SPEECH OF THE PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF SOUTH AFRICA, THABO MBEKI, CLOSING THE DEBATE AT THE OPENING OF PARLIAMENT - 30 JUNE 1999
Madame Speaker, Honourable Members, Fellow South Africans:
First of all, I would like to thank the Hon Deputy President, the Hon Minister of Home Affairs and other members of the Government for agreeing to postpone the meetings of the Cabinet Committees to later in the day so that the National Assembly can adjourn as early as possible today.
I would also like to thank the leaders of the parties represented in the National Assembly and other members for the contributions they have made during the course of this debate.
Important issues were raised from both sides of the House which the Executive must surely take into account. I say this not to conform to routine, but because I genuinely believe that it is important, always, to give due attention to what the elected representatives of our people have to say. Some Hon Members have criticised us for saying nothing about the role of Parliament. I would like to direct these Members to the remarks we made on this issue when the Assembly convened on June 14th and, among other things, elected the President of the Republic.
Accordingly, it did not seem necessary that we should repeat these comments, a mere 11 days after we had made them from this same podium. We stand by what we said about the legislature when all of us were sworn in less than a fortnight ago.
Bearing in mind that unfortunately we do not have the whole day at our disposal, I can only respond to some of the issues tabled by the various speakers.
In particular, I will comment on matters raised by the Honourable Leaders of the IFP, the New National Party and AZAPO as well as some of those mentioned by the Leaders of the Freedom Front, the ACDP and the Democratic Party.
I warmly welcome the call made by the Leader of AZAPO, the Hon Mosibudi Mangena, who said our Government must take care not to act as a mantshingilane securing and presiding over the perpetuation of the division of our country into two nations.
While committing himself to participate in the extraordinary effort that will be required to address this matter, he urged full speed ahead in tackling this challenge which constitutes the very heart of the answer to the question - whither South Africa!
The heartfelt appeal made by the Honourable Mangena cannot and will not be ignored or brushed aside.
In similar vein, I would like to acknowledge the observations made by the Hon Marthinus van Schalkwyk who correctly observed that " the success of our democracy will ultimately be determined by our ability to alleviate poverty."
In this context, the Hon Leader of the New National Party made the following important observations which I take the liberty to quote:
" The fact is that our country has one of the most unequal distributions of wealth in the world. Even if we fail in some areas, we dare not fail in this area. We should guard against the commitment of many ordinary South Africans to democracy fading, because the democratic process fails to alleviate poverty. Democratic consolidation will depend to a large extent on an improvement in living standards and conditions."
Madame Speaker, we could not agree more.
The Hon Marthinus van Schalkwyk also said:
" From our vantage point in the opposition, we would like to engage the ANC in a constructive policy debate. Opposition can never be an end in itself. The objective of opposition should also be to build a better country. This is especially true in a country as diverse as South Africa."
I trust that both the ANC and the IFP, which serve together in Government, will respond to this call in the genuine,open and cooperative spirit in which it was made, unencumbered by the adversarial sentiments to which it is so easy to succumb.
The Hon Marthinus van Schalkwyk is as aware as I am that there are some in this House who will advise him to be wary of what I have just said.
In an effort to persuade you to walk away from the positions you stated two days ago, they will tell you to beware of a so-called embrace by one such as I.
They will encourage you to come into another embrace whose merit, it will be argued, is that thus you become part of a vigorous opposition and thus better serve democracy.
In this regard, again I would like to quote from your speech of two days ago when you said:
" Democracy is not a theoretical debate. It is about real people and real problems that require real solutions."
Describing the constructive role you will play both in Parliament and in the larger setting, you also said:
" Ons sal dit doen sonder om minder waaksaam te wees en sal waar nodig krities ons rol as opposisieparty speel."
In the end, like all of us, you, as a party, will have to take a decision about how you proceed beyond the realm of theory, without being contemptuous of theory, to help arrive at the real solutions that have to be found to solve the very real problems which face all of us as these South Africans.
The Hon Dr Mangosuthu Buthelezi raised one of these real problems. Once again, I beg your indulgence to quote what he said.
" The conflict of the past will remain with us unless those who carry the responsibility of leadership have the courage to take extraordinary measures which bear testimony in a new spirit of goodwill which can percolate from the top all the way down into our communities and into the hearts and minds of all those who are still divided by hatred, ancient feuds and deep-seated rancour...I know deep down in my soul that this pain must now be left behind if we are to give our best contribution to building a new country."
Surely, this simple but profound message calls for no elaboration.
But what it requires of all of us is that we reach into ourselves to find the impetus that will give life to the spirit of goodwill to which the Hon President of the IFP refers.
Without seeking to smother with excessive enthusiasm those in the New National Party for whom the Hon Marthinus van Schalkwyk spoke, we should acclaim as our own, the vision he projected when he said:
" When I call myself an Afrikaner, and a South African and an African, I accept the history of all other South Africans as part of my own history...Sharpeville is a part of my history that I cannot deny and run away from, nor do I wish to." The traumatised children of our society and our history must, for all of us, become, for all us, our children, and their happiness a common project.
