OPENING ADDRESS BY PRESIDENT NELSON MANDELA TO THE THIRD SESSION OF PARLIAMENT, CAPE TOWN, 9 FEBRUARY 1996
Honourable President and Deputy President of the Senate;
Honourable Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly;
Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson of the Constitutional Assembly;
Deputy Presidents, Minister and Deputy Minister;
President of the Constitutional Court;
Leaders of our Security Services;
Directors-General and leaders of the public service;
Honourable Members of Parliament;
Ladies and gentlemen;
Today in the streets of Johannesburg, the New Patriotism of our new democracy once again asserts itself as citizens of that city express their appreciation for the feat of our soccer team in the African Nations Cup. This is bound to replay itself in other cities, adding to the crowning glory of our rugby world champions.
Our sports-persons are performing beyond the nation's wildest expectations. On and off the field, they are uniting our nation like never before, by their determination to do the best for their country.
Such is the true character of South Africans. We do possess the inner strength to achieve excellence. We have the will to persevere against all odds.
We enter 1996, as Cabinet and the rest of the Executive, as parliamentarians, as workers and managers, as professionals, traditional leaders, security forces, students and communities in general, faced with the challenge of bringing these positive qualities to beat on every thing we do: to make South Africa a winning nation.
We must bring out the best in all of us; and, like our sports-persons, perform better everywhere:
to expand the economy and create jobs;
to improve the quality of life for all;
to expand the frontiers of freedom; and
to ensure comprehensive security for all citizens.
These are the critical challenges that we face within and outside these hallowed chambers.
In October this year, we shall pass the half-way mark of the present legislature and its executive. The nation and the world will judge us not on whether we mean to do good; but, above all, on whether we have mobilised south Africans to work together to improve their quality of life.
Indeed, Madame Speaker, we can say with confidence that, steadily but surely, the great majority of South Africans do feel that things are improving for the better. We are on our way South Africa is on its way to a better future.
Life has started to have real meaning for the hundreds of thousands who now have access to clean and safe drinking water. The benefits of democracy have a tangible impact for the 400000 homes which have been supplied with electricity during the course of last year. To the millions of children who benefit from the school nutrition scheme, free medical care and free and compulsory education, not only has the present become better; there is also great confidence in the future.
This is the case with communities where the clinic-building programme and the district health system are taking root; the workers in Public Works Programmes; the communities who can, at least, feel secure on a piece of land they can call their own; and the families who, for the first time, are benefiting from the farmer support programme and extension of agricultural credit.
At last, millions who had no hope in the future can look ahead with confidence in the full knowledge that they have a government prepared to work together with them to build a better life for all.
We formally start the third session of the democratic parliament with South Africa's economy healthier than in many decades. The rekindling of business confidence and optimism reflect the solid foundation on which the economic upswing is based. The expansion of the manufacturing sector, phenomenal growth in fixed investments and large capital inflows hold out a promise for a durable recovery and the potential for an even better performance.
We enter 1996 with no hesitation about the extent to which democracy has taken root in our society.
The confidence of the population in the democratic process was again shown during the Local Government elections.
At the same time, the institutions charged with safeguarding constitutional freedoms such as the Human Rights commission, the Land Commission, and the Office of the Public Protector have been formed. The Constitutional Court has, in its one year of existence, firmly asserted itself as an independent, impartial and authorita- tive guardian of the Constitution. In brief, South African politics is ascending to the level of normalcy, where civilised standards of political relations will be entrenched, unmediated by antagonistic conflict or administrative interventions.
The progress we have made, across the board, is a result, in great measure, of the intervention of Honourable Members gathered here and the provincial legislators, in setting the parameters and direction of transformation; in your devoted the citizenry.
performance of these elected institutions. Our legislatures are, in the first instance, the custodians of the new system, and, secondly, the bodies through which the programme of reconstruction and development, nation-building and reconciliation, can and should be codified and turned into a living reality.
