Closing address by President Nelson Mandela in the President's Budget Debate, Cape Town

22 April 1998

Madame Speaker;
Honourable Members;
Ladies and Gentlemen;

Let me start off by thanking all parties and particularly those members who took part in the debate on the President's Budget.

As before, many flattering remarks were made about the President and his role in the transition that we are going through.

These warm words are welcome and appreciated.

But suffice it to underline, as I have done before, that the achievements that we have made in the past few years, are first and foremost achievements of the people of South Africa as a whole.

As individuals we have been called upon by history to represent the collective aspirations of a people in bondage, a people in struggle and a people acting out their passions for freedom, reconstruction and development. As the African National Congress and its allies, we were bequeathed by history with the responsibility to lead the struggle and the transformation ensuing from its success.

We have only started along that road. We are proud of the achievements we have made. But the poverty that continues to stalk millions; the problems of education, housing, health, landlessness and lack of jobs that continue to afflict the majority of our citizens - all these are reminders that the mission of meaningful freedom, democracy and human rights is yet to be fulfilled.

The journey to that goal is one that involves all of us. No one can stand aloof. Wherever we are, we are affected by the realities of the disparities that we have inherited. In simple terms, none of us can ever be secure if the bulk of society is indigent and insecure. Thus, the challenge that we face is whether we ride the tide of history or, by commission or omission, seek to stem it.

It is in this context, Madame Speaker, that we refer to principles which should form the basis of our bond as a people, irrespective of our political affiliation.

The first of these is that we are one people with one destiny. South Africa belongs to all of us; and its future will be made or broken by our actions today.

Secondly, we have all, as a matter of principle, embraced the fundamental principles of multi-party democracy; an abiding culture of human rights; and open and accountable government. Along with this, we put a high premium on the unity of our nation - the kind of unity that is informed by our diversity.

Thirdly, the attainment of formal democracy on its own does not mean the end of the ills of apartheid. The social disparities remain; and these are characterised by the fact that the privileged are in the main white, and the overwhelming majority of the have-nots are black.

In the fourth instance, it is a matter of logic and social necessity that needs, the training, and opening of opportunities to those who were previously excluded, by law and social practice.

Further, to achieve all this requires the mobilisation of the country's resources, the creation of wealth in a growing economy, and transformation of the structure of ownership of wealth and distribution of power.

Lastly, we need to recognise that as a nation-state, we are sovereign; and we should pursue our interests without pretending to be a mirror image of what we are not; and without subsuming our interests to those of any other nation or group of nations.

These then are some of the broad issues that we think should form the basis of our bond as a people, as parties, as business and workers, as professionals and creative artists, as rich and poor, black and white.

The ANC is committed to these principles. It is committed to the paradigm of change. But this does not mean that these principles are the exclusive terrain of the majority party.

They are instead the basic points of departure without which our country cannot succeed. They are basic requirements for us to eliminate not only the legacy of the past; but also the social conflict that that past brought about.

When therefore, Madame Speaker, we talk of loyalty and a new patriotism, we speak of a commitment to meet these challenges. We speak of what we believe is in the interest of all of us.

In any case, these issues were the precepts on which our negotiated transition was based. They are contained in our constitution as the founding writ of our democracy. In that document, whose content is the product of our collective efforts, are the elements of the national consensus that its adoption was supposed to seal.

When any of us work against those principles; when we run down what is our collective possession; when we wittingly or unwittingly undermine these principles through our actions and pronouncements - in brief, when we seek to stop change and prevent equity - then we should know that we are not being true to the nation's founding principles.

Not that to do so means that we are subversive and seditious, deserving of lynching by anyone. It is the fundamental strength of our democracy that we have freedom of speech and thought. But we must not protest the right of others to question our commitment to the founding pact, and to point out our deficit in a new patriotism.

Within the context of national unity and collective responsibility, reference was also made to ensuring that our diplomatic service is as representative as possible of the widest spectrum of our society. Without reducing this to the issue of the presence in this service of one party or the other, I wish to indicate that we have ourselves noted this deficiency. paid to this question.

Honourable Members;

I wIsh to emphasise as clearly as possible that we in the majority party are committed to the constitution in its current form. It reflects the collective wisdom of representatives who were mandated to draw it up. It encapsulates the aspirations and fears of the multiplicity of constituencies that our nation is made up of.

We do not seek to change the constitution, in so far as it contains the basic principles of democracy. It may be that from time to time we shall collectively identify real and mainly technical deficiencies that may need improvement. But the essence of this constitution is our tryst with the South African nation in this phase of our history. It is the founding document of our democracy which we respect and to which we pay unreserved allegiance.

We should therefore not confuse the competition among parties for as many votes as possible with an imaginary threat to the freedoms contained in the constitution. It is in fact an insult to those who struggled for these freedoms, some of whom paid the supreme sacrifice to suggest that, because of their track record, they may enjoy the support of more than two-third of the voters, they then, by some twist of fate become a threat to democracy.

