Address by President Nelson Mandela to members of the Swiss-South African Association

2 September 1997

President of the Swiss-South African Association
Distinguished guests;
Ladies and gentlemen,

Our visit to Switzerland would have been incomplete without the opportunity to engage with leaders of the Swiss business community. To be able to do so twice in one day is therefore a special privilege and a great honour. It is all the more welcome when our host on this impressive occasion is an organisation whose raison d'etre is to promote economic links between our countries.

Since Deputy-President Mbeki was unfortunately unable to accept an earlier invitation by your association, it gives me added pleasure to be here personally tonight - perhaps it is not so in business, but in government the boss sometimes has more time available than the deputy whose hands are on the day-to-day business of governing, and he has deployed me to come in his place!

And indeed, to be in government in South Africa today is a challenging and invigorating experience. Barely three years since achieving democracy, the foundation for a better life has been laid.

The progress in forging a new nation is quite remarkable, given our divided past. It is nurtured by our new democratic constitution and the entrenchment of human rights. It draws daily strength from programmes which are already changing the lives of millions through electrification; access to water, housing; education and health care.

Although this is only the start of what will take years to complete, these socio-economic programmes, this political stability, and our economic policies together create a climate for economic growth.

An economy that was stagnating is now in its fourth year of growth. We have been able in our latest budget to reduce the government deficit at the same time as increasing social spending, and we intend to do so again next year.

We have been able to relax inherited foreign exchange controls on South African residents without adverse effect.

Beyond the day-to-day fluctuations and monthly variations the long-term trends include falling inflation; an improving balance of payments and rising productivity. Amongst the telling signs of deep structural change is the growing contribution of manufacturing to our economy as a whole, and to growth and exports. So too is the role of private fixed investment in driving growth. This manifests itself, amongst other things, in some 20 industrial mega-projects, each costing half a billion Rands or more, that are already operating or in progress.

This underlying economic strength has encouraged us to set our sights still higher, as indeed we must if we are to create the jobs and resources for reconstruction and development.

The achievement of these goals is being pursued through our strategy for growth, employment and redistribution.

It includes continued tariff reform to open up our economy, with tariffs being lowered, in some cases even below levels required by the World Trade Organisation.

It includes the restructuring of state assets in a variety of forms from privatisation to the acquisition of strategic equity partners. Currently, negotiations over the domestic airline, SunAir, and our national Airports Company are at an advanced stage.

The strategy also comprises measures to encourage investment in areas of strength and boost competitiveness, amongst them tax incentive schemes and training programmes.

Central to our approach is the spirit of partnership.

As we implement our new constitution we are beginning to reap the benefits of its vision of co-operative governance. The integration of nine provincial growth and development strategies within the national strategy is a powerful force for sustained growth and job-creation.

Co-operation also means public-private partnership in investment: in the restructuring of state assets, in our municipal infrastructure programme; and in large-scale integrated development initiatives, such as the Maputo Development Corridor, that are opening up untapped economic potential.

If we lay stress on partnership it is because it has been critical to our achievements. It is what gives us confidence in the future. Inevitably in a transformation as profound as ours there will be difficulties. But South Africans have shown that even the most difficult problems can be overcome through negotiation.

It is natural that in formulating a strategy for growth; or for dealing with crime and eliminating corruption; or programmes to improve living conditions, there will be differences of detail amongst major social forces such as government, business and labour. But there is a shared commitment to resolve differences when they do arise, and a shared allegiance to institutions created for handling such differences. Government's resolve to maintain the policies which have brought success is strengthened by the broad consensus behind them.

Partnership is also the basis of our relationship with our neighbours in Southern Africa. Together we have taken rapid strides in turning the Southern African Development Community into a framework for integrated development of the region's immense resources. We are moving towards a free trade area with a market of some 150 million people. The economic bloc we are building is destined to play a significant role in Africa's rebirth and in the development of economic relations between Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Ladies and Gentlemen;

We are encouraged by the fact that Switzerland is one of our largest foreign investors, and in particular by the increase in investment since our elections in 1994. We are proud to host over 300 Swiss companies employing 25,000 South Africans. And we welcome the extent of Swiss trade, investment and development aid throughout Southern Africa.

And yet, just as our own achievements are but the first steps towards a better life for all our people, so too has the potential for Swiss involvement in South and Southern Africa been barely touched. We would like to see more investment: in productive enterprises; in infrastructure; and in joint ventures that can help open the world of business to those excluded by past policies. We would like to see more trade, in both directions.

The ratification of our bilateral agreement on the promotion and protection of investments, now going through the final stages of ratification by our Parliament, will assist the process. I am confident that it will also receive impetus from our visit and the meetings and discussions it allows.

But in the end it will be the decisions and actions of business leaders, in South Africa and Switzerland, that will expand economic relations. I would therefore like to thank the Swiss-South African Foundation for allowing us to share ideas with you tonight.

The opportunities for trade and profitable investment in South and Southern Africa are immense! Let us join hands as partners for growth, development and prosperity!

I thank you!

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation