Item 1132 - Statement of the President of the African National Congress Nelson Mandela at the World Economic Conference

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ZA COM MR-S-1132


Statement of the President of the African National Congress Nelson Mandela at the World Economic Conference


  • 1991-01-31 (Creation)

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Transcription of speech made by Mr Mandela

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(18 July 1918-5 December 2013)

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Migrated from the Nelson Mandela Speeches Database (Sep-2018).

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ANC Archives, Office of the ANC President, Nelson Mandela Papers, University of Fort Hare

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World Economic Conference

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  • English

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Distinguished Participants,
Ladies and Gentlemen:

The ANC and I personally, would like to thank the World Economic Forum most sincerely for inviting us to attend and address this important gathering. We would further like to express our profound appreciation for your decision to allocate time for discussion of the South African question. We do believe that your initiative in this regard is most timely.

The impending political transformation of South Africa is part of the truly phenomenal process of renewal which our planet is experiencing. The features of this process are clear enough.

They delineate a future in which the peoples in all countries will govern themselves under open and plural democratic systems.

In our own country this means the end of White minority dictatorship and the building of a new nation of many colours, languages and cultures, bound together by a common South African patriotism, a shared spirit of nationhood and bonds of mutual dependence.

As in other parts of the world, we too will establish a society based on respect for human rights, to ensure the freedom and dignity of every individual, as an inalienable condition of human existence.

The new world that is being born foresees the dawn of the age of peace, in which wars within nations, between countries and among peoples will be a thing of the past.

We need to reach the point when weapons of mass destruction will themselves have been destroyed and the trade in weapons of death will have been reduced to an absolute minimum.

And yet many of these masses who are freeing themselves from tyranny and 'expanding the frontiers of liberty. Exercising their right to self determination and committing their lives to the defence of peace and life itself, are themselves threatened by death from starvation.

The planet they inhabit faces the awesome menace of destruction as a rebuilt of a human-made ecological catastrophe.

I am certain it is a matter of common cause among us here that the continued impoverishment of millions of people throughout the world has become one of the great sources of global instability.

Those who are deprived will inevitably act to demand a better life. The gnawing pain f persistent hunger must, in the end, lead to food riots.

In response, governing authorities that will feel threatened by the rebellion of the masses will resort to repression, to a denial of political rights and a return to a world hostile to freedom. None of us want this.

The migration of people from Central and South American and The Caribbean into the United States; Similar movement of peoples from Africa, the Near East and Eastern Europe into Western Europe; The phenomenon of boat people in the Far East, all Serve as safety valves helping to avert the threatening food riots in the countries from Which the emigrants originate.

But the question has to be posed and answered as to whether this is the best way to address the issue of poverty which afflicts so many countries in the world.

Nor can the reality be ignored that in response to these population flows and to the pressure of poverty, there is, certainly in various parts of Europe, a growing tendency towards the proliferation of racist and neo-Nazi ideas and the thuggery that goes with hem.

Have no desire to overestimate the seriousness of this problem. But I would also like Ito submit that it is not one that can be ignored either. Certainly those who are 'immediately threatened, be they black, Arab or Jew, cannot think this a matter to be treated with being neglect.

The simple point we are trying to make is that the dire poverty of some is not an affliction which impacts only on those who are deprived. It reverberates across the Globe and ineluctably impacts negatively on the whole of humanity, including those who live in conditions of comfort and plenty.

The inescapable conclusion from all this must surely be that our interdependence, bringing us together into a common equation, across the oceans and the continents, demands that we all combine to launch a global offensive for development, prosperity and human survival.

We are aware of, and respect the initiatives that have been undertaken in the past to ;address these issues. Including those of the United Nations, The EC-ACP countries, the non-aligned movement, the north-south and south-south commissions, the OAU, as well as others.

But I am certain that none of us here can assert that there does indeed exist a real and meaningful Global offensive for development, prosperity and human survival, drawing into one concerted effort governments, the private sector, non-governmental organisations and the people themselves.

To come closer home and talk about the African continent, we cannot but take advantage of this occasion to reiterate the alarm that others have expressed at the continuing deterioration of conditions of life for millions people.

There is no need for me, in front of this knowledgeable audience, to dwell at any length on the specifics of the socio-economic situation on our continent.

