Item 1546 - Nelson Mandela's speech titled Freedom of the Press - A commitment to truth

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ZA COM MR-S-1546


Nelson Mandela's speech titled Freedom of the Press - A commitment to truth


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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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  • English

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The media is a powerful instrument shaping social opinions. Media workers therefore have an enormous responsibility they dare not shirk. When one is in charge of such a sensitive instrument as the press, when what one writes is read by hundreds of thousands, one has to ensure, one has to check and double check that the facts are correct, that they gave been interpreted and presented in an unbiased and fair manner. Little words inserted inbetween facts, little descriptive words that reflect the journalist’s, or bias, distort the facts.
The media is the instrument of transparency. It has a duty to keep a watchful eye over government and ensure that those in government are not only performing their duties, but are doing so with the necessary commitment to serve the people. This, after all, is the function of government, service to the people, not the exercise of power over them. If the party in government becomes inaccessible to the and the press is not the people, just bare that in mind – I don’t owe the press interviews, but I owe the people time, I owe them my attention, I owe them my service, that is what I am all about.
If the party in the government inaccessible to the people, because those it has selected to sit in parliament and provincial legislatures and head ministries become pompous and arrogant, utilise the people’s money to have gatekeepers, to block off access, don’t do their jobs, don’t represent the people, then it is your duty, objectively and impartially without any personal axe to grind, to expose such weaknesses and failures. If there is corruption in any sector of government or in any of its parastatils, it is the duty of the press to expose these. And to the extent that it has done so, I congratulate the press.
You are the eyes and ears of the people. You are not the ears and eyes of any particular person or interest group. It is an awful responsibility to be eyes and ears of the people. Treat it as a responsibility to God and perceive God as truth. You will then not go wrong.
Freedom of the press is not license of the press. Infact your freedom is severely circumscribed: it is freedom to truth. The press has no other freedom. Yours is a freedom to truth which you must pursue without fear or favour and you must pursue it relentlessly. If there was an oath to be administered to journalists, it would be oath of the truth.
Social Critique
The press has a responsibility to be the critique of society. It is simultaneously a responsibility to inform and to educate. We need journalists and columnists who not only report, but analyse the events they report. They can be a force for change if they do so objectively and fearlessly.
Take the crisis facing the American president. I have not read in this country a meaningful analysis of the situation, an analysis of an act of sexual impropriety set within the context of a highly permissive society, a society in which, if the movies and television dramas it produce is to be accepted as reflections of that society, sexual morality has been abandoned, one hops into bed at the first meeting, and one has sex before one kisses. In that context, this fuss over the president’s lapse, if he in fact did lapse is blatantly hypocritical.
Every report, every comment I have read by columnists is gleeful, mischievous, fun-poking, fanning the flames of the hypocrisy of American society. If the allegations are true, then what are we looking at is in Alan Paton’s words in “too late the phalarope”, “wee lapse with a wee lass”. There, all the fuss and bother was, because the lapse was of a white man with a black girl. In this case, it is only because Cliton is the president.
The press, instead of gleeing and mocking and fun-poking, should in my view, deal with the underlying hypocrisy of American society. How hypocritical can one get? And should hypocrisy be tolerated? The press would be a force for change and place the sexual morality of the American president within the context of the sexual morality of American context. There is no other context in which he should judged by us mortals. God’s judgement is another matter, reserved for those truly believe in God.
Another issue that our could look at constructively is the size and cost of our government. We must be a people with highest capita political incumbents in the world. We have a national assembly of 400 incumbents, a National Council of Provinces of 90 members, 9 provincial councils with members variering between 30 – 80 depending on the size of the populations, thousands of local council incumbents: there are commissions – how necessary and how useful is this large army of political functionaries? Is there not a need for right-sizing?
You’re the best positioned to review the issue – poke around and come up with some hard assessment. Perhaps our political structure is already right-sized, and necessary to our democracy, but only because such a sizeable part of our budget is devoted to government, you should guide us, guide the people of South Africa on this subject.
Your predecessors
African journalists and African weeklies and monthlies made an early beginning in South Africa. It is significant that two of the early weeklies, Illanga lase Natal and Izwi, were founded by founding members of the ANC. Illanga was founded by Dr John Dube in 1904. It is still in existence and it is owned by the Inkatha Freedom party. Izwi was founded by walter Rubisana in response to John Tengo Jabavu, a brilliant man, but not in agreement with the ANC. Jabavu’s politics was very much involved with Cape Native vote and the electoral interest this crented among the small body of Africans who were on the voter’s roll and among the canvassed their votes as it was assumed only whites could represent Natives. When Rubisana decided to stand for elections as a member of the Cape Provincial Council, Jabavu stood against him, split the vote for the black candidate, and a white man won.
The first African paper, Imvo Zabantsunu was founded by Dr Jabavu in 1884. Imvo was hacked by white mining interests. Published in Xhosa and English, it sought an entrée into the mind of the African voter. Dr Jabavu was, however, a powerful writer and he used his paper to good effect to bring attention to African grievances.
The most important paper of that time the ANC paper Abantu Batho, founded by P. Ka Sema. It was published in English, Zulu, Xhosa, Sotho and Tswana. It contributed significantly in breaking down tribal barriers. The paper was founded using African capita of €3000, most of it contributed by the Swazi Queen Regent Matotsibeni. Two other papers amalgamatod with the Abantu, DS Letanka’s Motsoaelle (The friend) in 1912, Saul Msane’s Umlomo Wa Bantu (Mouthpiece of people) in 1913.
The papers had powerful columnists – Mweli Skota, who edited The Black Folk’s Who’s who, published in 1932, Saul Msane , RV Selope Thema and DS Letanka. We trace our slogan Mayibuye iAfrika to the Abantu. It was clearly a people’s paper.
We pay tribute to Jabavu, Dube and Seme for pioneering distinguished journalism exemplifying integrity and dignity.

