Item 668 - Closing address by President Nelson Mandela in the Debate on the State of the Nation Address

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Closing address by President Nelson Mandela in the Debate on the State of the Nation Address


  • 1999-02-10 (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 Website

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Closing address in the Debate on the State of the Nation Address

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  • English

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Madame Speaker;
Honourable Members;
Distinguished guests;
Ladies and gentlemen:

It was to be expected that this year's debate on the State of the Nation Address should be especially enthusiastic.

This being the last session of the first democratic Parliament, we naturally cast our mind's eye back on the whole short life of our democracy. And in doing so, it was all too natural for us to appreciate the depth of the abyss from which, as a nation, we had retreated.

Five years ago, the sense of our common belonging, our shared destiny, focused the mind. And together we were able to find solutions to problems that seemed defiant of resolution. This is South Africa's achievement. It is a victory of South Africans of every shade of colour and every language, who have remained steadfast to the goal of bettering the lives of all South Africans, of nation-building and reconciliation. In whatever we do, we should defend it with all the might in our power.

This achievement enjoys the respect and admiration of the world at large. Humanity wants us to succeed. Able as they are to observe from near and judge from afar, they are better able to appreciate the contribution we are making to the birth of a new world order. We must live up to that expectation.

That, I believe, Madame Speaker, is the premise from which we should proceed in assessing the successes, the difficulties and the challenges we face in the coming months and years. We are a democracy - young and fledgling, but one which can boast of firm institutions and a culture that no force can take from the people of South Africa.

Even though at times we may wittingly or unwittingly pronounce ourselves in a manner that reflects concern about interests of a narrow constituency, the fact is that we know, and should know, that none of us can be secure if the rest of society is in dire need of basic amenities of life.

Of course, as the tenor of the last two days of debate made clear, members are not unmindful of the looming election. The time has come to seek a renewed mandate from the people. And, in the final analysis, it is the people who will judge the performance of each one of our organisations.

They will be right to pose the question whether we sought to build or to destroy. They will demand of us an answer to the question whether we bring them hope about a future that we should build together; or whether we seek to pull them into the mire of hatred, despair and a cynical longing for a past that shall never return.

When they do so, they will be challenging us to become leaders; not armchair critics or sirens of an apocalypse that exists only in the mind. They will be demanding practical solutions to practical problems.

It was thus remarkable, Honourable Members, how far we seemed to be in agreement on what we have achieved as a nation.

More importantly, all sides of the House were at one, that outstanding work had been done in these past four-and-half years to improve the quality of life of especially the poor. That virtually all parties in this national parliament now put a high premium on issues such as water supply, electricity, telephones, housing, job-creation, clinics, education and free medical care, demonstrates a critical awareness of what should be the priorities of this nation, if the hope of a better life for all has to become reality.

Of course it is in the nature of politics that even where the tremendous successes are clear for all to see, the acknowledgement thereof is at times begrudging. This is understandable.

Yet we should all be careful not to turn concern for difficulties into a death-wish. I refer here to the instance of crime. A number of Honourable Members referred to the issue of statistics that have been cited regarding reduction, stabilisation or regrettably an increase in a number of serious categories of crime.

We do agree that the method and analysis of these statistics need to be continually improved. This is not merely for purposes of parading them when it suits a political agenda; but it should form part of a professional drive to employ strategies that will be most effective against criminals.

But the point is that we need to avoid creating the perception that we only trust statistics when they suit us. When the graph points in the direction of a deterioration, we then shout from rooftops about the failures of government. When the opposite is the case, only then do we call for a professional auditing of these statistics. This approach to a common national problem borders on the perverse.

We wish to reiterate that the level of crime, especially violent crime is much too high. It is unacceptable. Communities are perfectly right to complain that not enough is being done.

If they do so because they cannot as yet feel the steady improvements in investigations, in dealing with corruption, in smashing the syndicates that are behind drug-trafficking, robberies and car-hijacking, and in introducing the most advanced techniques of detection and prosecution, we have the responsibility to patiently explain that there is hope. If communities show impatience because the laws that are meant to narrow the space for criminals have not as yet made a visible impact; if they express disquiet because the criminal justice system is not yet as efficient as we want it to be, it behoves us as leaders to demonstrate that there is hope.

As a people, we dealt with a state that pronounced itself invincible; and we are not about to throw up our hands in despair in the face of robbers and gangsters. More than anyone else, these criminals know that the battle-lines are drawn. Their days are numbered.

Madame Speaker;

These improvements in the area of crime-reduction and prevention, revolve around the fundamental question of changing the instruments that this nation requires to deal with the problems we have inherited. For instance, that the detectives from the new academy are starting to make their mark on dealing with major crimes is thanks to the new training, new selection and deployment policies, new motivation and improving morale.

The progress that we have started to make in all sectors of government will not be sustainable, if we do not consistently and systematically change the composition and ethos of the public service.

What this requires is training, development and consistent application of new rules, better management, a new cadreship and performance-based assessment of work done.

We therefore make no apologies, if anyone seeks out skilled cadres dedicated to the new order to interest themselves in, and avail themselves to, positions in all sectors of the public service. It is to the benefit of change that we should not allow one sector of government to benefit from an abundance of skills at the expense of others. As I indicated in the opening address, this is a matter that all parties should pay attention to in respect of local government, a sphere where all of us, in various capacities, interact directly with the population.