The Hon Dr Buthelezi also expressed the hope that:
" the ensuing stage of governance will be one characterised by a willingness to recognise and accept good and valuable ideas, proposals and policies irrespective of whence they come."
I believe that we should respond to this appeal positively.
I would like to assure the Hon Gen Viljoen that I have never sought to speak for the Afrikaners.
Everything I said in this National Assembly on the 24th of March about Afrikaner opinion represented what had been communicated to the Hon Dr Buthelezi and myself by some Afrikaner leaders of all our people.
I am concerned that, as he did on March 24th, on Monday, June 28th, the Hon Gen Viljoen challenged the standing of the leading Afrikaner South Africans with whom we were privileged to interact.
Among others, we spoke to all five Principals of the historically Afrikaans universities - Stellenbosch, Pretoria, Potchefstroom, Pretoria and the Rand.
We cited the communication from the Principal of the University of Potchefstroom because we thought it correctly reflected the position we had arrived at with all these Rectors.
The Hon Gen Viljoen is at liberty to disagree with the view of these University Principals. But he cannot sustain a position which suggests that their view is worthless, while that of his party constitutes the standard prescription which must inform our actions.
The young Afrikaner we cited as having said - " yesterday was a foreign country; tomorrow belongs to us" - is a leader of the Ruiterwag.
I have no reason to believe that he is any less an Afrikaner than the Hon Gen Viljoen is. Nor do I have any reason to believe that an Afrikaner turns his or her back on his or herAfrikaner identity simply because these do not seek to belong to a Afrikaner volkstaat.
I would also like to state this point unequivocally, that I do not accept that there are certain political parties that have the exclusive right to mediate our contact with the Afrikaner people.
I will not honour the false assertion that the Afrikaner people constitute an exclusive preserve reserved for political organisations that appoint themselves as the representatives and spokespersons of the Afrikaners.
As we indicated last Friday, we will honour the commitments we made on the 24th of March, which we made not for partisan political gain, but because they are right.
In the end, the heads will have to come out of the sand.
The truth about South African reality must be freed from petrified concepts of who and what the Afrikaners are.
It is said that 'fools rush in where angels fear to tread.'
Today, I will be fool enough to intrude into the vexed area of Christian theology.
Many of us have sat in this House over the last five years and heard the ACDP propound a mean, angry, vengeful, soulless and retributive theology. At all times, the spokespersons of this party have appended a Christianlabel to everything they said.
Consistently, they have argued - kill the murderers! Kill, kill, kill, kill!
Consistently, they have argued that to be true to their theology, they must demand that young women must die in back-street abortions - sinner - die! die! die! die!
In its extreme, or is it an expression of mercy! - this seeming passion to see human blood flow has been expressed in a demand - cut their limbs! mutilate them! civilise cruelty! cut! cut! cut! cut!
In the Province of Mpumalanga, Ndaweni Mahlangu makes fundamentally wrong remarks which bear on the honesty of politicians. Outraged, his comrades demand that he should explain himself.
He admits the grievous error of his statement and tenders his apology to his comrades, the people of his Province and the country. His comrades issue a severe reprimand which he accepts.
His comrades, including those who served with him in prison as fellow fighters for the freedom of all of us, tell him that if by word or deed, in future, he acts in a manner that is dishonest, they will repudiate him as their comrade.
He accepts the judgement of his peers and leaders, knowing that the sacrifices he and they made to secure liberty for their people presumed and demonstrated an honesty of purpose and a selflessness that precluded deceit.
His comrades direct that he goes back to work to discharge his tasks with honesty and integrity.
Those who espouse the theology of which we have spoken adorn themselves with the garments of the high priests. In fervent voices, they proclaim - he is down! finish him! finish him! finish him! finish him!
They remain true to the precepts of a theology which knows no forgiveness, no compassion, no humanity, to which the notion of " the quality of mercy" is foreign. And so the representatives of the ACDP stand up in this House and declaim - he is down! crucify him! crucify him! crucify him! crucify him!
Yesterday, the Hon Louis Green of the ACDP recited part of " The Second Coming" by W.B. Yeats.
In his poetic journey, he did not reach the words:
" the blood-dimmed tide is loosed, the ceremony of innocence is drowned."
The recurrent chant - kill!, cut! finish him! crucify! die! - the theological injunctions which in earlier times described us as the anti-Christ that must be exterminated with brutal force, the theology to which we are obliged to listen in this House may, if all of us lower our guard, one day oblige all of us to proclaim that, as a result of our benign posture, something truly terrifying slouches out of Bethlehem to be born.
The Democratic Party has engaged in a strenuous effort to convince us that, true to the mandate it received, it must discharge its responsibility as a vigorous opposition party.
