Response of the President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, to the State of the
11 February 2004
Day before yesterday, the Hon Annelize van Wyk participated in the Debate of the State of the Nation Address. In her thoughtful and challenging contribution, she asked - who are you and what are you going to do?
In this regard she said: "In a political context there are those with whom referring to the past is very unpopular. They would rather ignore it and would prefer to act as if South Africa has no past,"
Responding to some remark made by a Member of the House, she said, "I have dealt with my own past."
In other words, she has not treated her past, as something to which there should be no reference. She has not elected to ignore either her individual past or her own role in fashioning our country's past.
With her permission, let me tell the Honourable Members something about the Hon Annelize van Wyk's past, the past she has dealt with and not ignored.
In a sense we can say that she was born into the apartheid system. She grew up in Pretoria, attended the University of Potchefstroom and came back to work in Pretoria on completion of her studies. Her father worked at Correctional Services.
Obviously a trusted member of these services, as NCO she drove the vehicle which transported Nelson Mandela from Pretoria to Cape Town on his way to his incarceration on Robben Island. By the time she retired, she had risen to the rank of General.
Throughout her school years, Annelize lived within the narrow and defining confines of a prison precinct. On completion of her university studies, she worked for Military Intelligence. Later she worked at the state institution, the Human Sciences Research Council.
When she went into politics, naturally she chose the National Party as her political home. She worked as a National Party activist in the 1987 and 1989 elections in the then Transvaal. She served on the Transvaal Information Committee of the NP during the 1992 Referendum.
From 1994 she served as an NNP member of the Gauteng legislature, resigning in 1997 to join Roelf Meyer in helping to form the UDM. She joined the ANC last year.
By any standard, especially in the context of present day South Africa, this is not a comfortable past, intimately linked as it is to the apartheid security services and the NP during its days as the party of apartheid.
It cannot be a comfortable past given that some of those who suffered at the hands of the apartheid forces of repression, of which the Hon Annelize van Wyk and her father had been members, are with us here in this House and everywhere else where she may go, doing her work as a member of her political organisation and a Member of the National Assembly.
Equally, it surely required great courage, honesty and personal integrity for Annelize to allow us to speak openly about her past and herself to wrestle with the demons of her past so that she can live at peace with the present.
For my part, I would like to convey my deepest respect to Annelize van Wyk and humble appreciation of the example she has set. I am not certain that if I were in her position, I would have had the courage and honesty she has shown. To her, for the example she has set and the leadership she has provided, I would like to extend my sincere thanks.
I know, and many of us know, that there are others in our country who have failed to show the courage and honesty of an Annelize van Wyk. These are the people she said find reference to their past unacceptable, who prefer to act as if South Africa has no past.
The 30 January - 5 February 2004 edition of "Engineering News" carries an Open Letter to the President written by the Editor, Martin Creamer. After commenting on the legacy of apartheid we inherited, he wrote:
"This is a legacy that cannot be swept away overnight. Bad memories will linger. We should, therefore, thank the likes of Bishop Desmond Tutu, who led the Truth and Reconciliation Commission process in a way that did not allow those memories to fester. Instead, he and the other commissioners created the possibility for the emergence of a common consciousness of past pains. This process will help us, black and white, in tackling the challenges of the future with a better sense of history. If genuinely internalised, this memory will ensure a sense of common purpose shaped by a deep desire to redress past ills."
Annelize van Wyk asked the questions - who are you and what are you going to do? Martin Creamer has responded in part by saying that we should cultivate "a common consciousness of past pains." He has said that a shared memory and a shared and better sense of our history "will ensure a sense of common purpose shaped by a deep desire to redress past ills."
Martin Creamer went on to say: "Much has been achieved in the first decade of freedom. However, the last ten years also have to be viewed simply as a good start in building true racial, social and economic liberation. Much still has to be done. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, we are merely at the end of the beginning. Serious challenges still confront us and we are going to require skill, effort and resolve to overcome them. The number one challenge, as we see it, relates to the scourge of poverty and unemployment. While we have no doubt about the government's serious intention to confront this challenge, we do feel that, at times, the required capacity (urgently) to meet these demands (relating to the eradication of poverty), has not been put in place."
It is exactly because "we are merely at the end of the beginning", with much that must still be done, to arrive at "true racial, social and economic liberation", that Annelize asked the questions - who are you and what are you going to do? Many of the Honourable Members who participated in the Debate answered these questions as their circumstances and consciences dictated.
Some said that they are the best representatives and guardians of democracy in our country. Accordingly, their answer to the question - what are you going to do? - has been that their task is to gain in strength, the better to be able to play their role as the best representatives and guardians of democracy in our country and beyond.
They have argued that the very definition of democracy centres specifically on the concept and practice of a strong and effective opposition, made particularly important in our country by what they see as an imminent threat of the emergence of a one-party dictatorship.
