Address by President Nelson Mandela at a meeting of the Young Presidents Organisation

20 March 1998

Master of Ceremonies;
Ladies and gentlemen,

Having attended your international conference three years ago, I welcomed the invitation to renew contact. Though an immediate response was not possible, I felt it important to take up the opportunity as soon as my schedule permitted.

I must confess that I also feared that if I delayed too long I might find that the Young President's Organisation had a rule excluding former Presidents from its meetings!

It is a particular pleasure that this event brings together South African leaders of business with their counterparts from Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. While governments can create the framework for economic ties between countries, in the end it is business that must give the links the flesh and bones of a mutually beneficial relationship.

I would therefore like to extend a special welcome to our visitors. I have fond memories of my visits to both your countries. I am confident that your hosts will guide you to the profitable opportunities that abound in South and Southern Africa. I trust tat they will also give you the chance to savour the beauty of our country and the warmth of her people.

Since South Africa achieved democracy our relations with the countries of the Gulf Co-operation Council have grown enormously. They are making a strategically important contribution to the place we are defining for ourselves in the world.

Increased trade with the Gulf region, including exports, reflects wider changes. A strong and expanding export performance is the fruit of greater competitiveness as we restructure our economy for sustained growth. We have turned our economy from stagnation to growth, now in its sixth successive year. Sound fundamentals have allowed us to wheather the recent turbulence in international financial markets.

We are proud of these achievements, but we have set ourselves still higher targets in order to create the jobs and produce the resources for reconstruction and development.

Our visit to the Gulf in 1995 alerted us to concerns at a certain lack of co-ordination in our efforts to secure foreign investment. That gap is being filled by Investment South Africa, the one-stop investment agency established last year, and by the maturing of far-reaching infrastructure programmes.

Growth is being stimulated by social infrastructure development and major capital expenditure to upgrade our telecommunications, develop our water resources and improve our road transportation network.

Our large Spatial Development Initiatives, like the Maputo Corridor, are drawing investment to areas of unused potential that are well-located for exporting. Critical to the success of these initiatives, currently comprising some R77bn worth of investment projects, is a partnership of public and private sectors.

Indeed, underlying all our achievements is a broad partnership of social structures. Steadily but surely it is transforming our society, whether it be through our strategy for growth and development; the social programmes which have begun to change the lives of millions previously denied the basic amenities for a dignified life, like water, electricity, health-care and decent housing; our national strategy of combating crime which has begun to turn the tide; or our determination to root out corruption. Where differences arise between social partners, as they naturally do, there is an overriding commitment to find negotiated solutions.

That is the basis of the political stability we enjoy today. And that is the basis of our confidence that although we have only begun on a task that will take many years, we will overcome the many challenges that lie ahead.

Only a few years ago a gathering such as this would have been unthinkable. Today relations forged in solidarity with our struggle for freedom, and the ties which our Islamic community always maintained with the Arab world, are enriching and giving strength to all-round relations between our countries.

In the same way South Africans once looked in conflict are now working together for a better life for all our people. They are increasingly united a New Patriotism which feeds on our success in together overcoming the legacy of our past, the imbalances, the divisions and disparities which fragmented our society and eroded our morality.

The Young President's Organisation represents a fund of skill, experience, enterprise and initiative that is one of our nation's most valued assets. It reflects in a concrete way how much societies lose when they ignore the potential of young people. One of our most urgent tasks as a nation is to correct the even greater loss which our society inflicted on itself by preventing most of its people from developing and using their skills to the full.

Those who benefited under the system from which we are emerging have an indispensable role to play in the building of a new society in the interest of all South Africans. As active participants and leaders, rather than anxious bystanders, they can make a difference as we tap and develop that unused potential; as we work to eliminate social disparities and as we regenerate our social morality. The YPO, with its values and the broad reach of its membership, is well-placed to promote this process.

May I thank you once more for your kind invitation - I wish you every success in your efforts. The foundations for lasting partnership between our countries and regions has been laid. Let us grasp the opportunities with both hands.

Thank you

Issued by: Office of the President

Source: South African Government Information Website