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Source: The Presidency
Title: T Mbeki: SACC conference
ADDRESS OF THE PRESIDENT OF SOUTH AFRICA, THABO MBEKI, AT THE
TRIENNIAL CONFERENCE OF THE SOUTH AFRICAN COUNCIL OF CHURCHES,
Cedar Park Hotel, Johannesburg, 12 July 2004
President of the SACC, Professor Russel Botman
Vice-President of the SACC, Rev. Dianne Vorster
General-Secretary, Dr. Molefe Tsele
Distinguished Delegates and Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen
I would like to thank you most sincerely for affording me the
opportunity to address this important gathering of our religious
leaders and to convey the best wishes of our Government to this
important Triennial Conference of the South African Council of
I would also like to extend a special word of welcome to the
distinguished leaders who have come from outside our borders. I
trust that your presence here will enrich the deliberations around
the many challenges that we face as South Africans, as the
important echelon of our leadership that is gathered here examines
programmes aimed at transforming our country and continent into a
better place for all our peoples.
It is now 10 years since we won the democratic victory to which the
SACC made an enormous contribution. The 10th Anniversary
celebrations that took place in our country two-and-half-months
ago, and which will continue during this first year of our Second
Decade of Liberation, communicated the message that the masses of
our people fully understand and appreciate the fundamental
importance of the victory of 1994 to their hopes and aspirations to
achieve the goal of a better life for themselves.
These are the same masses who engaged in struggle to defeat the
apartheid system, ready and willing to sacrifice their lives if
need be, to rid our country of the yoke of white minority
domination. They did this because they wanted to translate into
reality the vision that the people shall govern.
They confronted the brutal might of the apartheid regime because
they wanted to use the opportunity that would be created by the
victory of which they were certain, to address the pervasive and
deeply-entrenched legacy of poverty and underdevelopment arising
from 350 years of colonialism and apartheid, which they knew we
They were ready to sacrifice their lives because they foresaw the
day when it would be possible for us to say that we have eradicated
the extremely painful and destructive legacy of racism and sexism
that was a fundamental expression of the system of white minority
rule and exploitation.
The people looked forward to a time when freedom would have brought
them safety and security after many centuries of state violence and
exposure to the most vile abuse at the hands of criminals spawned
by the oppressive system, from whose predatory activities white
South Africa had protected itself by all possible means, and to
which the majority had no access.
They yearned for the re-emergence of a social morality informed by
our traditional values of ubuntu, to address the challenge of moral
regeneration. This was and is occasioned by the fact that
illegitimate rule, the perpetuation of an anti-human social order,
and the elevation of the acquisition of money and wealth into the
highest of the social values towards which our people should
aspire, have combined to produce the social ills of corruption and
crime towards whose eradication we are all committed.
The masses of our people also wanted to establish relations of
peace, friendship, solidarity and mutually beneficial cooperation
between our country and the rest of Africa and the world, to
reverse an historical reality as a result of which our country had
become a world pariah, and the fountainhead of racism, aggression,
destabilisation and war.
The SACC was an integral part of these masses. Because it shared
the aspirations we have mentioned with the rest of our people, it
placed itself among them and in their vanguard, to secure the
victory whose 10th anniversary we have just celebrated.
I would like to believe that the SACC remains an integral part of
these masses, continuing to be inspired by the determination to
realise the dream it shared with them as they confronted and
defeated the apartheid regime.
The question must therefore arise as to what this Council should do
with regard to the task of ensuring that the dreams of the people
are realised as speedily as possible. It is perhaps right that, in
any case, the fact of the 10th anniversary of our liberation should
suggest to us that this Triennial Conference has a duty to revisit
this question, even if the Council had answered it before.
Necessarily, the answer to the question must be in two parts. The
first has to do with the role the Council of Churches will have
defined for itself within the context of a democratic South
I mention this because it is clear that it has become fashionable
among some in our society, including some who claim to have
contributed to the democratic victory, to position themselves as
what are called watchdogs or advocacy groups.
Of course this is perfectly legitimate and may very well be a
necessary task in ensuring that the democratic victory does not
lose its way and betray the hopes of the millions who fought for
the liberty we all enjoy.
But having been a bold agent for progressive change, the Council of
Churches would, I presume, seek to answer the question whether it
should continue to act as an agent for progressive change in the
affirmative. I must presume that you will find against any
suggestion that the Council should on the contrary, in the main
satisfy itself with the task of observing, analysing and assessing
the actions of those who continue to act as agents of change,
content merely to criticise or approve what others are striving to
As an aside, I must say that clearly the temptation to assume this
role is enhanced by the seeming availability of foreign funding for
those who would be watchdogs.
