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

3 March 1999

Madame Speaker;
Honourable Members;
Ladies and Gentlemen;

It was truly inspiring in yesterday's debate to hear veterans of struggle who lived through the worst of our history, as they spoke of their joy at the transformation of our society that is now taking place day by day.

It was equally inspiring to sense their resolve to continue striving for change as long as the legacy of poverty, unemployment and other forms of deprivation continue to blight the lives of millions.

I wish to join them, to say that as long as blood courses through my veins, I will be at the service of the people as they strive to change their condition for the better. This principle of service and sacrifice has been the motor of struggle. It has led us to live our lives in such a way that when we depart for ever we can do so confident that we have left some sunshine in the hearts of our children and grandchildren.

Those voices of the veterans therefore underlined for us both how far we have come since we embarked on our negotiated transition and how much is still to be done to transform our society. They are a clarion call to all of us to improve our capacity to address the inherited disparities of apartheid.

There were differences expressed in the debate, and sometimes sharp ones. But we believe that nothing speaks as strongly of the political stability we have achieved, than the absence of challenge to the principles of our democracy. This is remarkable, given that only a few short years ago, the freedoms we now enjoy were resisted with all the force at the disposal of the apartheid regime.

When it comes to the principle of non-racialism, although it has been embraced by all, its full implications do not always seem to be understood. Its logic requires us to take full cognisance of the consequences of past discrimination and the racial structures and practices that preserve them. If we fail to follow this through then the language of change can be used to oppose change, blinding us to the legacy of apartheid.

We shall continue, however, to give increasing effect to our commitment to overcoming what remains of apartheid in our society. That is the objective of government's programmes for socio-economic improvement; for economic growth and job-creation; for the entrenchment of democracy; for investment in people and for safety and security.

Central to that challenge is the mobilisation of all the country's resources.

In that regard it was striking, because it seemed out of step with our times, that one speaker proclaimed bridge-building as a prime goal of his party. But is South Africa not beyond the time when the mere building of bridges between deeply separated groups seemed the urgent thing to be done? Have we not together crossed the Rubicon so as to join hands in building our country!

In my opening address in this debate I reflected on how business leaders as well as people from every sector of society and every background are increasingly joining hands to give content to our shared vision of a non-racial society. As we have noted before, amongst other things this gave rise during the past year to broad and powerful partnerships to deal with such serious problems as crime, corruption, unemployment and AIDS.

It is not my intention in this address to deal in detail with issues. But I would like to make one exception and that is the question of AIDS, a matter that was mentioned by two or three speakers.

I do so because I believe that our nation has still to mobilise itself as vigorously as it must against this serious threat. That is underlined by recent research concerning the level of HIV infection amongst especially young pregnant mothers. That level is now even higher than what had already caused us great concern. The situation is grave and it needs to become a preoccupation of all parties, along with all the other structures of our society.

We must strengthen the partnership against AIDS which Deputy President Thabo Mbeki launched last year. It is no exaggeration to say that the future of our country depends on our doing so.

Honourable Members;

Certainty about the date of our second democratic elections is something that I believe everyone has been looking for.

In order to know where to register, voters need to know where they are likely to be on election day. People turning eighteen around the election period need to know whether they will qualify to vote.

In the run-up to the final registration drive we have agreed with the IEC that it is urgent for government to announce a date, in order further to encourage those who have not yet registered to do so.

It remains the case that a date cannot now be formally proclaimed due to provisions of the Constitution. However for the kind of reasons mentioned, it is appropriate to make an announcement of the election-date which I intend to proclaim, when I am able to make such a proclamation.

All the parties in Parliament have already agreed that the provincial Premiers would proclaim this same date for the provincial elections. This would ensure that all the elections are held on the same day, which is what the IEC wishes and what the country can afford.

I have had discussions with the IEC, who themselves consulted with the parliamentary political parties through the Multi-Party Liaison Committee. The IEC informed me of their considerations and their capacities. Amongst other things they expressed a preference for a Wednesday not close to a public holiday, and before the educational holidays and the onset of deep winter.

For the sake of good governance and in the spirit of co-operation, I consulted last night with the Premiers.

Although government had previously indicated that it would have preferred a date in the second half of May, consideration of the IEC's arguments, relating to its capacity and obligations, convinced me that it would be safer to hold the elections a week later.

With all this in mind, it is my intention to proclaim the Second of June 1999 as the date of South Africa's second democratic elections.

At present, neither I nor the Premiers can officially proclaim the election date until after 30 April. We believe that it is in the interest of everyone that this date should be brought forward; and this will require a constitutional amendment. In this regard I am informed that discussions will be initiated amongst all parties to ensure that a constitutional amendment is effected which will allow the President to proclaim the date of the national election before then.

Ladies and gentlemen;

We were privileged yesterday by the presence in the public gallery of a parliamentary delegation from the European Union. It reminds us that we have friends everywhere. Next week we will be visiting the Netherlands and four Nordic countries, to express our gratitude for the solidarity we experienced from these peoples and governments, and to expand the rapidly growing ties between our countries.

Before the end of this government we will also be visiting Russia and China as part of the partnership we are busy creating across all countries and continents.

We know that in all these countries, as we find wherever we go, we will encounter recognition of the feats we have achieved as a nation.

And so, even in the closing months of this government, we continue in every sphere with the task of government, to build upon what we have been able to achieve thanks to the freedom that was won by a collective effort of our people, our continent and the whole international community.

Madame Speaker;

The voices of our veterans reminded us once more that we should never take our freedom for granted.

They are handing the baton to the next generation, to strive for change that is still faster and reaches still more of our people than could be achieved in the first years of our freedom

The call, before all else, is to strengthen and protect the democracy that makes change for the better possible, and that means ensuring the greatest possible participation in the coming elections.

We repeat our call to all South Africans and especially the youth.

If you have not yet registered, do so this Friday or Saturday or Sunday so that you can vote.

A successful election in which supporters of all parties participate, will make us a more united nation.

In so doing, it will strengthen us to make a reality of our hopes for a better life for all.

I thank you for the opportunity to make these brief remarks as part of the debate on the government's budget.

Source: South African Government Information Website