Yes, South Africa is not only on the right road. We are well on our way to making this the country of our dreams. I take the opportunity to congratulate all South Africans, in the public and private sectors the most prominent in the land as well as the humble member of the community all of whom are striving to add another brick to the edifice of our democracy. We have set out on this road together, and we should together aim for the stars.
If these achievements are something to be proud of, this is because they have laid the foundation to make a real impact on the inequities of the past. For we are only at the beginning of a long journey, a journey we should undertake with expedition, if our con- sciences are not impervious to the cries of desperation of millions. But this is a journey, too, that requires thorough planning and tenacious industry, if we are to remain on course and capable of sustaining our march.
Let me preface the identification of the challenges of the coming year by saying that all of us, all South Africans, are called upon to become builders and healers. But, for all the joy and excitement of creation, to build and to heal are difficult undertakings.
We can neither heal nor build, if such healing and building are perceived as one-way process, with the victims of past injustices forgiving and the beneficiaries merely content in gratitude. Together we must set out to correct the defects of the past.
We can neither heal nor build, if on the one hand, the rich in our society see the poor as hordes of irritants; or if, on the other hand, the poor sit back, expecting charity. All of us must take responsibility for the upliftment of our conditions, prepared to give our best to the benefit of all.
We can neither heal nor build, if we continue to have people in positions of influence and power who, at best, pay lip service to affirmative action, black empowerment and the emancipation of women, or who are, in reality, opposed to these goals; if we have people who continue with blind arrogance to practice racism in the work-places and schools, despite the appeal we made in our very first address to this parliament. We must work together to ensure the equitable distribution of wealth, opportunity and power in our society.
We cannot build or heal our nation, if in both the private and public sectors, in the schools and universities, in the hospi- tals and on the land, in dealing with crime and social dislocation if we continue with business as usual, wallowing in notions of the past. Everywhere and in everything we do, what is now required is boldness in thinking, firmness in resolve and consistency in action.
The message I am trying to convey is that all of us must take the national project of accelerated and fundamental transformation of our country very seriously indeed. The achievement of the objectives of equity, non-racialism and non-sexism constitute the very essence of the new society we seek to build.
In the history of nations, generations have made their mark through their acumen to appreciate critical turning points, and with determination and creativity, to seize the moment. South Africa is well on its way to a new and better life. This we will achieve only if we shed the temptation to proceed casually along th road; only if we fully take the opportunities that beckon.
We must unite in a New Patriotism to achieve the goal of creating a new society.
The potential for economic growth and development are better than in many decades. But let us be brutally frank.
Despite the welcome rate of growth, very few jobs have been created. In fact, against the backdrop of new entrants into the job market, there has been a shrinkage in opportunities. We need a national vision to lift us out of this quagmire.
If we do not act together in the public and private sectors to develop and implement such a national strategic vision, the danger is that even the modest growth we have attained, will peter out in a matter of a few years, as the strain of limited capacity, skills shortage, balance of payments and other constraints start to gather momentum; and as increasing unemployment and accelerating poverty bear down on our society.
To move forward with purpose requires that we extricate the public and private sectors from the current comfort zones, and break through the threshold to achieve a rate of growth sufficient to create jobs, and generate resources for rapid socio-economic programmes to uplift the poor.
For purposes of emphasis, let me identify three important investment challenges and attendant difficult choices that have to be made.
Firstly, we require major investment in infrastructure, including such areas as municipal services, housing and construction and telecommunications in order to create jobs at the same time as we improve services to the citizenry. As we enter these areas in a decisive manner, the question will arise, over and over again, whether we can attain our objective, if the profit motive is the only dynamo of our actions!
Secondly, we need investment and restructuring of manufacturing and other industries such as tourism, agriculture and mining, which are critical for export and foreign exchange earnings. Related to this, for instance, is the challenge whether we can continue with the same structure of our agricultural industry given our capricious climatic conditions!
Thirdly, none of the economic objectives we aspire to can be realised without massive investment in people. I refer here to questions of skills development, adult education, and the overhaul of our entire education system, as well as health and other services, which I will return to later. Indeed, as we struggle to widen the skills base and to absorb more people into the economy, the challenge will continue to face organised labour and the employed in general, including the managers: can we succeed if we premise our actions narrowly on the interests of those who are already economically engaged!