I would like to believe that the Council of Churches would decide,
and indeed has decided, that its principal task is to continue to
play its part among the forces in our country that have defined
themselves as actors for the progressive reconstruction and
development of our country. Behind the Council are the millions of
South Africans who belong to the affiliated member churches of the
These are the same millions who, only two-and-half months ago voted
us into government. I can say this without fear of contradiction
that these masses also see themselves as part of the great army of
change that must work together to overcome the legacy of our racist
I am certain that because of this, they fully understood what we
meant when we spoke about a people's contract to create jobs and
fight poverty. I am equally certain that because of this, they have
understood what we meant when we put forward the concepts
traditional to African social practice of letsema and
Having defined itself as one of the actors for the progressive
reconstruction and development of our country, the Council of
Churches would then have to answer the question of what it has to
do practically to contribute to this outcome.
In this regard, I must express my sincere appreciation for the
processes we have together established, which allow for regular
consultation between our government and our religious leaders.
Undoubtedly we will have to work at the task of ensuring that these
processes work better than they have in the past, but at least we
do have a starting point.
The Christian Church maintains daily contact with the millions of
our people. It is daily exposed to all the challenges that face us
as a people and a country. It has the social infrastructure that
not only reaches the people, but also has the possibility to make
an impact on the lives of these masses, consistent with the popular
aspirations the Council of Churches shared with the people as they
engaged in struggle for freedom.
I therefore remain convinced that the Christian Church, like all
the other faiths in our country, has the possibility to make a
critical contribution to the achievement of the goals of national
reconstruction and development.
I am certain that the people's contract to create jobs and fight
poverty will be enormously weakened if it does not include within
it the Christian Church and the other faiths, pursuing the goals
that we have set ourselves as a people.
This brings me to the consideration of the second part of the
possible answer to the question as to what this Council should do
with regard to the task of ensuring that the dreams of the people
are realised as speedily as possible.
This has to do with answering the question of what constitutes the
main agenda of our process of reconstruction and development. As we
all know, many in our country give varied answers to this question.
These varied responses to this question tell us that our different
experiences and expectations as a people dictate that indeed, we
will provide different answers informed by our different
Needless to say, the national response to this question - what
constitutes the main agenda of our process of reconstruction and
development - will determine what we do as a country, what we will
do with the human, spiritual and material resources we are able to
Undoubtedly the agenda before the Triennial Conference and the
resolutions you will adopt, will have been and will be informed by
your determination as the Council of Churches and its membership of
what constitutes the national agenda.
If I may, I would like to refer to comments I made nine years ago
in 1995 in a public lecture at the University of Port Elizabeth,
under the title - "Is there a national agenda - and who sets
I asked then, as I would like to ask our religious leaders gathered
here - "Is there a national agenda around which the whole country
"If there is, the question arises: Who has set that agenda? If
there is not, the question remains to be answered, who shall set
I said then that, "I am told that the Chinese have a proverb which
says that the felling of one tree makes more noise than the growth
of an entire forest...
"(But) all around us a great forest of millions of healthy trees is
growing quietly but steadily. We owe that process of the renewal of
our country to the efforts of millions of our people, including you
who are gathered here.
"But if we were not participants in this historic process of the
birth of a nation which the nations of the world support and watch
with great interest and optimism, we might be tempted to believe
that all that was happening was that a single tree was being
felled, so intense is the absence of focus on all these things that
make for the happy and prosperous South Africa for which our people
"To respond to the effort to set a national agenda focused on the
single tree, (which therefore projects only the negative), all of
us as ordinary citizens of our country have an obligation to join
together to nurture the forest of the positive construction and
development of our country.
"It must be a fundamental element of the definition of our
democracy that the people shall govern! Let us join our legislators
in our millions and together with them, (whom we elected to be our
public representatives), say loudly: This is the national agenda,
which we, the people, have set.
"Let us, in a real and meaningful way, take our destiny into our
By this means, I am appealing to our leadership gathered at this
Triennial Conference of an outstanding combatant for our
liberation, the SACC, to participate in the critical process of
setting the national agenda and thus help all of us as a people, in
a real and meaningful way, to take our destiny into our own
As Government we believe that we have a clear understanding of what
the national agenda is and are determined to do everything possible
to pursue it, working together with the people and all their
representative formations in the people's contract we have spoken
At the centre of that agenda stands the struggle against poverty
and underdevelopment. In this regard, we are determined to address
the challenge of job creation, understanding that this problem
cannot be addressed effectively and in a sustained manner by
dependence on social security grants, among which is the much
vaunted basic income grant.