There is no need to mount an advocacy campaign on this question.
Relative to ourselves, the Democratic Party cannot but be a vigorous opposition party. This is dictated, not by some theory concerning the role of an opposition in a democracy, but by the reality that, indeed, we proceed from very different ideological, philosophical and political positions.
The intellectual antecedents of the positions the DP espouses are to be found in the theories propounded in England by Jeremy Bentham at the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th centuries.
These theories reflected, and to some extent, presaged the contention between two contending tendencies in the emerging British capitalist society of the day.
One of these was the gradual displacement of a so-called laisser faire economic system by one in which the concentration and centralisation of capital was giving birth to what later came to be called the captains of industry.
These captains sought to create a social order in which no fetter would be placed on them as they worked to maximise their profits and accumulate wealth and influence and achieve domination.
The other tendency was the growth of the trade and political associations of the working people, as a result of which they were gaining industrial and political power.
In particular, they would use this power to influence the government and the state to regulate the activities of the owners of property to their own advantage, against the unbridled exercise of power by the owners of productive property.
Bentham entered into this breach to propagate a doctrine seemingly focussed on the freedom of the individual.
Historically, both Whig and Tory have drawn on this intellectual resource to justify their political positions.
Whether they know it or not, the DP are our own home-grown Tories, the offspring of Thatcherism, having adopted that tendency in the theories of Jeremy Bentham which served best to legitimise the domination of the dominant.
I am happy to accept the protestation that the DP and its supporters do not seek to celebrate the inevitable failures we will experience.
But one of the starting point must be that we do not make the statements that are difficult to understand such as the one recently attributed to the Hon Tony Leon that " South Africa is facing a potential economic meltdown if you look at the economic crises."
To achieve integrity in his postulates, Bentham had to adopt a position described in philosophy as solipsism - the view that the self is all that exists or can be known.
Accordingly, Bentham asserts that:
The individual - the basic unit of the social sphere - is an atom and there is no self or individual greater than the human individual.
Further, he states in " The Book of Fallacies":
" In every human breast, self regarding interest is predominant over social interest; each person's own individual interest over the interests of all other persons taken together."
The thesis goes on:
To begin with, the idea of 'relation' is but a 'fictitious entity', though necessary for 'convenience of discourse'. And, more specifically, he remarks that 'the community' is a fictitious body, and it is but the sum of the interests of the several members who compose it.
It is from these precepts that the DP derives the notions it espouses such as:
" Where the ANC's solution to almost every problem is to make a bigger government, we say let's make individual lives better."
" On the one side is the ANC, which believes in big, centralised government...The DP stands for an opportunity society where individuals have the freedom and the physical means to improve their lives and the lives of their children."
" We will continue to oppose the new racism."
" We want a country built on opportunity, fuelled by peaceful commerce, driven by the spirit of enterprise, founded on justice, fairness and merit, protected by the law."
Behind all the words we have quoted, is the fundamental idea that everything must be left to the great leveller, the market, which is driven by the notion that 'self regarding interest is predominant over social interest', as Bentham put it.
In our own specific situation, what this means is that those who are fittest to survive will survive. Those who are best abled will qualify on the basis of merit.
Those whose race defined them as sub-human must now have no access to state support which state must, after all, retreat to allow those who have the means to survive and dominate, dominate.
This is the soulless secular theology which, indeed defines the DP as the opposition party. It has nothing to do with theories about democracy.
The Hon Ronnie Kasrils is a valued member of our Government.
Whereas he had the possibility to blind himself to the apartheid crime against humanity and lead a comfortable life, he chose to sacrifice everything to make his own contribution to the liberation of all our people.
It hurts and insults all of us that it can be suggested that he prostituted himself so that he can become a Cabinet Minister and that he serves in this Cabinet as "a token white."
All this constitutes a base level and type of politics which I think all of us should repudiate. Yet, it is part of our current reality.
The Hon Tony Leon alleged that there are some Mpumalanga MEC's who are corrupt.
The ANC in the Province has challenged the Hon Tony Leon to name these MEC's outside the protection of this chamber. I trust that he will respond to this invitation, to help all of us to rid Mpumalanga of people who should not hold office.
The Minister of Justice has referred elements relating to the Mpumalanga Parks Board promissory notes to the National Director of Public Prosecutions to speed up action on this matter. The Heath Unit will continue with its own investigations.
I learnt through the media that the Public Protector is investigating the Premier of Mpumalanga in the context of the ill-advised comments he made. We must therefore await the outcome of his investigations, having contacted him to establish whether the media reports were, in fact, correct.
But this I must say - Mpumalanga Province has been victim to political instability for a considerable period of time to the detriment of the people of the Province and the country as a whole.
We will do nothing to worsen this situation.
Neither will we join a frenzy informed by a desire to demonstrate, at another's expense, that we are worthier than we are.
OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENT
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ISSUED BY THE OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENT
30 JUNE 1999