I would like to suggest that as democrats we should accept these answers as deeply felt and honestly stated. We may very well contest the correctness of the self-definition by some as the rightful democratic watchdogs over the rest of us. But we must surely accept that we have neither the right nor the power to stop these claiming the role they attribute to themselves, however much we might think that what they say about themselves merely signifies that the wish is father to the thought.
Yet others have said that they are the best representatives and guardians of Afrikaner interests specifically, and white interests in general. In their interventions, they specified the matters of concern to them, ranging from affirmative action to issues of language, religion, schools and crime, especially against white farmers. In this context, the Hon Cassie Aucamp said, "There is a problem with your concept of the one nation...which one?"
The Hon Aucamp raised an interesting conceptual problem when he said: "Yes, the ANC also preaches diversity, but the ANC model for 'diversity' is that every institution, every organisation, should reflect the demographics of the country. The result: every institution looks the same. Every school becomes a parallel medium school. There is no diversity."
It would have been very instructive if, during a debate that would hopefully focus on assessing the work of a decade and project into the next, we had given ourselves time to discuss this kind of issue. But it did seem to me that some inside and outside this House sought to focus exclusively on the trees and refused to see the forest.
Thus we avoided dealing with the important questions implicit in what the Hon Aucamp said, namely - what do we mean when we speak of a non-racial and non-sexist society and what does the 'equality clause' in our Constitution intend that we should do with our country!
The Hon Tony Leon found what we must presume he thought was a clever answer to these questions when he said: "The truth is that we must distinguish between two nations. Not a black and a white nation. Rather, we are faced with the South African dream on the one hand, and the South African reality on the other."
The Hon Cassie Aucamp said his party, National Action, is "not a mere Uncle in the political business for Afrikaners", while the Hon Pieter Mulder made it clear that the Freedom Front Plus spoke for the Afrikaners when, for instance, he said: "As Afrikaners we fought and won that fight (against the language policies of Lord Milner) and will do it again. It must be clear why Afrikaners see new Lord Milners in South Africa and a repeat of their history, struggling against a colonial power." Not to be outdone, the Hon Tertius Delport also spoke for the DA to affirm the special interest of his party in the welfare of the Afrikaners in particular and the whites in general, as did the Hon Koos van der Merwe on behalf of the IFP.
But once again, with regard to those who see themselves as the best representatives and guardians of Afrikaner interest in particular and white interests in general, we cannot contest the right of these Honourable Members and their political organisations to answer the questions - who are you and what will you do? - as their circumstances and consciences dictate. They, too, have a democratic right to decide for themselves who they are and what their role is and will be.
Indeed, in today's "Business Day", Steven Friedman argues the point that "there are few democracies in which identities do not play a major role in how many people vote." He says:
"If our citizens are driven by identities, we need to recognise that people will be concerned not only about whether democratic government 'delivers' to them but also about whether it seems to care about them, to treat them with dignity and respect. And so we need to be as concerned about whether everyone feels included, as about government 'delivering'. We need to recognise people as citizens whose need for dignity and respect is as great as that for government services. Democracy can work if voters vote who they are, not what they want - as long as we conduct politics in a way which recognises that and builds on it, as long as we accept who our voters are and leave it to Henry Higgins, the character depicted by Bernard Shaw, to fail at trying to turn them into what they are not."
These correct observations do not seek to deny the importance of 'delivery' in its narrower sense. In this regard, we must note the consensus that seems to have emerged during the Debate concerning many of the challenges our country faces.
This encompassed issues of poverty and unemployment, crime, health, including the matter of HIV and AIDS, education and training, economic growth and development, housing, corruption, moral regeneration and so on. Of course, matters relating to the rest of the world were also raised. These relate to the challenges of African renewal, including Zimbabwe, peace in the Middle East, international terrorism and issues of multilateral versus unilateralism.
With regard to the domestic issues, I would like to venture the opinion that what many of us said, including the government, is that during our First Decade of Democracy, we did not succeed to eradicate the legacy of colonialism and apartheid. Or, to put this in Martin Creamer's words, "the last ten years also have to be viewed simply as a good start in building true racial, social and economic liberation. Much still has to be done. We are merely at the end of the beginning."
I believe that it bodes well for our country that we seem to have reached this level of consensus about the challenges we face. Undoubtedly and quite naturally, our views will differ as to what should be done to respond to these challenges. The forthcoming elections will provide our people with an opportunity to decide which of the various party responses to these challenges they consider the most credible and which among our various parties they consider the most dependable as our country continues the struggle to eradicate the legacy of centuries of racism and apartheid.
Those who hold the view that the situation in our country is worse today than it was 10 years ago will have the opportunity to convince the people that this assertion is in fact true. In this regard, the Hon Tony Leon said, "the South African reality is that for millions of our fellow citizens, life is no better now than it was in 1994. In spite of political freedom, life is actually worse."
The Hon Dr Mangosuthu Buthelezi echoed this sentiment when he said: "poverty in rural areas is today worse than before 1994, when we took over the running of this country."
