, an institution which is universal in its democratic objectives, but uniquely South African in its form.

It is an institution that is defending itself in a changing South Africa, in a maturing constitutional dispensation, and in a transforming polity.

For a start, in this our first exchange of views, it is appropriate that we remind ourselves of the fundamentals.

The National Council of Provinces was set up as one of the core institutions of co-operative governance. This entails a recognition that we are one country, with one overriding objective - to work together to build a better life for all. The issue facing all of us as public representatives is not so much whether a competency has been granted to this or the other sphere of government, but how to serve each individual South African through the length and breadth of the country.

Our constitution and regulations establish a plethora of structures the Inter Governmental Forum, Minmecs, Parliament, Provincial Legislatures and their Committees...

Yet, there is a unique niche for the Council in our body politic not as a Senate by another name, not as an appendage to any other institution, nor as a competitor for status and resources. Rather the Council is a necessary and critical link in the chain of co-operative governance, enriching at the same time both the national parliament and the provincial and local institutions.

It is none other than Honourable Delegates who are best placed to bring disparate experiences to the national discourse and to synthesise them in order to ensure better service to the citizens.

When the founders set up the Council, they saw it as critical in providing effective, transparent, accountable and coherent government for the Republic as a whole. They enjoined all spheres of government and organs of state to "co-operate with one another in mutual trust and good faith by fostering friendly relations, assisting and supporting one another, informing one another of, and consulting one another on, matters of common interest, co-ordinating their actions and legislation with one another.."

It is to be expected that establishing new rules and conventions will take time. But if we are to carry out the mandate of the Council, we cannot wait for the ideal circumstances to obtain.

As we get down to work, many questions have arisen and will need review on an on-going basis.

At the technical level what offices and staff are required, consistent with the Council's output and responsibilities! At a political level how do we establish provincial mandates involving the people, and how should such consultation relate to the work of the National Assembly which is itself obliged to undertake a similar exercise! At an organisational level; how do we as parliament rationalise our international work to obviate the wastage of resources resulting from duplication! Another critical question pertains to striking the correct balance in the work of the Council, between general matters and issues directly relating to the work of the Provinces.

The answers to these and other questions should be found without subsuming one institution to the other. Yet it is patently clear that inertia today in resolving these questions will make us reap a bitter harvest later.

Honourable Chairperson

I should take this opportunity to thank all the Premiers and Provincial Speakers for the valuable information that they have availed to us for purposes of this discussion. Without exception, it is quite clear from these reports and from our own assesment that each one of the Provinces is doing its level best to ensure that we carry out our mandate to build a better life for all.

What is quite striking is that such an assessment should contrast so sharply with perceptions that are prevalent in all kinds of social discourse, including the media, about the work being done by the provinces.

Not seldom, a perception is created that this sphere of government is a den of magnificent corruption a centre of outstanding inefficiency, an arena of epic inter- and intra-party battles, and a platform for vibrant inactivity.

This is far from the truth. But the perception persists.

It is therefore a matter of crucial importance that Provinces, both individually and collectively, examine the root causes of these misrepresentations, the better to douse the flickers of fire that might have set in chain the whiff of smoke, and the better still to ensure that we improve our communications in this and other spheres of government, and challenge the transmitters of information to reflect the truth in its entirety.

That truth is that, in all corners of the country, progress is being made, steadily but surely to ensure economic growth and to meet social needs.

When I went to the Lephetsoana Trust in Mpumalanga a few weeks ago, the efficient and productive commercial farm that the community is running there, demonstrated the kind of enterprise evinced by a people given land and assisted with resources. This community forms part of three hundred thousand and more people who, due to projects already under way, will be able to work a piece of land secure in the knowledge that it is their own.

Some two months ago, at Modderspruit in the Northwest Province, Mrs Tryphina Mbhele received water from an accessible tap for the first time in her life, as the one millionth person to benefit from this project. Like the hundreds of thousands before her, and many others after, she knew that liberation was more than an abstract political right.

We have been invited in the near future to visit "Nobody" near Mankweng in the Northern Province to open the 350th clinic built since 1994, part of a health programme that has brought relief to millions who can at last find medical attention in a country which cares.

In the Phillipi-Wynberg area in the Western Cape, which we intend to visit soon, impressive progress is being made to build a cluster of truly integrated residential areas, with an industrial centre close to communities - a far cry from apartheid planning which sought to use labour by day and shunt it to ghettos by night.

In the Northern Cape, as in other areas, the housing programme is being implemented with creativity and zeal, and the Province is on track to meet its quota of the one million houses we seek to build in our first term of office.

These epic performance are a sign of commitment in all the Provinces to deal with the real problems that we have inherited, and to resolve the new blockages that our own practical work has thrown open.

Honourable Delegates;

We speak with optimism and conference because we know that these programmes are based on a solid economic foundation.

