Reply by President Nelson Mandela to the debate on his State of the Nation Address

12 February 1998

Madame Speaker and Deputy Speaker,
Honourable Members,

The six hours which this House was afforded to review the state of our nation may seem a short time for such a task.

This is all the more so when after three and a half years of democratic government the transformation of our society is gathering pace; when the enormity of some of the challenges is making itself felt; and when the complexities of change lend themselves less and less to rhetoric and simple prescriptions.

But, as ever, our people's elected representatives from all parties distinguished themselves by the seriousness with which they take their responsibility for the nation's welfare.

Contrary to the laws of nature, age does not seem to have dimmed the vigour of debate. Rather it has lent it an even more robust quality in this last sitting but one of our first democratically elected Parliament. Could it be that the prospect of the second democratic election is the elixir of youth!

It was an inspiration to hear representatives of different regions of our land recount in concrete terms the impact of the government's programmes on the lives of the people who live there. It was a fitting assertion of who we are and what we are about. Indeed, as we establish the national framework and instruments for change, we must more and more express the feelings, anxieties and aspirations of especially the most vulnerable members of our society.

These accounts brought to mind the visits to our provinces which I have been privileged to make. During these visits - and I intend to conduct more of them this year - I was able to see for myself the progress being made in some of the multitude of projects that are changing the face of our land; to observe the practical workings of co-operative governance; to experience the involvement of communities in their own upliftment; and to feel the spirit of nation- building and reconciliation that is most powerful amongst the ordinary people of all communities. Above all I was able to hear from the people themselves of the progress and difficulties they experience.

We are encouraged by this because it lies at the heart of our mandate. Our constitution enjoins us to work together to address the legacy of our divided and oppressive past. In a society in which so many were condemned to a life of poverty, the meeting of their basic needs must be the standard by which we measure our progress. It should be the standard for government and the Opposition alike; it should be the foundation of our national consensus, of our New Patriotism.

To meet those needs will take many years. That is something we have always emphasised, in particular in our consultations with communities through People's Fora and other means.

Clean water, electricity, primary health care and telephones are amenities which have long been denied to the majority of South Africans. Therefore we do take great pride in the impact that democracy is beginning to make in the people's lives.

When some parties only grudgingly acknowledge these changes and suggest that they are not real issues, they reveal how much they are out of touch and how far removed they are from the lives and aspirations of South Africans. When they declare that government lacks focus, it can only be because their own thoughts are not focused on the needs of the majority of their compatriots. These needs are many and varied; and they reflect the fact that everything is wrong with the structure of the society we inherited.

Source: South African Government Information Website