Others, such as the Hon Bantu Holomisa of the UDM and P.H.K. Ditshetelo of the UCDP will also have the possibility to convince the people about their rather strange economic views, in terms of which the successful interventions to correct the disastrous macro-economic imbalances inherited from the apartheid years, are themselves the very causes of the perpetuation of the socio-economic inequities we also inherited from our past.
But having developed some consensus, and not necessarily unanimity about the core challenges our country faces, we will still have to return to the questions that the Hon Annelize van Wyk posed - who are you and what are you going to do?
We will still have to respond to Martin Creamer, to say whether we agree with him that, despite our partisan political differences, we need to share "a common consciousness of past pains", whether we agree that "a (shared and) better sense of (our) history" would help all of us, black and white, to develop "a sense of common purpose shaped by a deep desire to redress past ills." Our responses to these propositions will turn on how we answer the questions - who are you and what are you going to do?
The Hon chief Whip of the Majority Party, Nkosinathi Nhleko, said: "More and more people of South Africa are progressively uniting in a people's contract to accelerate the process of eradicating the apartheid legacy, (which) they have together identified...as their common enemy."
The Hon Renier Schoeman said: "You correctly work on the premise, Mr President, that in unity lies strength - ex unitate vires - eendrag maak mag - and that the extent of the challenges requires that unity and strength for a collective effort to overcome them."
The Hon Musa Zondi said: "The Inkatha freedom Party is immensely proud to have played a significant role in the reconciliation process and the nation building project since 1994, under the leadership of Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi. We did not stand on the sidelines. We were not afraid to become involved. Whilst the IFP participated in the national government to advance nation building and reconciliation, the ruling party's magnanimity in allowing the IFP to contribute to the nation's governance was, I believe, unprecedented...The road to national unity is a long journey. We may not even complete it in our lifetimes, but we have made a beginning."
The Hon Ismail Vadi invited us to "listen to the voices of ordinary South Africans, who go about their daily lives building our nation."
The Hon Ms Rajbally said: "Greater achievement depends on us all and whether we really want to see South Africa improve, for if we do, we will unite ourselves in doing so, for together we are a stronger nation."
To return to what Nelson Mandela said ten years ago, which we quoted last Friday: "And so we must, constrained by and yet regardless of the accumulated effect of our historical burdens, seize the time to define for ourselves what we want to make of our shared destiny."
On Friday, speaking on behalf of the government and not the ANC, I pointed out some of our country's principal achievements as we have worked to define for ourselves what we want to make of our shared destiny.
I reported on the government's perspectives about what we will need to do during our Second Decade of Liberation to move further forward towards the realisation of the goal of building a people-centred society.
In this regard, I must repeat that during this past decade, we have put in place the whole range of critical policies that must enable us successfully to confront the challenges many of us identified during the Debate. It would indeed have been a signal failure on our part if, in ten years, we had failed to produce the policies that we need to move our country from its apartheid past, to the prosperous non-racial and non-sexist democracy visualised in our Constitution.
I am certain that this has not been one of our failures.
Nelson Mandela was released from prison 14 years ago today. Since then, as Martin Creamer said, "much has been achieved in the first decade of democracy."
In this context, we rejoice with those of our people who today will be returning to their beloved District Six, among them Mr Dan Ndzabela who is 82 years old and was removed from District Six in 1959 as well as Ebrahim Murat who is 83 years old and was removed from his home in 1967.
Madam Speaker, I would also like to draw our attention to the achievement of two young South African students.
The first is a Grade 11 student at Fezeka Senior Secondary in Gugulethu who won the Africa leg of a worldwide essay competition 'Red Rover goes to Mars'. She will shortly leave our shores to represent Africa, joining 15 students from other continents, as student astronauts at NASA in the United States. May I acknowledge Nomathemba Kontyo, a very special visitor in the galleries today.
May I, on behalf of the government and all South Africans, extend my congratulations to Nomathemba for her wonderful achievement. We have no doubt that she will do our country proud.
Madam speaker, honourable members, I also want to take the opportunity to mention, a young student from Bushbuckridge in Limpopo who has become, at the age of 14 the youngest person to have registered at UNISA. Sanelisiwe Sambo's evident special abilities and intelligence was recognised by her school in Hazyview and her school career was allowed to be accelerated.
May I therefore take the opportunity to congratulate her on her achievement and wish her well in her studies as a Bachelor of Commerce student.
What these happy instances show, Madame Speaker and Honourable Members is that we are indeed moving forward towards the achievement of true racial, social and economic liberation.
I must also say that none of us could have avoided being moved by what the Hon Dr Mangosuthu Buthelezi said, when he pointed out his own able contribution to the process of national reconciliation in our country, noting correctly that if we have failed, it will not be because we have not tried. I am certain that all of us agree with him that, "the really new South Africa must be built with the commitment and sacrifices of all, to make it become a decent and prosperous place for all."
All of us should be proud that history has given us the possibility to contribute to this historic outcome. Thank you.
Issued by The Presidency
11 February 2004