Last week I had the honour to launch the Lubombo Development Corridor in KwaZulu-Natal, one of the many projects, including the Wild Coast and Fish River Spatial Development Initiatives in the Eastern Cape, each of which will bring billions in investments and spread integrated development to Southern Africa as a whole.

In Gauteng, an impressive initiative is under way to exploit to the maximum the comparative advantage that the Province has to become a critical nodal point of high-technology manufacturing. And in the Free State, creative solutions are being found to the decline in the mining industry by establishing beneficiation enterprises including a jewellery school and the country's second largest gold refinery.

All these projects are in line with Provincial Growth and Development Strategies, which form part of an integrated national drive to speed up the country's industrial development in line with the needs of the current age.

Last Monday at the Inter-Governmental Forum, in which many of you participated, it was patently clear that in the economic sphere, the country is on track to high growth, job-creation and development. Coupled with human resources development and the upgrading of municipal infrastructure in each of the country's 850 municipalities, these projects form part a real industrial revolution in the making.

We quote these instances, not because each one of them on its own is extraordinary; not because there is magic in numbers; nor because projects on their own are the be-all and end-all of our historic mission. We refer to them because, together, they express in no uncertain terms the sea-change in our society towards a better life. Together, they constitute a critical part of the national programme of social transformation.

Such transformation has, as its foundation, the democratic system and culture of human rights that only a few years ago seemed but a lofty ideal on the horizon. It includes the open, transparent and accountable government that is not only a matter of constitutional formality, but a living reality in the practices of the legislature and the executive.

Social transformation also entails nation-building and reconciliation, to forge South Africa into a society at peace with itself. It requires a concerted effort by all of us to transform social mores, to build a communion of citizens who care about one another's well-being, who abstain from practices that encourage the breaking of the law - be it in relation to the payment of services, the adherence to the act of parliament on government expenditure; the payment of taxes, and the exposure, isolation and prosecution of criminals in our midst.

Social transformation means Masakhane together to build the country for the well-being of all. And I do hope that all of us, wherever we are - in Sandton, Springs, KwaMashu, Khayelitsha, Mdantsane, Seshego, Galeshewe, Hazeyvierw, Mangaung, Mafikeng and elsewhere - will next week and the period thereafter, play whatever role is expected of us to ensure that the Masakhane Focus Week and the campaign as a whole succeeds. Through joint efforts to build a new society, we can make South Africa succeed. Our future as a nation is in our hands.

Honourable Chairperson;

There is no doubt that there is much in our efforts as Government and as a people to be proud of. But we do not hesitate in acknowledging that we can do much much more. In fact, it is correct to say that we cannot sustain the progress we have made thus far, if we do not act with deliberate speed and with ruthless determination to clear the blockages that afflict various areas of work.

What does this mean in actual practice?

To answer this question we need to ask ourselves the obvious who are we?

We are public representatives mandated to transform society, among others, because the people had confidence in our ability to wield and change the instruments required to effect that transformation. They trusted that we would ensure that our strategies and policies are translated into sustainable practical programmes.

I should take this opportunity to congratulate the public service for the splendid manner in which they have endeavoured to understand and implement the programme for social change. Without the honest labour of the overwhelming majority of this service, we would not be where we are today.

But we cannot escape the reality that there are serious weaknesses in this machinery of government, including particularly financial management. This applies to all levels of the service, including welfare, education, health and the criminal justice system.

When we opened parliament at the beginning of the year, we identified issues of capacity, efficiency and overall orientation of this service as some of the most critical challenges of governance in the current phase. We all know that it is much easier to devise policies and strategies, it is much easier to work out targets. But it is there in the provinces and at local level where we need to ensure that implementation actually takes place.

From each of the areas where outstanding progress has been made, practical problems of implementation continue to bedevil our work.

That these problems stand out so boldly is testimony to the fact that we are doing something fundamentally different from the past that we are not continuing in the rut that was pulling the country down, draining its resources and corruption everything it touched. Because we are engaged in building a new society, the weaknesses of the machinery we inherited will haunt our efforts for a long time to come.

In the area of education, we all know that we had to re-phase the introduction of the new curriculum precisely because we do not have the capacity immediately to do everything we had intended. Further, while in one sense it is accurate for us to say that there are no funds for some of our core projects in the previous financial year close on a billion Rand allocated for the building and renovation of classrooms was rolled over because we did not have the capacity to spend it.

Questions have also been posed about the construction capacity within government to carry out capital projects such as the building of clinics. At both national and provincial levels, we will soon need to come back to this question of the structuring of government to undertake such tasks. We also need to examine more comprehensively the question of the tendering system to tighten control at the same time as we gear it for the demands of transformation.

