Opening address by President Nelson Mandela in the President's Budget Debate in the National Assembly, Cape Town

2 March 1999

Madame Speaker;
Honourable Members;
Ladies and Gentlemen.

It is a great honour to stand once again in this chamber in the debate on our government's budget.

As the nation's elected representatives it is your task to appropriate public funds in the public interest.

That includes the funds that make it possible for the President to discharge his responsibility to serve the nation: a nation which has mandated each and every one of us to work towards the goal of a better life for all South Africans, and especially the poor.

It therefore seems appropriate to share with you some of my experiences as I have endeavoured to perform this duty.

They included a number of visits I made last week to rural communities across our country.

Amongst them was the rural Eastern Cape community of Bipha, where a partnership of public and private sectors and the community is bringing electricity to people for whom it has been a distant dream. This utility which all of us in this house take for granted, opens up new possibilities for a community that has been denied it: lighting at home; computers at schools; better health-care; business opportunities. A resident of Bipha speaking of the sense of excitement of this enlargement of the boundaries of life, said: "I cannot wait for night to fall, so that I can make light".

Another visit was to the community of Matikulu in Kwazulu/Natal, accompanied by one of our country's leading businessmen. He had come to see what assistance could be given to the upgrading of a local hospital, so that people whose needs could not be met by that hospital would no longer have to travel 58 kms to another one.

Other visits were to Ekuphakameni which lacks roads, toilets and clean water; and to the Rain Queen, Queen Modjaji in the Northern Province, in whose area schools and roads are the urgent need.

Like other visits over the past years, they confronted us with the reality of apartheid's legacy of poverty for communities without such basic facilities for a proper life as classrooms; clinics; hospitals; clean water; and cheap energy. Lacking such facilities they forego much of what we in this House have, and they spend long hours walking or travelling at great expense for such things as fuel; telecommunication; health-care or education.

Lacking those facilities they are also denied opportunities to develop the potential of their people to the full, for the enrichment of their own lives and for the benefit of community and nation.

And like all the visits I have made, they show how partnerships of government, community and private sector can indeed bring light where before there was the darkness of apartheid.

I thought it right to mention this experience as it puts a proper context to the debates we must conduct on our use of public money. As we address the necessary questions of deficits, interest and exchange rates, inflation, labour market flexibility, the affordability of social welfare systems and many others, we dare not forget that the purpose of it all, and the mandate which brings us to this house, is the continued and sustained improvement in the lives of each and every South African.

As we scrutinise the way in which departments use the monies they receive, these things should be the yardstick by which we measure their performance: How far are we eradicating what remains of the practices and consequences of apartheid!

And I would want to say today that in the context of this need to improve the lives of the poor, the budget which has been put before us by the Minister of Finance is one in which we can take pride.

The government's commitment to social development and the reduction of poverty informs the Reconstruction and Development Programme. It is facilitated by our macro-economic policy for Growth, Employment and Redistribution. In part the means for its concrete and sustainable realisation are provided, year by year, in the budgets that unfold within our Medium Term Expenditure Framework.

It is in accordance with these priorities that government spending has since 1994 been shifted towards social services and towards the safety and security of communities.

As a result we are spending considerably more on social services and development than comparable, middle income countries. That is the case whether it be in health and education or in social grants to the elderly, the disabled and care for children in poor families. Indeed, the 2.5% of GDP we spend on social grants is unmatched by any developing country.

These priorities show in the changes which government has succeed in making so far:

* Universal primary education is a fact, and the challenge now is to improve quality;

* Clinic building, free health care, and an emphasis on women and children's health, have put South Africa at the forefront of international efforts to ensure access to health care and to reduce infant, child and maternal mortality.

* We now have effective and sustainable programmes in place to provide the poor with access to housing, safe water supplies, electricity and telephones. Day by day we are diminishing the number of South Africans who still lack these basic amenities of modern life.

* We have steadily increased budget allocations to special, targeted poverty-relief and employment-creating programmes.

Ours is therefore a broad ranging programme for meeting social and developmental needs. It focuses not on a few communities, but on all deprived communities. It is a broad-based and many-sided approach to reconstruction and development. It rests on the recognition that it would not help simply to raise social cash grants to the needy still further, if those who receive them must still spend money on travelling long distances for health-care or even to find a telephone, and on fuels that are more expensive than electricity; if they must continue to depend on the arduous labour of collecting fuel and fetching water, which may not even be safe to drink.

Because this programme of development is pursued within the framework of sound economic policies, we can confidently say that our development programmes are sustainable, and will strengthen with economic growth.