In this regard, we have insisted and will continue to insist that
the idea that the government has access to inexhaustible amounts of
money, or an open ended possibility to borrow money or spend money
it does not have, is false, amounting to no more than an
At the same time, painful though this may be, we must also accept
that it will take much more than one decade of freedom to wipe out
the problems of poverty and underdevelopment that have accumulated
The cold reality is that it is impossible simultaneously and in a
short time to find all the means we need to realise the objective
of a better life for all. To argue otherwise would be nothing but
Nevertheless, whatever the limitations, I will make this commitment
to you and to our people that we will sustain the progress we have
made in the first decade of our freedom, which has meant more, but
not enough jobs, houses, clean water, better nutrition, free basic
services, free medical care, an improved and improving social
security net, better access to educational opportunities, and so
Secondly, I will also make the commitment to you and to our people
that we will continue to work to ensure that our economy grows and
expands, to produce the material means without which it is
impossible to achieve the goal of a better life for all.
In this context, we will also work to ensure that wealth in our
country is shared more equitably, to raise the standard of living
and the quality of life of the poor, and gradually close the
enormous disparity in income and wealth, which continues to
characterise our society.
I have no doubt that we will make visible progress with regard to
both these objectives.
Necessarily, and thirdly, the improvement in the quality of life of
our people to which we have referred, must include better safety
and security for all, the transformation of the socio-economic
conditions that result in the poor preying on one another in many
violent crimes against one another, the all-round and sustained
improvement of the health of our people, attending to all the
causes of morbidity and death that afflict our people, and the
improvement of the overall environment in which the people have to
Once again, I have no doubt that we will make visible progress with
regard to all these objectives.
Further to this, and fourth, I am certain that our country will
continue to occupy its place among the global pace setters with
regard to the important challenge to create a non-racial and
As Government we are convinced that we cannot claim to be making
advances in the continuing struggle for reconstruction and
development if we do not achieve significant and continuous
progress to eradicate the racial divisions we still experience and
secure the emancipation of the women of our country.
Related to this, and as the fifth point on national agenda, is the
great importance we attach and will continue to attach to the issue
of the national cohesion, which we must also achieve by respecting
and promoting all our cultures and languages even as we continue to
work for the development and entrenchment of a common patriotism
and shared pride in our country and its diverse population.
The unity shown by our people as we celebrated our 10th Anniversary
of liberation and rejoiced at the decision of FIFA to allow us to
host the 2010 Soccer World Cup gave us an indication of how far we
have moved away from the long years when we were a divided society,
incapable of uniting around a common cause.
We are an African country and as a Government are privileged to
have the opportunity to play a role in the historic process of the
renaissance of our continent and Africans both in Africa and the
Diaspora, as the sixth point in our national agenda.
In this regard, we have a responsibility to contribute to the
solution of the problems facing the peoples of the Democratic
Republic of Congo, Burundi, Sudan and the Cote d'Ivoire, which
continue to harbour the potential to claim many African
Similarly, we must, with the greatest determination work to promote
the agendas set by the African Union and its socio-economic
development programme, NEPAD. This will require that we take new
decisions about the additional human and material resources we need
to dedicate to this purpose.
And this I can say, that we are convinced that Africa, our
continent, and we as Africans, have never had a better time to take
charge of our destiny, however limited our resources. We will do
everything we can to seize this moment, pursuing an agenda we have
set ourselves as Africans, and not another set by others who might
have stronger voices than we.
The last point on the national agenda we must mention is the
mobilisation of our people to sustain their role as their own
liberators, which they played as we fought for our liberation from
racist oppression and exploitation.
The task of these masses today is to join the people's contract for
a better life for all, inspired by the confidence that the fact
that they succeeded to defeat the brutal system of apartheid, means
that there is nothing that will stop them from achieving the goal
of the full restoration of their dignity as Africans and human
I am confident that, true to its own historic traditions, the SACC
will march side by side with these masses, once more to help
produce a humane outcome that others will again describe as a
At the same time I would like to believe that the Conference will
identify itself with the national agenda I have sought to explain,
and therefore take the necessary decisions relating to what the
Council of Churches and its affiliated churches will do to ensure
the successful pursuit of that national agenda.
I am privileged and honoured to wish the Triennial Conference of
the SACC success.
Enquiries: Bheki Khumalo
Tel: (012) 300 5437
Cell: 083 256 9133
Issued by: The Presidency
12 July 2004