Mbeki: Response to Debate on State of the Nation Address (18/02/2003)

18th February 2003

Date: 18/02/2003
Source: The Presidency
Title: Mbeki: Response to Debate on State of the Nation Address


Madame Speaker,
Honourable Members:

First of all I would like to thank the Honourable Members for their contributions during this Debate. We have noted the constructive suggestions made by some of the Members and will consider them.

For example, I agree with the Honourable Wilma Newhoudt-Deuchen about the important matters she raised with regard to the challenges around the issue of disability.

We will intensify our focus on this issue throughout this African Decade of Disabled People, and beyond. Surely, our Government will have to give the necessary support to the Deaf Federation of South Africa in its bid to host the important Fifteenth World Congress of the World Federation of the Deaf in 2007.

We will also follow up on the suggestions made by the Honourable Nkosinathi Mthethwa on the matter of youth development. I would like to assure him that within the next four weeks, the Government would consider two important documents relating to our youth.

One of these will deal with the long-outstanding policy framework for the establishment of a National Youth Service. The other, prepared by the National Youth Commission and the Umsobomvu Fund, will cover a comprehensive programme of action for youth development and empowerment.

We have already intervened with the Government of Zimbabwe to deal with the issue of property owned by South Africans. The matter of the conclusion of a bilateral agreement with Zimbabwe on the protection of investment in both countries has been discussed and is under consideration.

The Honourable Johnny de Lange also made an important contribution to the discussion that must take place about the crucial matter of the transformation of the judiciary. The Government will carefully consider the views he expressed.

The Honourable Derek Hanekom made the critical point that all of us, both citizens and government, "need creative thinking" with regard to the challenge of employment creation and the eradication of poverty. I trust that all of us will respond to this and "think outside the box", to use a common expression.

I would also like to thank the Honourable Kader Asmal for drawing the attention of the House and the country to the fact that this month marks the 25th anniversary of the passing away of a great African patriot, Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe. I join him in the tribute he made to this son of our people. Hopefully our National Parliament will take time to salute him on the anniversary of his death, 27 February, as we all should.

Clearly we will have to follow up on the important remarks made by the Honourable Members Musa Zondi and Suzanne Vos, which bear on the important matter of the responsibilities of the citizen.

The Honourable Nqaba Ngcobo will be pleased to know that to implement our Biotechnology Strategy, only this month government opened three regional biotechnology innovation centres in the Western Cape, Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal, focusing on such areas as human health, industrial biotechnology, food security and agricultural production.

I was pleased that the Honourable Baleka Mbete, the Deputy Speaker, drew our attention to the important matter of Freedom Park. I trust that the Honourable Members will take up her suggestion to sensitise our people about this national monument.

Other Honourable Members made equally important proposals, which the Government will consider carefully.

Yesterday, the Honourable Dr Mangosuthu Buthelezi made an appeal for "people of goodwill and representatives of our people, irrespective of political divisions or allegiances (to come together)" to address various matters of concern that he had raised.

Clearly, all reasonable people will agree with this appeal. As this House knows, the national government includes Ministers and Deputy Ministers drawn from four political organisations. We did this precisely to bring together the people to whom Dr Buthelezi referred, together to act on matters of concern to our people as a whole.

The Honourable Dr Buthelezi also mentioned the need for us to move away from the mutual suspicions of the past. I am certain that this outcome can only be achieved in practice, in the process of working together in the manner suggested by the Honourable Dr Buthelezi.

However, we must also recognise the fact that as we sit in this House we represent different parties and different schools of ideological and political thought. Out of this comes different responses to the challenges facing our country. It may very well be that, in the main, all of us agree on the identification of many of our national problems.

But as the Debate demonstrated, we have different solutions to these problems, reflecting our different ideological and political positions. There is nothing either wrong or unacceptable about this.

Our democratic system gives the necessary space for all these views to be expressed and pursued. It also gives the possibility to all political formations to win the support of the people and thus form the government of our country.

I must assume from this that despite the commendable call of the Honourable Dr Buthelezi for us to come together irrespective of political divisions, none of the parties represented here, including the IFP, will relax their efforts to win power.

