Address by President Nelson Mandela at the announcement of the results of Census 96, Pretoria

20 October 1998

Minister of Finance;
Head of Statistics South Africa;
Distinguished guests,

When we embarked four years ago along the path of peace, unity and freedom, our central mission as a nation was to build a better life for all South Africans.

In deciding to hold a national census in 1996, five years earlier than might have been expected, we were acting upon our urgent need for accurate information, so that our plans should be based on the real situation.

A census under any circumstances is a mammoth undertaking. To organise a unified national census, in just one year instead of the usual three years, in a country only beginning to emerge from a system that fragmented every aspect of social and political life, was a major feat in the transformation of our institutions.

The Census itself was one of the defining milestones in the building of our new nation. Census 96 and its army of one hundred thousand enumerators, marked a break with our divided past; by reaching every part of the country; by using the same methods for everyone; and by ensuring that as far possible everyone was asked for information in their own language.

We should take this opportunity to say to all those men and women who made it happen: Congratulations to you all!

At the end of the day we have detailed, all-inclusive, information about our people which we can use to achieve our shared goals.

In breaking new ground, and so early in our transition, the Census had to deal with many difficulties and much had to be learned. It is in keeping with the spirit of openness of our democracy, and the early need for information, that preliminary estimates were for the first time shared with the public. But it is also in the nature of such information that it might need revision, as indeed proved to be the case.

No doubt the next Census will be still more accurate, building on the gains of Census 96. But we do at last have results with which we can work, numbers that count for the nation!

It will take time to absorb the full detail of this intricate picture of our complex society. But the broad outlines should act as a clarion call to rededicate ourselves, in every sector of our society, to the historic mission of a generation charged with transforming South African society in order to eradicate the poverty and imbalances that derive from our past.

They show a society in which the lines between rich and poor were, with little qualification, the historical lines of a racially divided society.

They show a society which had enormous basic needs to be met, whether it be in terms of access to clean water, electricity, telephones or schooling. By measuring the extent of deprivation in October 1996, the results provide us with benchmarks against which our performance, as government and nation, should be measured year by year.

This picture was drawn mid-way through our country's first democratically elected government, when the programmes of socio-economic change were only beginning to gather pace.

We are right to take pride in the fact that in the two years since then, the character of our society has been changing day by day, through an active partnership of government, communities, and the structures of civil society including the private sector. The installation since then of some three quarters of a million telephones; the connection of about a million households to the electricity grid; and the supply of clean water to another 1.8 million people do improve the situation.

But the scale of inherited social inequality and deprivation, confirmed by the results, makes our task one of many years and one in which reconstruction and reconciliation, nation-building and development are all of critical importance.

The results remind us that we have only started along the path towards that goal which was at the heart of our nation's founding consensus: namely, to overcome together the legacy of our divided past.

May the publication of this portrait of our nation strengthen our commitment to building a democracy that is worthy of the name: a society in which the needs of all South Africans, and especially the poor, are at the heart of the nation's efforts.

I thank you.

Issued by: Office of the President

Source: South African Government Information Website