Address by Nelson Mandela to Foreign Correspondents Association, Johannesburg

21 November 1997

Mr Alec Russell;
Members of the Foreign Correspondents Association;

It is a great pleasure for me once more to be with you as we wind up the business of a hectic year and prepare for the holiday season.

You will appreciate that many in the African National Congress will envy people like you; because they are in the middle of intense preparations for the 50th National Conference which takes place in mid-December.

To a large extent, the same cannot be said about myself. At the end of that Conference, I will have relinquished the onerous tasks that attach to a leader of such a massive organisation on whose shoulders rests the task of changing South Africa in a very fundamental way. I do however wish to assure you and the people of our country that I will, to the best of my ability, continue to be of service to the cause of transformation; and I will continue to do so even after stepping down as President of the country in 1999.

I remember fondly the interchange we had last year on the role of the media and their relationship with government. I had just emerged from a meeting with senior black journalists where both sides were badly bruised. As I said then, it is in the character of growth that we should learn from both pleasant and unpleasant experiences.

Today I wish merely to thank you for your dedicated loyalty to the South African story; for your efforts to place South Africa on the world map, and for the battles with your media houses to appreciate that the hard slog of reconstruction and development is as exciting as the tremors of conflict.

This is where South Africa is today; finding its way through the maze of difficulties we inherited from the apartheid era. It is quite true that in the memory, that past is starting to recede into the distance; and we are usually advised by those who were in charge that that past should not be invoked.

Yet we know, and the majority of South Africans know from their daily experiences, that apartheid continues to live with us in the leaking roofs and corrugated walls of shacks; in the bulging stomachs of hungry children; in the darkness of homes without electricity; and in the heavy pails of dirty water that rural women carry for long distances to cook and to quench their thirst.

Yet if we decry this and more, it is because we see this as a challenge. It is because we draw pride from the steady progress that we are making in changing the lives of the people for the better. We know it will take years to reach our ideals; but the foundation has been laid.

Mr Chairman;

Our pride derives from the fact that we can boast of a bustling polity. An examination simply of the legislative programme shows that national parliament has been passing about 108 pieces of legislation a year, to set the framework for transformation.

Difficult as it might be, national, provincial and local governments are making headway in balancing popular needs and available resources. We have just adopted, as cabinet, the Medium-Term Expenditure Framework - multi-year budgeting - which will ensure certainty and better planning. Complex as the question may be, we are also examining the issue of the location of parliament and seeking ways of ensuring that it is handled in a manner that does not lend itself to petty party politicking.

We are proud of the fact that, since 1994, on every single day, 1,000 people on average have gained access to clean water; that 1,000 electricity connections are being made each day; that 1,000 houses are brought into construction or completed under the government's subsidy programme every two-and-half days; that each week has brought another two clinics with access to health care for some 20,000 people. The figures that have been given by the police show that progress is being made to stabilise and reduce especially violent crime. And we are confident that we have identified and are able to manage, in a professional way, a systematic strategy against the crime syndicates.

As the recent turmoil in the world stock markets showed, our currency enjoys a relative measure of stability compared with most of the emerging markets. This is because the economic fundamentals are in place.

One needs only to examine the huge potential of the Spatial Development Initiatives in the Eastern Cape Province, in KwaZulu-Natal, in Mpumalanga, the Northwest and other Provinces; one needs only to look at the local development initiatives with their clusters of enterprises being launched; and the resilience of the manufacturing sector both in its expansion and export growth, to realise that South Africa is on the path to high growth. We are confident that our country and our region have the potential to become one of the world nodal points of rapid economic growth.

However, Mr Chairman, while we are proud of the stability showed by our economy during the recent upheavals, like other emerging markets, we are urging that the world as a whole needs to address the problem of irrational speculation. As the Governor of our Reserve Bank intimated the other day, something needs to be done by world bodies such as the International Monetary Fund to help manage crises of this nature which, driven by selfish interests, can lead to the collapse of whole economies, irrespective of the soundness of the fundamentals. The question needs to be posed whether some order can be established in the occasional disorder of the international financial markets.

These and other issues have arisen in our interaction especially with countries which are in the same position as South Africa.

But more broadly, I should say that this has been one of the most successful years for our country in so far as foreign policy matters are concerned. The canvass of this experience is wide and the issues varied; but narrowly from my own visits to Southeast Asia, the Middle East, the Commonwealth and other areas, I got a sense of abiding confidence in our transition and economic potential.

From Malaysia and Saudi Arabia, for instance, we emerged with concrete agreements which will expand our trade and foreign direct investments into South Africa. And it is a matter of proud record that the Commonwealth has placed the issue of economic development firmly on the agenda.

The establishment of the Indian Ocean Rim Association, the expansion of our relations with Latin America, and the soon-to-be established diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China - all these open up opportunities that South Africa has never experienced in her history.

Personally, I have been able to learn from, and also make a humble contribution to, activities of the Southern African Development Community; the conflicts in East Timor and the Sudan; and the resolution of the conflict in the former Zaire.

Steadily but surely, South Africa is finding her niche in international relations, as a beneficiary of the world's wisdom, and as a sovereign and equal participant in world affairs.

It is all these things which give me boundless optimism about the future.

As we prepare for the ANC National Conference, I have been pleasantly surprised by the maturity of ordinary ANC members as they tackle the complex questions of transformation. I am therefore confident that, as I hand over the baton in the organisation, I will leave in place a collective that is both capable and determined to take South Africa into the new millennium as a vibrant democracy, a resounding economic success and an active partner in the efforts to build a just and equitable world order.

It is in this spirit that I meet you today; and I wish you a happy festive season and a prosperous New Year.

Issued by: Office of the President

Source: South African Government Information Website