When all is said and done, we return again to the challenge of a New South African patriotism: that at the end of each day everyone of us should afford a smile in his or her face, when we pose to ourselves the question: what have I done today to create jobs and improve my skills and those of others!
As Government, we fully acknowledge the critical role that we need to play in realising the vision of growth and development.
I wish to emphasise that, over the past year, Government has moved to a new level of co-ordination that is unprecedented in the history of our country. It is quite clear to us, that success in achieving the growth and development objectives we have identified requires integration of planning and operations across departments and provinces. Important cross-sectoral meetings and inter-govern- mental forums are being held to elaborate the growth and development strategy and the institutional mechanisms required to drive it.
I should personally make the observation that we are finally succeeding in galvanising Government to give effective leadership to economic growth and development. Within weeks, we should be able to make major announcements on the progress made.
In order to improve the investment climate, our monetary authorities are reviewing, on an on-going basis, the timing and pace of lifting existing exchange controls. For us, it is not a matter of whether, but of when, these controls will be phased out.
It is critical, if we have to promote competitiveness, export and the creation of jobs, that we should have in place the necessary supply-side measures. Already consensus is being reached in NEDLAC about the required incentives that will help boost training, pro- ductivity, work organisation and investment in particular industries and regions. Arguably, the most important measures in this regard pertain to the development of small and medium-sized businesses.
Relevant legislation on these issues, as well as the critical question of competitive practices in the economy, should come before parliament during the course of this session.
I am convinced that the various role-players in the economy have long passed questioning the need or otherwise for such competitive practices, and the long-term benefits this will bring to the economy, including big and small companies. I hope, too, that legislation on employment equity and standards will be passed in this session, with the support of all relevant stake-holders.
This should also be the case with the restructuring of public assets, in order to use them to accelerate growth and development, attune them with modern levels of technology, reorganise them to expand services to all citizens, and reshape them in line with the imperatives of internal democracy.
It was to be expected, that such a massive undertaking should generate much debate among the public and the working class, in particular. What is clear, though, is that there was a breakdown of communication, which precipitated unnecessary acrimony on an issue that should enjoy the support of all interested parties. I am happy that the National Framework Agreement, negotiated between Government and the Trade Unions, was adopted by Cabinet two days ago.
Therefore, the government's relationship with labour, from the level of the executive as a whole, to the departments and the management of public enterprises, must be set on a viable footing to ensure co-operative rather than confrontational interaction. We are confident that the restructuring programme will be carried out with due speed - and carried out in a manner that involves and benefits all stake-holders.
Madame Speaker and Honourable Members;
It is the firm view of the Government of National Unity that the growth and development strategy should be pursued in an integrated manner. We do not subscribe to the notion that growth on its own can rectify the backlogs of apartheid in a mysterious trickle-down fashion. In any case, in our skewed social structure, there cannot be growth without development.
areas of development that protect and improve our human resources.
Four important areas identify themselves for special mention.
The first area is education. On this the 20th anniversary of the Students' Uprising and the OAU-declared Year of Education in Africa, we face the stark reality that South Africa lags behind many African countries in so far as literacy and other human development indicators are concerned.
We owe it to that corps of brave young people who rose up against the apartheid system to institute further measures this year, decisively to move towards a non-racial, democratic and equitable education system. If anything, the Matric results last year, and the reality of children, in the Northern Province and elsewhere, whose classes have to scatter in disarray at the first signs of rain, are a stark reminder of how far we still are from that goal.
Clearly, rectifying these imbalances will require redistribution of the limited resources among races and Provinces. It will also require even greater commitment to teach and to learn from teachers and students alike. And I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate them as well as the parents for the stability that has set in, in our institutions of learning.