The Honourable Tony Leon, Leader of the Official Opposition, stated this matter frankly when he said that the Democratic Party and the IFP, which he described as "the real opposition", had formed a partnership jointly to exercise power "locally and provincially in KwaZulu-Natal", as he put it.

He promised the House that this partnership "must and will build" on this foundation, obviously to capture power both beyond the province of KwaZulu-Natal, and at the national level. This is perfectly natural and normal political behaviour. It has nothing to do with a gathering of people of goodwill, of which the Honourable Dr Buthelezi spoke.

I make these comments to say that the consolidation of our democracy and the achievement of the goal of reconstruction and development do not require that we should try to force ourselves into a false consensus. The Government will not be persuaded to adopt policies it believes are wrong, merely to please some, by creating the space for the implementation of policies that have failed to win the support of the people.

Some of the Honourable Members spoke eloquently to advance a particular ideological approach to our economic development. Accordingly, they urged privatisation, deregulation, labour market flexibility, tax reduction, the abolition of foreign exchange control, and the abandonment of the developmental role of the state, giving it what was described as an "indicative role", on the basis that "the state is the problem."

We do not agree and will not support the proposition that informs this approach - that we should rely solely and exclusively on the market to solve the problems facing our people. We are not market fundamentalists and will obviously not seek to build a national consensus on the basis of the ideology and practice of market fundamentalism.

Very regularly in our country, we see different interpretations of what is happening in our society based on the variety of our ideological and political positions. Thus every statistic becomes a matter of ideological and political debate, depending on where we stand in the political spectrum. Some of us delight in falsely presenting our country as being the worst in the world with regard to the most negative anti-social activities.

During the Debate, the assertion was repeated boldly, "there is much greater poverty today than there was in 1994" and that "life is no better now than it was in 1994. For many people, in spite of political freedom, life is actually worse."

Neither of these statements is true. This House would serve the country well, if it allowed those who insist on these false conclusions to present to the House and the country, such information as they may have, to substantiate these claims.

In this regard, all of us will have to pay attention to the remarks made by the Chief Whip of the Majority Party, the Honourable Nkosinathi Nhleko.

During the Debate, the view was also advanced that the policies we are implementing to build a non-racial South Africa are resulting in the sustenance of what used to be called "white fears" and a feeling of marginalisation, especially among the Afrikaners. In this regard reference was made to such issues as language, culture, affirmative action, black economic empowerment and Zimbabwe.

The Government is aware of its responsibilities to all the people of our country. It works within the framework set by our Constitution, which includes correcting the racial imbalances we inherited. In carrying out this work, we strive for the closest cooperation possible with all our people, including their organisations.

We will persist in this work, remaining sensitive to the feelings, aspirations and hopes of all our people, and the injunction that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white. Accordingly, we agree fully with the late Prof Piet Cillie, as cited by the Honourable Renier Schoeman, when he said, "true patriotism is (love for) a country which encompasses the dreams of all its citizens."

We are at all times ready closely to examine and change any and all parts of the work of the government that might not encompass, in a balanced and inclusive manner, the dreams of all our citizens. The Government must and will keep its doors open to all South Africans who wish to express concern that our policies do not encompass the dreams of all our citizens, in a balanced and inclusive manner.

At the same time I would like to make the point that we have a common responsibility not to frighten any of our people by presenting them with a false apocalypse. The task to reassure all our people about their future as South Africans, equal to any other South African, is a common responsibility that belongs to all of us. Without saying that anyone of us has done this, I would like to urge that none of us should go around scaring people, and then urge the President to reassure those whom we have frightened.

I am certain that if more of us spoke out as the Honourable Dirk Bakker did earlier today, we would have fewer people who entertain fears about their future as South Africans.

Quite incorrectly, some Honourable Members beat loud drums about some matters they said were not addressed in the State of the Nation Address. Frankly, this was puzzling. In this regard, I would like to thank the Honourable Dr Stanley Mogoba for helping to unravel this mystery.

The Honourable Members will remember his remark that the Address was "above our heads and that of the nation". He went on to say that on his part, he understood it better "when one reads and re-reads the speech". Clearly some among us did not do what he did, merely to read the Address. There was no attempt whatsoever to speak above the heads of the Honourable Members and the nation.