During the course of the debate, certain allusions were made about the majority party and its allies - pronouncements that have been made by the same speaker on previous occasions. This is about a divided ANC, a divided Tri-partite Alliance; about the Deputy-President marginalising COSATU and the SACP; about good and bad ministers - all of these allusions laced with a presumptuous arrogance about elements in the ANC who share the same sentiments as captains of our apartheid past.

Let us make it very clear, that those who sacrificed their all to build the movement of struggle and transformation will not allow it to disintegrate, whether through a fifth column or by any other means. There is a mission to fulfil.

Therefore, the false expectation that the ANC will split, with one of its splinters coming to the rescue of a dying National Party is nothing more than a flight of fancy - to use a more current phrase, it is inherently fantastic. At best, it misleads a constituency that the protagonists claim to represent.

We also wish to reiterate that our commitment to the constitution also means acknowledging our obligation to ensure the implementation of Sections 185 and 186 as soon as possible. Consultations on the Commission of the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities have started.

Honourable Members;

It should be recognised that this task is a sensitive one which has the potential of either cementing or breaking what we have achieved as a nation. We therefore wish to urge all parties to work out their detailed proposals on this issue, so that when the time soon comes to put the matter concretely on the table, we should be able to proceed with deliberate speed.

We have in the past stated without equivocation our commitment to the equality of all our languages and the promotion of their usage. We have also underlined that care has to be taken that none of us uses language and culture to usurp, for their exclusive use, advanced resources accumulated under apartheid. This applies in particular to the issue of education. And we are confident that, for every difficulty that lends itself to sensational coverage, there are scores of successes that are the true foundation of our miracle.

Yet it is also critical to open for public debate the issue of the right of a language community to have an institution of higher learning where such a language will be the predominant medium of instruction. Balanced against the broad principle of the most universal access possible to such national assets, this right cannot, as a matter of principle be taken as inherently outmoded. It behoves these institutions themselves to place before the nation and our educational authorities proposals that will meet these requirements.

Honourable Members

I was encouraged by the response of Honourable members to the briefing I gave on the SANDF report and the commission of inquiry. It does confirm that in the overall our nation's representatives and the government do see eye to eye in the handling of this sensitive matter.

It would be remiss of me, though, not to share my surprise at the suggestion, from the benches on my left, that the naming of a person in the report renders that person unfit to serve on a commission of inquiry.

Let us remember that we are speaking of a report without substance. What are we then to make of a suggestion that the 130 people mentioned are to be regarded as unfit for office?

Is this a sheer misunderstanding of the conclusion of the commission? In any case, who would benefit from such a witch hunt?

Inevitably, since it is one of our nation's foremost concerns, the question of crime featured in yesterday's debate. And as one Honourable Member observed, it came from both sides of the House.

Few members could have been unmoved by the clear, analytical, and impassioned plea for us all to join in combating crimes of violence against women. We share the Honourable member's hope that the reported increase in the incidence of rape indicates greater exposure of this crime.

We were also encouraged by the Honourable Minister for Agriculture's report on partnerships between landowners in the countryside with those previously denied use of the land. The lesson that security in the rural areas is indivisible should not be lost on us as we seek to continue making those areas safe for all who live in them.

It was surprising to hear the suggestion that meetings and discussions on this issue are without real effect. Our three meetings in the last six months with representatives of the South African Agricultural Union helped lay the basis for the acknowledged success of security force action to reduce attacks on members of the farming community. These efforts should now be expanded to ensure that all those who live and work in the countryside, whether as landowners, tenants or labourers, should feel safe and secure.

Madame Speaker;

In opening the debate yesterday, I raised the question, whether it was not necessary, now that we had laid the groundwork, to attend to the quality of what we are building. The debate yesterday left no doubt that this is indeed a preoccupation for many members.

Having gained our rights, how are we exercising them, in particular in this House?

Those of us who had the great honour of being elected in our country's first democratic elections are pioneers of parliamentary behaviour. Though South Africa had a parliament before, like the machinery of government it had to be given new life in order to serve the interests of our people as a whole.

Honourable Members and all those whose task it is to nurture our parliament towards democratic conventions, can take pride in this institution. It is creating the legislative framework for social transformation. It is exercising oversight over the executive in a way that was unimaginable in earlier times. Foreign dignitaries consider it a great privilege to visit and to address our Parliament.

And yet, we do need to ask whether we always conduct ourselves with the decorum that is appropriate to the highest institution of democracy? What kind of parliamentary tradition are we creating? Do Honourable Members always behave in a way that shows respect for those who elected them; for the public who observe them through the media; for their colleagues; and for themselves? And how do we ensure that all the views are freely expressed and given the attention they deserve.

On the part of the majority party it means taking opposition criticism of government and considering whether it has merit as something that can help promote the national good.

On the part of opposition parties it means doing more than engage in opposition simply for the sake of it. That can induce a reflex action that does not take opposition seriously. Criticism of government would be more credible if it were combined with efforts to promote the achievement of a better life for all.

Madame Speaker;

Let me end by saying that my comments were to acknowledge rather than downplay the contributions made during the course of this debate.

For these contributions I thank all of you!

Source: South African Government Information Website