Suffice it to remind the conference that ten years ago already, in its report entitled 'Accelerate Development in Sub-Saharan Africa: An agenda for Action, the World Bank had various things to say which should have sounded the alarm bells.

Here are two quotations from this report:

"When, in the mid-1970's, the world economy experienced inflation and recession, nowhere did the crisis hit with greater impact than in (the region of sub-Saharan Africa)".

And Again:

"For most African countries, and for a majority of the African population, the record is grim and it is no exaggeration to talk of crisis. Slow overall economic growth, sluggish agricultural performance coupled with rapid rates of population increase, and balance of payments and fiscal crises - these are dramatic indicators of economic trouble".

As can be expected, other issues are dealt with in the report, including deteriorating terms of trade, a continuous fall in foreign exchange reserves and the Dracula of an external debt which many countries can neither avoid nor afford.

To come closer to the current situation, the Secretary General of the United Nations reported only last year that in the period up to 1990, "the average African continued to get poorer and to suffer a persistent fall in an already meagre standard of living".

In his report on the "UN Programme of action for African Economic Recovery and Development" the Secretary General speaks of the African continent sinking deeper into "an unrelenting crisis of tragic proportions".

He goes on to say that "overcoming this crisis represents the greatest development challenge of our time".

Therefore, perhaps more than any other part of the world, the situation in sub-Saharan Africa, which has worsened since the World Bank report we have cited was published, illustrates that importance of the global offensive for development, prosperity and human survival for which we have called.

Quite clearly, for this project to record success, it would be necessary that a massive transfer of resources takes place from north to south. Let me hasten to state it here that we are by no means suggesting that this is an easy objective to achieve.

Nor are we suggesting that the issue be approached either as an act of charity or as an attempt to improve the lives of the have-nots by impoverishing the haves. Rather we are suggesting that it is necessary that these transfers take place as a necessary condition to achieve development, prosperity and survival for humanity as a whole.

We say this fully aware of the general shortage of capital in the world, its sensitivity to economic imperatives and its mobility.

We also say this knowing that the underdeveloped countries themselves have to continue addressing such issues as better utilisation of resources and management f their economies, better governance, human resource development, including the
upliftment and liberation of women, as well as the protection of the environment.

Among other things that the concerted global offensive would have to deal with are, of course, the debt problem. The issue of the continuous decline in the pries of commodities that the poorer countries export and access to markets for their manufactured goods.

My own country, South Africa, is marching on its own road to liberation and democracy. The specific processes in which we are engaged, epitomised by the convention for a democratic South Africa, may not themselves be irreversible.

Nevertheless, it is quite clear that there is no force that can permanently stop our advance towards the transformation of South Africa into a united, democratic, non-racial and non-sexist country.

We are determined to end apartheid and liberate ourselves as a matter of urgency. We are as equally determined that this transformation should bring with it real changes in the material conditions of life of the people.

This is dictated both by the fact of the widespread and endemic poverty that affects Millions of black people in our country and the need to guarantee the success and permanence of democratic change.

(A section will follow dealing with the economic needs of a democratic South Africa and the positive impact of this on the rest of Africa. This will include a call on the international business community to play a role in this regard).

If the voices of millions have been freed to enunciate the political aspirations of the people, those voices will also surely speak loudly proclaiming an urgent desire for an end to poverty and a more equitable distribution of opportunities, income and wealth 'within and among the nations.

We believe that those voices must be listened to and the concerns they express addressed. If the political transformations taking place across the globe are anything to go by, it would seem clear that these masses will not allow themselves to be

They will not be fobbed off with polite and courteous but meaningless responses. Nor will they accept the promise of jam tomorrow if they see nothing being done today to deliver the promised jam tomorrow.

I believe a great future lies within reach for our country. South Africans, working together, can build a land where everybody has the material conditions for a good and decent life. Our vision is a land where all, irrespective of race, colour or creed, have houses; children have a world of learning in schools; where no one goes hungry to ed. It will be a land where there are jobs, and every individual has the possibility to each their full potential.

But that country has yet to be built. Today, after half a century of apartheid, the conditions our people live under is an affront to civilised values. Apartheid has created a country of extremes - the rich are extremely rich and the poor are extremely poor.