However, we must take the matter to heart that we should not speak in a manner that results in this unintended consequence. At the same time, I assume that it is the responsibility of all Honourable Members to seek to understand the written documents tabled in this House, whoever tables them, and thus obviate unnecessary debate driven by ignorance and prejudice.

I would like to thank various members of the Government, such as the Honourable Ministers Sankie Mthembi-Mahanyele, Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, Kader Asmal and Penuell Maduna, who provided details of the government programmes we mentioned, with which the Honourable Members should be familiar, about which the charge was made that we had not adequately addressed them.

However, as with other matters in the past, I suspect that the beating of the drums reflected differences with the policies and programmes of the government rather than an economy of words on our part.

With regard to the matter of Iraq, which the Honourable Members Aziz Pahad and Pallo Jordan have addressed extensively, a most unfortunate suggestion has also been made that we should determine our positions on the basis of venal considerations that have nothing to do with principle. It was specifically suggested that with regard to the United States, our behaviour should be governed by such economic benefits as derive from AGOA.

Our Government maintains very good relations with the Government of the United States. At all levels, the US administration has interacted with us in an open, cooperative, and supportive manner. At all times, it has respected our right to hold our own views on any matter. When we have differed on any issue, there has never been any suggestion that it would starve us to force us to submit to its views.

On the matter of Iraq, we are entirely at one with the US and the UN that Iraq should be free of weapons of mass destruction. We welcomed and supported the decision of the Government of the United States to refer this matter to the UN Security Council, to ensure its peaceful and multilateral resolution. We have done and will do what we can to contribute to the achievement of this outcome. Last Saturday our people, together will millions across the globe, demonstrated in our streets to express their support for these results.

It is strange that some among us present all this as being anti-American. We have neither the desire nor the intention to become enemies of the United States. I think that it is also a most unfortunate representation of the US government, that some should peddle the suggestion that this administration is standing by to inflict harm on our people, if we do not say ja baas! - allegedly in the national interest!

Some in this House have sought to belittle the importance of the Iraq question, falsely claiming that a peaceful, multilateral resolution of this issue constitutes "closing ranks around Saddam Hussein" and that, in any case, Iraq is far from our country. At the same time, some of these very same Honourable Members have made bold to say "we must make it our responsibility to promote and, if necessary, force democracy and freedom in our own region..."

I would like to take this opportunity to assure our neighbours and the peoples of the rest of Africa that the government we lead has no great power pretensions. We claim no right to impose our will on any independent country.

We will not force anything on anybody but will act within the context of our international agreements approved by this Parliament, which oblige us to respect the obligations that fall on us in the context of our bilateral relations, SADC, the African Union, the Non-Aligned Movement, the Commonwealth and the United Nations. Whatever we may think of ourselves, none of these give us the unilateral right to force anything on any other independent country.

Madame Speaker,

Let me restate some positions that we have presented to the House and the nation, last week and earlier.

We have the necessary policies and programmes further to deepen the process of the reconstruction and development of our country.

We have the resources to accelerate this process.

Improved capacity does exist within the public service to achieve this objective.

We have the necessary basic information to determine relatively precisely what needs to be done.

Having carefully considered all these matters, the Government has determined that our central task is to respond successfully to the challenge of the effective implementation of our policies and programmes.

This constitutes the central focus of the work of government during this final year of the First Decade of Liberation. Nothing, whatsoever, will divert us from this goal.

With regard to this task and commitment, I would like to draw the attention of the Honourable Members to one particular issue that we raised in the State of the Nation Address. Let me repeat what I said then.

"With regard to the accomplishment of the task of ensuring a better life for all, we must make the observation that the government is perfectly conscious of the fact that there are many in our society who are unable to benefit directly from whatever our economy is able to offer. Obviously, this includes those on pension and the very young.

"But it also includes people who are unskilled and those with low levels of education in general. This reflects the structural fault in our economy and society as a result of which we have a dual economy and society. The one is modern and relatively well developed. The other is characterised by underdevelopment and an entrenched crisis of poverty.

"We have to respond to the needs of the fellow South Africans trapped in the latter society, in a focussed and dedicated manner, to extricate them from their condition. The expansion in social provision must reach this sector of our society, to relieve the poverty and suffering afflicting these masses of our people.