Two days ago, Cabinet adopted the White Paper on education. The centre-piece of such restructuring should be the establishment of a quality-driven public school system available to all South African children. Among other things that should drive this, is democratic governance involving parents, teachers and students at secondary level, a curriculum and career-guidance scheme that are more appropriate to the needs of the country, and community involvement. Adult Basic Education and Early
At university and technikon levels, it is necessary that the debate on transformation starts in earnest in an organised manner, so that policy positions can emerge to guide these autonomous institutions.
As one measure of our commitment to tackle the backlogs in the building of schools, R1-billion has been allocated for this purpose. A further R300-million has been set aside for a student financing support scheme for universities and technikons.
The matter of retrenchment of teachers has once again arisen, though in a sensational and unfortunate manner. Today, I once more wish to reassure teachers that this government is committed to re-deploy rather than retrench teachers. Any other approach would not make sense, given the needs in many parts of the country. This process itself will be the subject of extensive consultation, and only in extreme cases, will the possibility of retrenchment be considered.
I hope that this year will see co-operation among all parties in these chambers to facilitate educational reform. Pronouncements about economic growth sound hollow, if they are followed up by attempts to block, by hook or by crook, legislation meant to equip children with the required skills. Declarations of loyalty to democracy can only be but mere words, if in actual practice, people are seen to defend islands of white privilege.
The second important area is health delivery. Many steps have been taken to introduce a new health policy based, principally, on greatly expanding the primary health care system. The clinic-build- ing programme often seems insignificant by the standards of those who have resources in abundance. But, in the rural areas and sprawling urban settlements, this is a matter, literally, of life and death. It is therefore of great significance that we have moved from the planning stages to actual implementation.
During the course of last year, many ugly incidents took place which brought to the fore the terrible conditions under which health workers operate. Let me take this opportunity to pay tribute to them, for their selfless service to communities. While we strongly disapprove of some of these incidents, we fully appreciate their plight. Discussions are at an advanced stage to formulate a new grading system and avail incentives, especially in rural areas. Like with all other professions, we value very highly the services of doctors and other health workers; and we shall do our best to ensure their security.
I should once more emphasise the need for a massive education campaign on the AIDS epidemic, and commend the relevant ministries for the work they are doing in this regard. We dare remind our- selves, that all the objectives we outline here, will not be pos- sible to attain, if the AIDS epidemic is not brought under control.
policy and implementation. It is a matter of common knowledge - painfully common to those without housing - that many constraints have bedevilled the proper implementation of this programme. But the staying power of this democratic government is its preparedness to acknowledge weaknesses and strive to rectify them. Such is the quality of the minister and staff, that they have critically and openly examined these problems, and identified corrective measures.
What is clear from their decisions, is that we need, not one, but many integrated campaigns to deal with the housing problem. These include:
greater commitment on the part of financial institutions to allocate resources to poor areas; and
firm indications from communities that the rent and service boycotts have, in the spirit of Masakhane, come to an end.
Over and above these issues, we cannot over emphasise the centrality particularly of Local Government in the housing programme, the provision of infrastructure and related campaigns. We also need to examine the pertinent question of the integration of our cities. Too many of the low-cost housing initiatives are mere additions to apartheid's black townships, saddled with the same problems of distance from workplaces and lack of proper community facilities. To address this will require a creative approach, among others, to the question of residential densities, which will also help to reduce infrastructural costs, including those related to public transport.
The fourth area pertains to land reform. I am certain that all of us welcome the passing of the Bill on security of tenure and the launch last week of the Green Paper on land reform. When finalised, the policies adopted will form an important part of our rural development strategy. For the first time in centuries, families turned into insecure sojourners in the land of their birth, can talk of real security.
Soon, the Land Claims Court will begin its work; and we are confident that it will deal with the complex problems in a manner that ensures justice and promotes the agricultural interests of the country. No one has reason to fear: the aim of government is to build, not to destroy.
In these four areas of our socio-economic programmes and others, what is required is a partnership among all sectors: communities, government and the private sector. Thus, when we talk of the New Patriotism, we are talking also of efforts of communities to build one another and together build their future. We are talking of Masakhane!
The question needs to be posed, whether we do indeed have a state machinery capable of meeting the objectives of growth and development!
I should start off by thanking all Ministers, the Public Service Commission and heads of department sincerely for their efforts in this difficult transitional period. Steadily, progress is being registered in making the Public Service broadly representative of society. From a trifle of 6%, today black managers constitute 37% of this echelon. From less than 5%, females now constitute 10% of management. Progress, yes - but not nearly enough.
The Public Service Commission has placed on the table a new salary and grading system, which contains within it the potential to redress past inequalities, stabilise labour relations and promote reform of the Service. Government supports this proposal in principle, and discussions are continuing on ways of financing it. We are confident that, when finalised, the White Paper and legislation will enjoy the support of workers and managers alike, all of whom will have fully participated in their formulation.
Yet, all this does not resolve some of the complex and immediate problems arising from the apartheid past.
Let us remind ourselves of this government's mandate which is to establish a single, streamlined, efficient and transparent Public Service and to allocate more public resources to capital expenditure. Let us be frank and say that the current service is too large, and it has to be rationalised. There is no other option.
However, our actions cannot ignore the painful truth that the most affected will be areas that are poor, with low economic activity and little prospect for alternative employment. This means, among other things, searching for creative negotiated solutions that will help stimulate economic activity.
The rationalisation process will not be vindictive. Neither will it be carried out in a haphazard manner. Rather, it will affect all races and provinces. Discussion are well advanced with the relevant ministry to set up the Presidential Review Commission which will redefine the structure, functions and procedures of the Public Service, and relevant announcements can be expected soon.
Among the greatest challenges for 1996 is to further build the capacity of government to serve communities. Nowhere is this needed more than at local level, where government interacts on a daily basis with communities. It should therefore be the case that one of the main themes of this year will be the introduction of massive training programmes for the newly-elected councillors and their staff.
Local Government must be given the necessary capacity not only to handle finances and render efficient and affordable services. It is critical that accountability and mobilisation of communities should also form part of their ethos. This, elected officials at local level should know, that, in the final analysis, nation- building and reconciliation, economic growth and development, will depend largely on the performance of local councils.
Despite predictions to the contrary, the people showed their confidence in the new democracy, and re-affirmed their mandate to the Government of National Unite in the November elections. Our task, at all levels, is to justify that trust and confidence by mobilising them to work together for an improvement in their conditions of life. It is part of that mandate to ensure that there is co-operative governance among all tiers; so that national, provincial and local governments complement one another.
In KwaZulu-Natal and parts of the Western Cape, where local elections will take place in May, we expect and should work for, campaigns that are free of violence and intimidation, campaigns which promote unity in our diversity. We hope that all the parties, within, and-outside this chamber, will openly commit themselves to the conduct of free and fair elections.
The national effort to improve the quality of life of the people means also that each citizen and each community should enjoy security in the home, at work and in the streets.
We believe that it has now dawned on all present here, that dealing with crime and violence requires a comprehensive strategy and hard work, rather than just injunctions from election platforms.
I am happy to announce that Cabinet will soon unveil the National Crime Prevention Strategy for public comment. This strategy brings together the combined efforts of the police, judiciary and prison authorities in an effective criminal justice system. The aim is not only to improve the capacity of police to prevent crime and apprehend criminals; but it is also to ensure that they are dealt with to the full extent of the law, and properly rehabilitated.
We commend the business community for the campaign they have launched against crime and corruption. Some of the practical steps that they have taken are starting to bear fruit; and the many proposals from their Conference will form part of the Strategy we have referred to. Within communities, co-operation with the police is improving by the day, with positive results.
No one can doubt the commitment of the South African Police Service to deal with crime. And we pay tribute to them for daily putting their lives in danger in the service of their country. Great progress has been made in transforming this institution, integrating the various services, introducing civilian oversight and ensuring professionalism in their operations.
The dedication with which the leadership of the Service has gone about rooting out corruption, and taking the war to the syndicates and other criminals, should be commended. And the abiding lesson from their successes is that this can only be accomplished with the co-operation of communities and individual citizens.