Our priorities show also in how we have adjusted to the impact of the recent international financial crises which have brought us a lower growth rate than expected and higher interest rates. Though we have had to shift the dates for meeting our targets, we have, as our latest budget shows, held the level of spending on social needs.

That is the logic of the present budget, in its broad sweep and in the detail, whether it be in the increase, following the Jobs Summit, of funds for poverty relief and employment programmes (R1 billion, increasing to R1.5 billion the year after); in the lowering of tax rates in a way that benefits in particular those earning less than R70,000; in the allocation of R200 million for the rehabilitation of hospitals for the benefit mainly of those who rely most on public health facilities, namely the poor; and in the funding that allows us to continue with the programmes to make services accessible to all.

When we celebrate such achievements as we have made and the commitments of government spending, in terms of change for the better in the lives of the poor, we do so in the full knowledge that we face serious challenges if they are to be sustained, not least in shifting public sector expenditure away from personnel costs to services.

Nor can progress be sustained by government alone.

Non-governmental organisations play a critical role heavily in social development and attacking poverty.

No doubt in the course of the debates on the budget more detail will be given of this contribution. Suffice it to say now that the role of NGOs is one that we see as growing rather than shrinking.

Our quest for partnership with the private sector is a multiple one. This refers not only to its partnership with government and labour, as an engine for growth and job-creation, as a force for innovation and skills development. There is another role which I would like to expand on today, since I believe it has not received sufficient attention.

And it has special relevance to the national debate on reconciliation launched a few days ago in this house.

Many of the visits I have been privileged to make to communities have been in the company of leaders of our private sector corporations. From 1990 I started talks with our business leaders to discuss how they can assist in the urgent upgrading of facilities in the most deprived communities.

Though it is the primary national responsibility of government to meet these needs, the backlog is so enormous that it will take many years to complete the task. The same system that created the legacy of poverty and neglect, in particular in our rural areas, also facilitated the accumulation of skills and resources which are now vested in our corporations. It would therefore be important to find ways in which resources and skills acquired in this way could be shared, in order to address the consequences for others of the system from which these benefits were drawn.

As I have indicated on previous occasions, the response to my approaches has always been positive. Whenever those who have the means, see for themselves the conditions in which so many South Africans still have to live because of past discrimination, they recognise and willingly accept the need to help.

As a result, there are scores of schools, clinics and even hospitals across the land which have been, or are being, built or upgraded as a result of the willingness of business leaders to share what they have with communities in need.

The projects are carried out within the framework of government's reconstruction and development programme, and in partnership with communities and the provincial governments.

Though the impact on the communities is immense, all acknowledge that the private sector has the means to do much more.

Should we not, as we approach the summit on national reconciliation, give thought to how this impulse could be given still greater scope. Should we not find a way of translating it into a contribution to reparation on a scale that matches or surpasses the private sector contribution to job-creation which emerged through the process of the Jobs Summit!

In the context of this kind of response to the needs of reconstruction, which is by no means restricted to the business sector, we are prompted to say that all who have eyes to see and ears to hear, know that the Rainbow Nation is taking shape.

Though it is true that we have a long way to go before our vision of such a nation is realised, business people; religious leaders; those in universities and other intellectuals, as well as ordinary men and women, are increasingly joining together to give content to that vision.

The world, seeing this happen, talks of it as a miracle and admires us for it. Only those who do not want to see it happen, fail to recognise that it is happening and communicate despair.

Ladies and gentlemen;

The importance of such initiatives, like that of our programme of social development itself, stems also from the fact that, in this modern age, the achievement of any of our goals depends on our achieving the others. Democracy, development, human rights, good governance peace and prosperity, each depend on the others. In like measure, none of us can have lasting enjoyment of any of these while others in our society are denied them. And in particular, peace is the greatest weapon that any community or nation can have for development.

These basic facts of today's world apply as much within our nation as they do to our relations with other nations. They have been our guide as we have worked to establish democratic South Africa's place in the world. They have led us to strengthen ties with the rest of the developing world and seek equitable partnerships of mutual benefit with the industrialised countries.

In doing so we have been guided by the lesson of our own experience in overcoming the divisions of centuries to establish democracy. It is that no problem is so deep that it cannot be overcome, given the will of all parties, through discussion and negotiation rather than force and violence.

We have pursued this approach without qualification, at every opportunity, and we believe others have been inspired by it and recognised its value.

We dare to think that it played some small part in the progress that has been made towards peace Northern Ireland.

We remain hopeful that sooner rather than later the Middle East will find its way back on to the path mapped out by the Oslo Accord.

Though the problems are not yet resolved, there are grounds for hope that the situation in East Timor has moved towards resolution and that the Lockerbie issue is closer to being finalised than many imagined could happen.