Naturally, where such positions belong in the arena of non-partisan public institutions, it is matter of law and democratic ethics that the processes should be conducted in a transparent manner through the normal "competitive" channels dictated to by the rules.

This is neither cronyism nor the expression of a so-called one-party state. It is a necessary commitment to transforming not only the people's condition of life, but also the instruments that will make that change possible.

It is one thing to decry lack of a public service ethos and a selfishness that breeds corruption; and it is another to take steps to find skilled personnel with a commitment to the needs of the people.

It is one thing to pronounce a commitment to a representative public service; and another to condemn the selection of blacks, the disabled and women - both black and white - into managerial positions.

And dare we remind ourselves that those of us who went into the executive were astounded at the absence not only of these groups, but also of white men who did not come from the then "correct ethnic group". We have set out to change all this. And by doing so, we believe we have made South Africa the richer - with our society benefiting from the skills base that the whole nation offers.

If this is cronyism, we proudly plead guilty.

We do appreciate vigilance on the part of the Opposition and the media regarding deployment of individuals into positions of authority. We have never pronounced ourselves super-human; and temptation may creep in from time to time to select those we know, who are closest to us.

Yet we shall always reject with the contempt it deserves, any attempt to haunt men and women of integrity and requisite training and experience from jobs they deserve simply because, by accident of birth or the whim of life history, they are related to one or other person in a position of authority. What is even most astounding is that those whose policies targeted these individuals for persecution, quite often on the basis of such links - and those who quietly acquiesced in this persecution - are today the first glibly to raise their voices on this matter. This new campaign of discrimination we shall not bow to, no matter how powerful the forces who combine to wage it.

Honourable Members;

Transformation also includes reconciliation and creating a nation united in the rich diversity of communities previously forced apart.

If we think back ten years, to when those prison letters were written and when we were mired in conflict, we can only marvel at how far we have come in a short time. We have risen above historical differences to reach out to one another and build a new united nation.

The dismantling of apartheid is liberating us all, oppressor and oppressed alike, disadvantaged and privileged, to be the people we really are. I have observed before that when I travel around this country and see how people from every background are working together, I realise how little I knew my country before.

I think of meetings I have attended of Afrikaans people, in the business sector; universities; farmers; ordinary residents of towns and cities; or the NGK service last Sunday to which a member referred during the debate.

Always one finds people who respond to a message of hope, people who regard the future in a positive light because they are working to create it. Nor do they seek special treatment; but rather to be equal and valued participants in building this country.

The same can be said of all those who are said to belong to minorities. Those who appoint themselves to speak for them and who offer a message of despair; and who see the "race-card" in every step to dismantle past discrimination, are lagging far behind those they claim to lead.

We do appreciate the concern communities may have for the flourishing of their language, culture and religion. That is why the government chose to observe Heritage Day last year as an opportunity to mobilise support and generate plans for the establishment of the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities. That process will continue.

Insofar as the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is concerned, I wish to underline that reconciliation and healing are about eradicating apartheid's legacy. And this goes beyond the capacity of government on its own. Proposals on reparations to communities and the nation as a whole, necessarily have to include provision for symbolic reparations to individuals, to the extent that the nation can afford.

Organisations and individuals with resources and skills that were acquired because they occupied privileged positions in the past, can make a special contribution to reparation through upliftment of disadvantaged communities.

Madame Speaker;

It is a combination of all these positive developments, including the determination of South Africans to deal with difficult areas, which reinforces our conviction that there is hope.

As if to confirm that South Africans in various sectors of society are far ahead of some of us, such organisations as the Afrikaanse Handelsinstituut, Business Against Crime, and the trade union movement, have all responded to the State of the Nation Address by pledging to join with the rest of society and government to find practical solutions to problems facing the country. Such is the power of partnership that we referred to and shall tirelessly work to consolidate.

As if to confirm that they do not belong to the detachment of those who sit on their hands, many sectors have resolved to join hands to work for the moral regeneration of our society, its "RDP of the soul".

As if to assist all of us in the work that we should do among our constituents, many sectors of society have come out in favour of a society that exercises its freedoms, but also appreciates its responsibilities. Such is our call for discipline.

As we mobilise to meet these challenges, we shall do so filled with hope because we know that South Africa has a democratic government that has got the interests of the people at heart.

Yes, we do appreciate criticism. But real leaders are emerging, who are able to see those issues that unite the country; leaders who have a sense of responsibility to ensure that, at the end of each debate, we emerge more united than before.

This government has started to meet the interests of the people; and it will continue to do so even faster. This government has worked for peace among South Africans, and it will continue to consolidate that achievement. While apartheid divided South Africans into conflicting groups, this government unites. It is this government that has started to bring reconciliation to South Africa; and it will soldier on towards that objective.

The fact that South Africa is in many respects the admiration of the world is not a matter of accident. It is a result of the hard work of men and women who sacrificed so our country could join humanity in the search for a better world.

And with such a leadership, with such organised formations determined to build partnerships for change, what more can we say, but that there is hope for South Africa! All we need to do together is to turn this hope into reality.

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Acquisition method: From website ; Source: ANC Website. Accessioned on 11/12/06 by Helen Joannides




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