We should also remind ourselves, over and over again, that crime constitutes more than just drug trafficking and car hijacking. When tons and tons of vegetables disappear without trace in a city council depot, this is criminal conduct of the worst order. When billions are siphoned off from companies and out of the country, this is criminal robbery of the nation's resources. When food and funds meant for school children are stolen, this is criminal plunder against our children and our future.
A particular feature of crime in our country is the violence afflicting KwaZulu-Natal, the taxi industry as well as bizarre incidents of gang warfare and other murders. By any name and under any guise, this is criminal conduct; and it should be dealt with as such.
incidents in the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast, where individuals have organised themselves to undermine, physically and otherwise, investigations into the murders which took place over the holiday period. Armed with an assortment of weapons, they have taken it upon themselves, in full view of the public media, to challenge the nation's law-enforcement agencies.
I am today issuing a strong warning to these elements, that this cannot be allowed to continue. The time has come for our nation to choose whether we want to become a law-governed and peaceful society or hapless hostages of lawlessness. I have discussed this matter with the Ministry and the leadership of the Police Service, and they have assured me that strong action will be taken.
In addition to this, I wish to announce today, that preparations are under way to introduce measures that will prohibit the carrying of dangerous weapons in public manifestations. No one, irrespective of organisations to which they may belong, will be exempted from these measures.
Dealing with crime, violence and corruption requires a new morality for our new nation. Indeed, it requires a new Patriotism among communities, the public and private sectors, and the security services - so that at the end of each day, each one of us can answer in the affirmative the question: have I done something today, to stamp out crime!
The performance of the nation against crime depends heavily on the intelligence capacity of the security services as a whole. On this, depends also the security of our democracy. And I should pay tribute to the unsung heroes in the intelligence community who are contributing immensely to our successes in this regard.
I also wish to reiterate the government's commitment to protect the rights of privacy and ensure the security of all individuals in public service as well as other citizens. This is the code of conduct which guides all our security services.
However, in plying their dubious trade, criminals should not hope to hide behind these provisions of our constitution. The government will use all lawful means to ensure that they do not succeed in undermining our social fabric.
Law-abiding citizens can rest assured that there are effective mechanisms in place to prevent and punish any rapacious invasion of their lives. Our security services are committed to follow the rules, because they know, as much as we all do, that anything else is a sure recipe for the decay of our democratic system, for a psychosis of fear and a slide into authoritarianism. The government, including the security services, will not allow this to happen.
Tribute also goes to the South African National Defence Force which has distinguished itself in the integration process, in further enhancing its legitimacy in the eyes of our people and the international community, and in assisting the police services to deal with crime and violence.
As should be expected, the new political milieu has dictated that we scale down the resources allocated to the Defence Force. This is a difficult and painful process, particularly for the citizens in uniform. But we wish to assure them, that the aim has never been, and will never be, to undermine this important national resource.
There is national consensus that our Defence Force requires an appropriate capacity and modern equipment. We welcome the fact that debate on these issues is now finding rational reflection in the discussions around the Defence White Paper and the National Defence Review. These processes should be completed during the course of this year, so that we can achieve certainty and a national policy to which all of us can pay allegiance.
If during the course of the past year, South Africa afforded its citizens unprecedented freedom and a human rights culture, the frontiers are bound to widen immeasurably in 1996. The New Patriotism abroad in our nation, is a reflection of how liberating democracy is, for all our citizens in their rainbow colours.
No longer is the state a mighty colossus intimidating everyone in its wake. The openness in this and other legislatures, the transparency of the executive and the participatory style of government - all these have given practical meaning to the concept of government by the people, for the people.
In addition to the independent institutions such as the Constitutional Court, which I mentioned earlier, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission will help cement democracy by laying bare that which our nation should never again experience. It will entrench justice by affording victims the reparations due to them. It will, through this, and by means of amnesty, ensure lasting reconciliation.