In integrating development strategies we have to align each province's comparative advantage and eliminate unhealthy competition. For instance, we referred earlier to the issue of beneficiation of primary products but can each province where there is a mine sustain its own beneficiation programme? Can each province hope to have a thriving massive gambling industry; or should there be division of labour regarding these and other activities?

We also know that among the major weaknesses of implementation are the problems in local government. Attention is being paid to the training of councillors and weaknesses in the area of finance. The recent spate of attacks on councillors is also cause for concern. Few as the cases may be, and strange as some of the forces responsible are, the fact is we cannot allow this kind of license to take root in any part of the country. In the rural areas, much work needs to be done to put local government on an operational footing. Whatever the causes of these problems, they must be urgently dealt with.

Many of these questions have been identified in the Provincial Review conducted by national government. The progress that is being made to address these weaknesses in the Provinces is impressive.

I am made to understand that this Council will be debating these issues soon; hopefully not to bemoan the problems, but to share experience among all the provinces so that Eastern Cape's head count and reconstruction of personnel files; KwaZulu-Natal's anti-fraud campaign and government performance bill; Northern Cape's tasks teams and control systems; and Mpumalanga's audit so that all these and other provincial initiatives can be suntnesised and applied in a creative manner across the country to maximise the benefits.

Similarly, at the next Inter-Governmental Forum, particular attention will be paid to the issue of public administration, to review progress in improving the system, and to address critical questions pertaining to the content of the Public Service Act and agreements that government may have reached with unions on the issue of right-sizing and forced retrenchments.

We expect the Provincial Legislatures to play an important role in these processes, and given their location, to pay particular attention to issues of implementation and capacity.

Indeed, these legislatures themselves are faced with the task of addressing perceptions about their load of work. For, to argue that they have met for an average of 47 days per year, and they are therefore not productive, would be to ignore the committee and constituency work that legislators do. But it is critical that these representatives do not only work, but are seen to do so by the broader public.

Honourable Delegates;

The constitution calls for mutual co-operation and support among all the Provinces, to ensure the expression of our common nationhood in our diversity. It is our view that the NCOP is the pre-eminent forum where the sharing of experience, issues of division of labour, and inter-provincial co-operation can be thrashed out by our public representatives.

On a more current note, one of the most eloquent reflections of this has been the unity of all the provinces and the people as a whole around Cape Town's bid for the 2004 Olympics. Next week we shall make our final presentation to the International Olympics Committee, united as a country and as a continent to assert Africa's right to take her rightful place among the continents of the world, as she embarks on a renaissance whose time has come. We shall go there knowing that we have the support of every inch of South African soil, of every inch of African soil.

It is in this context too, that the debate about the location of parliament should be handled. Naturally, the process will lend itself to intense lobbying and competition.

Yet it is our responsibility as leaders to ensure that this discussion is conducted in a mature and responsible manner. We should all eschew the temptation to political opportunism; avoid an approach that will divide rather than unite our people.

Indeed, one of the most central questions that the country faces is the broader issue of how provinces - all provinces - should be accorded an opportunity to host national institutions - political, judicial, cultural and otherwise - within the context of manageable levels of efficiency. As such, we need to ensure that this debate is not one of competition among "provincial super-powers"; nor one based on the selfish interests of a particular party or locality. The solution to this question should be found in the context of public involvement in search of what is in the best interest of the country as a whole.

In the same vein, the Council of Provinces has an important role to play in managing the issue of provincial boundary disputes. Like with all other such issues, if we pursued them guided by our hearts rather than our heads, we may end up with solutions that undermine the fledging national unity that we are nurturing. Yes, in all social matters, it is easier to destroy what has been difficult to build.

I should, Mr Chairperson, take advantage of this formal occasion to pay tribute to FW de Klerk who announced his decision to leave active politics a few days ago. Over the past eight years that I have worked with him in various capacities. I was personally impressed by his boldness to acknowledge the march of history, and to take steps that few in his position would dare. The relatively peaceful transition that South Africa underwent was thanks in part to his contribution. In doing so, he put his political career and life in danger, and became one of the eminent midwives of the new democratic order.

We crossed swords with him on many an issue of principle, and he and his party committed many mistakes. But we shall always acknowledge the contribution that he made to the country and its people. I wish him all the best in his new endeavours.

Mr Chairperson and Honourable Delegates;

Over the past three years, South Africans have set in motion an exciting process of change that has captured the imagination of the entire world.

Often, the steady progress that we are making is associated with the national figures who have come to personify this transformation. yet we do know, that there at the coal-face, with hands covered in the soot of hard work are the provincial and local representatives who make the country tick. There in the difficult but challenging arena of implementation are public representatives who have faced problems without flinching; men and women who contribute far beyond what is publicly acknowledged.

It is therefore and honour for me to speak to you on this occasion, and I am confident that, from our exchange of views, government and the nation as a whole will benefit.

I thank you

Source: South African Government Information Website