"As we will indicate later, other government interventions will also focus on this sector in a particular way. Critically, some of these interventions must aim at ensuring that as many as possible of those who fall within this category move out of the trap within which they are caught.

"Accordingly, the government must act to ensure that we reduce the number of people dependent on social welfare, increasing the numbers that rely for their livelihood on normal participation in the economy. This is also especially relevant to the accomplishment of the goal of enhancing the dignity of every South African."

Some Honourable Members have commented on this extremely important matter that relates to a large section of our population that was once callously described as the surplus people.

These valued South Africans are concentrated in the urban and rural development nodes identified in our Urban Renewal and Rural Development Programmes, and other areas of our country.

There are many negative features that characterise this section of our population.

It suffers from a high level of unemployment.

Many among its ranks are uneducated and unskilled.

It suffers from widespread and entrenched poverty.

It is therefore victim to the entire spectrum of diseases of poverty and underdevelopment, including those associated with immune deficiency.

It is also subject to the social ills associated with poverty and human despair, such as particular crimes, including murder, the abuse of women and children, and other crimes against the person, as well as alcohol and drug abuse.

It is in these areas that we find the concentrated expression of the challenges we face with regard to the most vulnerable in our society, the children, the youth, women, the elderly and people with disabilities.

In the end, everything we said in the State of the Nation Address, and everything that some of the Honourable Members stated during the Debate, about pushing back the frontiers of poverty, and expanding access to a better life for all, and the complex of social, economic and administrative initiatives we spoke of, must translate into changing the lives of those of our people who were previously described as the surplus people.

The Government is convinced that because of what we have achieved through focussed and painstaking work over the past few years, we are now able and have the responsibility especially to attend to the very specific needs of those that the old society condemned to a hopeless life at the very periphery of misery.

As we indicated in the State of the Nation Address, all departments and spheres of government will cooperate to meet this and other challenges on a multi-sector and integrated basis.

Once more, the discharge of this historic national responsibility demands that all our people should unite in action in the spirit of letsema, vuk'uzenzele and the new patriotism to realise what can and must be achieved to give hope to those who despair.

Hopefully, the people of goodwill about whom the Honourable Dr Buthelezi spoke will become part of this army of architects, whose reward will be the material and spiritual liberation of the wretched of the earth.

Later this month, the Honourable Sankie Mthembi-Mahanyele will relinquish both her parliamentary seat and her place in Government, to take up her duties at the ANC Headquarters. I would like to take this opportunity to thank her most sincerely for the outstanding work she has done as Minister of Housing. We will miss her contributions as a member of the Cabinet and wish her success in her new task.

Madame Speaker,

Before this week closes, a number of distinguished South Africans will travel to Iraq. These are Mr Deon Smit, Colonel Ben Steyn, Dr Phillip Coleman, Mr Daan van Beek, Mr Super Moloi, Mr Peter Goosen and Mr Tom Markram.

I thank them most sincerely for agreeing to undertake this journey. Between them they will be able to address all matters that relate to nuclear, chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction, missile systems, non-proliferation and disarmament, affecting all weapons of mass destruction.

They have worked with the UN Conference on Disarmament and the international bodies responsible for the enforcement of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Chemical and Biological Weapons Conventions.

As they leave our shores, we wish them God-speed, confident that they will contribute everything they can to help Iraq fully to respond proactively to the obligations imposed by the UN Security Council Resolution 1441.

They will travel to Baghdad as representatives of the prayers for world peace of the peoples of Africa, the Non-Aligned Movement, the rest of the world, as well as ourselves.

Hopefully, what they will do, freely to share their invaluable knowledge and experience, to facilitate the work both of the UN weapons inspectors and the Government of Iraq, will bring us back from the brink of war, while helping to ensure that Iraq is truly free of weapons of mass destruction.

I am certain that they undertake their journey with the very best wishes and support of this House, of all South Africans of goodwill, and all representatives of our people, irrespective of our political divisions and allegiances.

Once more, I wish our National Parliament success as it commences its work during this important year in the peaceful evolution of our country.

Thank you, Madame Speaker and Honourable Members.

Issued by The Presidency
18 February 2003