Yet South Africa is a rich country. The World Bank says its average income per person is similar to Brazil, twice as high as Turkey, and seven times that of China. But he richest fifth of the population take home three quarters of the country's income. No ther country in the world is known to have inequality on that immoral scale. South Africa suffers under the weight of that inequality. Of every one thousand babies born in our "rich" country, more than ninety die before reaching five years of age. Yet in countries as poor as Sri Lanka, where the average income is less than one sixth of ours but, because it is shared more widely, only 25 out of a thousand Sri Lankan babies fail to see their fifth birthday.

The results of the Carnegie Inquiry, which examined every nook and cranny of life in our country in the last decade, shows how the suffering born of inequality wrecks lives wherever you look. The inequality between black and white and the intensified poverty of rural areas, have condemned millions of our people to malnutrition, disease and ignorance. Over three and a half million people were forcibly removed, stripped of their homes and their property, in planned social engineering to serve apartheid. This is what we stand to inherit: a land ravaged by decades of socio- economic mismanagement and manipulation. How are we to build a new South Africa that consigns that shameful record to history?

We do not ask for pity. We do not face the world with a begging bowl. We look to the future with dignity. We know that we will eradicate poverty through our own skills and labour. We recognise that our country has, because of apartheid, gone through a traumatic experience, no less than the wars that have been fought in Europe and elsewhere. Reconstruction needs drastic measures and, as in war-torn Europe after 1945, the new government will have a major responsibility to urgently address the basic needs of the people for food, shelter and jobs.

Today millions of South Africans are unemployed, more are underemployed and thousands more become jobless every day. Our youth roam the streets and our people grow old in poverty. To create jobs we have to invest. Our enterprises and banks have the responsibility to invest in infrastructure, factories, farms and mines. And the democratic state we are building will have to invest. We want to create jobs and eliminate poverty in a way that is sustainable. That means investing in modern efficient and competitive plants, which is something South Africa has not previously achieved. It will not be easy to achieve the high rates of investment we need. Countries everywhere, including Europe and North America, have found it difficult. So we intend to use a full range of measures to achieve our goals by boosting investment in a mixed economy. We are speaking to you, as well as to businessmen across the spectrum in our country, and we say: let us do this together. Give us proposals that we can consider. Regrettably, to date, businessmen in South Africa have failed !dismally to address the issue or make any concrete suggestions to address our needs. Among the range of options we will consider is nationalisation, within the framework of ensuring that key industries invest in the economy so as to strengthen it. The purpose is to turn the economy into an efficient engine of growth, creating jobs and the income to eradicate poverty and the legacy of apartheid.

South African enterprises are, at present, owned by a tiny clique controlling five giant conglomerates. Taking some key enterprises into public ownership will itself be a major step towards overcoming the huge inequality in the ownership of our country's wealth. But we know that it is no use owning wealth if it is not used productively. Too ;many privately owned banks and enterprises have been accumulating profits without ire-investing them in new plant and machinery. Too many have hidden their profits and shipped money abroad through transfer pricing instead of building and investing in the 'future in South Africa. Our own researchers show that some $55-billion was spirited out in this way between 1970 and 1988 alone. Too many have transferred their assets to companies in Switzerland or Liechtenstein.

In other words, too many private firms have gone on an investment strike. We are determined to invest to create a South Africa fit for our children and grandchildren. And so much hinges on the political process now under way. The UN General Assembly, the Commonwealth and the OAU have all endorsed a programme for the phased lifting of sanctions, as elaborated at the ANC's first national conference inside South Africa since its unbanning. At the request of an Interim Government of National Unity, the remaining sanctions, excluding the oil and arms embargo but including financial sanctions, would be lifted.

It is time to put narrow sectoral and party political interests aside in favour of the broader national interest. We have a nation to build to achieve our vision. It is possible if we have the will.

Nationalisation, in our view, does not mean a universal, blanket policy or sticking rigidly to old dogma. It means examining selected major enterprises on a case by case basis. And our starting point would be those bodies and corporations already in state hands. In each case, the first question would be: is their investment and job creation good enough?'. If not, the case for taking them into public ownership would be considered prime fade positive. We would examine their wages policies, their policies to overcome discrimination, their training polices, their actions on health and safety, and their openness to consultation and negotiation.

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Acquisition method: Hardcopy ; Source: ANC Archives, Office of the ANC President, Nelson Mandela Papers, University of Fort Hare. Accessioned on 15/01/2010 by Zintle Bambata




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