The path we have chosen is not always an easy or universally acclaimed one. The developments in relation to Lockerbie and East Timor bring to mind the outcry from some parties in this house, when we asserted our right, indeed our duty, to maintain relations with those who were with us even when we were alone. More importantly, away from the public eye it was possible use these contacts to help solve problems that seemed to defy solution.

Nearer home we welcome the step that has been taken in the DRC towards peace and democracy, with the unbanning of political parties. We were encouraged during our meeting last week by President Nujoma's firm affirmation that by consultation and by bringing the forces in the conflict to talk to each other, a solution would be found that would bring peace, democracy and development to the DRC.

We will continue, wherever we can, to promote this principle, whatever the temporary setbacks that may be experienced. There is no other way to lasting peace and stability, and therefore to the rebirth of our continent and the development of our region.

Honourable members;

The importance of protecting and sustaining the peace and stability which we have achieved in our country should be in the minds of all of us we approach our second democratic elections.

What is critical is not that we should have the same views on everything, nor that we should refrain from expressing our differences in a robust way. Rather it is that we should be tolerant of one an other's views and as leaders work towards uniting our nation on the basis of the founding consensus which underpinned our negotiated transition to democracy and the adoption of our new constitution.

The strong feelings that were expressed during last week's debate on the report of the TRC are not incompatible with the reconciliation of our nation, as many in the media seemed to have concluded. Such open debate is a necessary part of the process that will lead to a common understanding of our past and a renewal of the commitment at the heart of that founding consensus.

It is, that if we are one nation with one destiny, then our first task is the collective eradication of the legacy of the inhuman system of apartheid as a necessary step towards the reconciliation of our nation.

What the debate did raise was the question whether we do always listen to one another as we should, by ensuring the conditions for the views of our opponents to be heard!

The message of tolerance will be of critical importance as we approach the coming election.

As far as the election date is concerned, government has already indicated its preference. The constitutional impediment to a formal proclamation of the date of the national and provincial elections remains. However, government is consulting with all relevant role-players, including the IEC and the Premiers, to establish whether a date within its preferred period is feasible, with a view to making an informal announcement as soon as is possible.

In the meanwhile I would like to take this opportunity to make a strong appeal to the nation to make a success of the final three-day round of registration starting this Friday March 5 and continuing over Saturday and Sunday.

So far over half the voters have registered.

This has been made possible by the dedicated work of the IEC and the support they have received.

We pay tribute to the Directors-General in the public service and the SANDF command structures for facilitating the assistance by their staff and members. We thank the volunteers and the members of the SANDF for their service to the people of South Africa. Those whom we thank include also business, NGOs and other structures of society as well as members of the public for their voluntary service to the future of our country.

Tried and tested in the first two rounds of registration, the machinery is in place and ready for a supreme effort this Friday and weekend.

If anything symbolises to the world the miracle of our transition, and earned us their admiration, it is the image of the patient queues of voters of April 1994 as South Africans in their millions, from every community and background, asserted their determination that, whatever the difficulties, the people shall govern so that we should never relive our experience of oppression, injustice and inhumanity.

Let us honour that example and those sacrifices.

To all those who have not yet registered, I urge you to do so this Friday or Saturday or Sunday.

To all those who do not yet have bar-coded identity documents, go now to your nearest Home Affairs office to apply and get your Temporary Identification Card, so that you can register. That is the message of the Cape Supreme Court - we do need these documents to become registered voters.

To the young people of our country, many of whom have not yet registered, I make a special appeal. Freedom can never be taken for granted. Each generation must safeguard it and extend it. Your parents and elders sacrificed much so that you should have freedom without suffering what they did. Use this precious right to ensure that the darkness of the past never returns. Register now so that you can help build the future and keep the light of freedom burning.

I call also on all institutions and organisations, including every political party, to mobilise those who have not yet registered.

Give them your advice and assistance on how to do so.

Together, let us ensure that every voter is registered.

Ladies and gentlemen;

Though we face many challenges; and though we still have far to go in eradicating the consequences of our past in order to become a fully united an reconciled nation, we have together laid the foundation for doing so.

Nothing shows how far we have come more than these closing weeks of this last session of our first democratically-elected parliament. They will be spent debating in detail a budget which provides for the continuation of the programmes that have begun to change the lives of millions of South Africans.

It will be for the new government soon to be elected to map out the practical programmes by which the nation can build on and improve upon what was achieved in these first years of democracy.

Together we can continue to replace the darkness of apartheid with the light of freedom, peace and development.

I thank you.

Issued by the Office of the President

Source: South African Government Information Website