The health of the nation is a primary concern of the government. Good health is ensured not simply by providing clinics, doctors and nurses. Good health depends on a health environment. It depends on adequate sanitation, a supply of clean water, on nutritious food, on a clean home. The responsibility for health is shared between the state and the family.
The state provides the facilities. Our government commits a good part of the national budget to health services. This clinic is an expression of that concern. It is only one three thousand clinics maintained by the state. In addition, the state runs 1500 mobile clinics. We have 460 government hospitals and 232 private hospitals. There are about 30 000 doctors in South Africa and about 174 000 nurses. We have some 4-5000 dentists. All this may seem like a huge amount of clinics, a huge amount of hospitals and many doctors and nurses, but these are not enough. We have had to bring in doctors from Cuba. We haven’t enough schools to produce the doctors we want.

The state is very concerned about infectious diseases that can wipe out whole communities if not controlled. I refer to tuberculosis, whooping cough, tetanus, diphtheria, polio, hepatitis and measles. These are diseases that can be prevented through immunization. The state provides free immunization programs and it is the duty of parents to ensure that their children are timeously immunized. More than 12 000 children in our country are crippled every year by police. Make sure that your child is not one of them.
The World Health Organisation has committed itself to eradicating AIDS by the year 2000 and South Africa has joined this commitment and we are getting there.
Diarrhea is responsible for over 50% of infant deaths in our country. We are researching for a vaccine that can combat it.
The most common communicable diseases in South Africa are TB, malaria and measles. The state provides free treatment for all three.
AIDA is another disease that is running rampant in our country. It was estimated that 2.2 million people would have been HIV infected by the end of 1996. The department of health has instituted a massive AIDS awareness campaigns. It is also spending millions of rands in research.

The responsibility of the family.
The state is doing its job as regarding health care. But the state cannot in itself ensure our health. Every South African citizen has to become aware of the dangers that lurk out there and threaten our health, debilitating and crippling us. We have a duty to ourselves to be healthy so we can care for our families. We have a duty to our children to raise them health.
Parents must be ever alert to ill health in the family. They must seek medical attention timeously. You now have a clinic in your area. Use it and make demands on it. Ensure that it has the services I have mentioned and if they are not there, demand them.
Mothers, you give birth to babies. See that they are healthy and happy. Those babies are your charge until they are adults. Fathers, you are equal partners in your families. Protect your families from the ravages of illness.
The cost of medication in our country is exorbitant. A friend of mine, hearing that medicine was cheaper in India, took her prescription to a chemist in India. She paid R 25 for drugs for which she would have paid R 400 in this country! Something is very wrong with our pharmaceutical industry. Imagine the money we would save if we got all our drug supplies from country like India?
Our minister of health is trying to bring down the cost of medicine and she needs support in this. She is pursuing a new drug policy that can help our people.
While we have legalised abortion, we have a duty to ensure that we inculcate healthy values in our children, because abortion is freely available, we should not abandon sexual morality. In traditional African society, the older gee ration kept a watchful eye over the younger. Young girls were examined for their virginity. The boys and girl’s fraternities watched over each other and ensured there was no laxity in sexual morality.
Today we are invaded by the dangerous values of permissiveness. Television is perhaps the worse tutor of permissiveness. Our teenage pregnancies are alarmingly high. Abortion must not be treated as the remedy. Rather our children must be taught to control sex, to restrict it to a stable relationship, preferably marriage. This is also our best remedy against AIDS, a revival of our traditional values. If we spent as much time propagating sexual morality as we do advertising condoms, we would achieve goals, both in terms of teenage pregnancy and AIDS.
And on a happier note, we are a society that have pioneered medical feats. We produced the first heart transplant. We have brilliant surgeons and we take pride in Dr Mofakeng for his successful operation on the Siamese twins, so intricately and sensitively bound together by nature.
Finally, we must always bear in mind that prevention is better than cure. Preventative medicine, accessed at the community level, is simple and effective. Why wait to be ill. Go out there, come here, to this clinic and take action that will maintain you and your family in good health.

Upward and on, a healthy family is a happy family.

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Description prepared by Myeka, Zandile on 2022-05-05




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