As with other such institutions, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission will succeed only if it gets the co-operation of all of us. I call on all South Africans to respect the Commission's independence and impartiality, its integrity and good faith. The Commissioners themselves have reiterated what the founding legislation pronounces, that the aim of their work is justice and reconciliation, not vengeance.
The frontiers of our freedoms are bound to widen this year, principally because the permanent basic law of the land will be adopted by the Constitutional Assembly. A few months remain before the deadline set in the interim constitution expires. We should burn the midnight oil to meet this deadline; and achieve normal democratic principles accepted everywhere in the world. It is also crucial that we attain constitutional certainty, both for ourselves and in our relations with the international community.
Many difficult issues need to be resolved. Questions of democratic majority rule, co-operative governance, universally- accepted human rights and language equity are only some of them.
As in the past, these matters can only be resolved in genuine negotiations, in the spirit of give and take. The new constitution must be inclusive: a basic law of the land to which all sectors of society can pay allegiance. It behoves all members and parties in the Constitutional Assembly, to take full part in the work of the Assembly, and fulfil the mandate of their supporters. And, in all instances, we should be guided by the imperative to make our country a truly non-racial and non-sexist democracy, its citizens united by equity in their diversity.
These are the principles which should also guide us in protecting and advancing members of our society who have suffered undue privations under apartheid, women and youth, in particular. Honourable members will agree with me, that we cannot allow parliament to rise at the end of this session, before legislation on the Youth and Gender Equality Commissions is adopted. In needs of these sectors, these Commissions will help mobilise the resources required to implement relevant programmes.
children, senior citizens and the disabled. Besides the other programmes indicated earlier, progress is being made in the Cabinet Committee which is developing a National Programme of Action on Children. And the restructuring of the welfare system in general, and as it pertains to the elderly, are among the tasks that the relevant departments are expected to accomplish this year. We wish to reaffirm this government's commitment to introduce programmes that will ensure that the disabled can realise their full potential.
As we deepen our democracy and make progress in our trans- formation, it is to be expected that South Africa will be called upon to relate to the international community more as an equal partner rather than a mere beneficiary of solidarity. This we should be proud of, because it reflects the confidence the world has, in the progress we are making towards creating a normal society.
In addition to hosting important events of the Southern African region, world conferences on critical socio-economic questions, science and technology as well as sporting tournaments, we have started to play an important role in contributing to peace and other efforts of the international community. This we shall always do, within the limits of our capacity.
Our participation at the 50th anniversary celebrations of the United Nations, helped reinforce the voice for the UN to restructure itself in line with the demands of the current age. We are proud that South Africa will this year host the 9th Session of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development and the Conference on the Information Society.
We should not tire of contributing our fair share to the building of a better world, if only because such an outcome is in the best interests of South Africa as well. However, we should always be mindful of the limitations we have as a nation, as well as the constraints of the real world we have to deal with.
We are confident that during the course of this year, progress will be made in the negotiations with members of the Southern African Customs Union, the European Community and other regions, for agreements that will benefit ourselves and our partners. Let us also take this opportunity to reiterate our firm commitment to regional co-operation under the auspices of SADC.
In our relations with virtually all countries of the world, be it in the Organisation of African Unity and its member states, the Bi-national Commissions with the United States and Russia, relations with countries of the Indian Ocean Rim, Asia and the Pacific, Europe and the Americas, we have not only come across goodwill, but also immense opportunities for our country.
As to whether we take full advantage of these opportunities, depends on all of us, both in the public and private sectors. We hope that the Discussion Documents being finalised by the Foreign Ministry will generate informed public debate about our international relations, the better to unite all sectors of our population in advancing the nation's interests.
There is a New Patriotism abroad in our land. Whatever the social stations they occupy, no matter how humble - South Africans are showing a determination to work together and make our country a winning nation. Our task is to harness these energies into a material force for growth and development, safety and security, nation-building and reconciliation.
Such are the demands of this historical moment. Such are the demands of the new South Africa.
I am confident that this Session of parliament will measure up to the challenge of the times.
I thank you.
Issued by: The Office of the President