Former South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki
Photo by: Duane
Chairperson of Conference,
More than a decade ago, we were honoured as the South African government to host for a few days a leading representative of the then government of Austria.
At that moment our democracy was less than ten years old and continued to attract considerable attention throughout the world. Accordingly we had to engage our Austrian guest in a detailed discussion about our programmes to respond to our national challenges.
Our guest left us with an observation which many of us never forgot. Simply he said that in the international context – South Africa is a pilot project!
In this regard he picked out two matters. These were first what we were doing to build a truly non-racial society and therefore successfully manage a diverse society, and secondly what we were doing to eradicate poverty and in that context reduce the gross racial and gender socio-economic inequalities which our democracy had inherited.
Our guest insisted that even Austria faced similar challenges of managing a diverse society and reducing socio-economic inequalities, obviously on a much smaller degree than South Africa.
He therefore informed us that because of this the broad Austrian leadership was doing its best to watch how our country was responding to these challenges and was greatly encouraged that we were successfully serving as a pilot project even for his country!
I have told you this story because of the subject I have been asked to address, which is, ‘South Africa – Living up to its promise’.
I have read this to mean that certainly the organisers of this important Conference believe that South Africa has not lived up to its promise!
In this regard let e hasten to say that I fully agree with this sentiment, that indeed democratic South Africa has not fully lived up to its promise!
And what were the elements of that promise?
Our Austrian guest was correct when he said that our country held out the promise of the successful management of a racially diverse society, leading to the building of a truly non-racial society.
Related to this was the promise that it would entrench democracy in our country in a manner which would ensure the building of the necessary institutions, respect for human rights and the rule of law.
Our country also held out the promise of radically reducing poverty in our country and reducing the yawning racial and gender inequalities in terms of the distribution of wealth and income, thus to accomplish the goal of a better life for all.
In this context it held out the promise that it would build an economy which would grow and develop at significant rates, sufficient for it to generate the new wealth on a sustainable basis which is required to achieve the progressive socio-economic objectives I have mentioned.
With the strongest and most developed economy on our Continent and the value system that historically characterised our national liberation movement, certainly as represented by the governing party, the ANC, our country held out the promise that it would also serve as a living example which would contribute to dissipate the then prevalent Afro-pessimism and thus help other countries on our Continent to address their challenges in a manner which would make a positive impact on the lives of the billion Africans.
This would make it possible for Africa to take its rightful place in the system of international relations resulting, among others, in better management of Africa’s resources and less dependence on the charity of the developed world of the North.
It therefore stands to reason that when the assertion is made that South Africa has not lived up to its promise this statement must be measured against the various ‘promises’ I have just listed.
However, with your permission, I will not do this as it would take a fair amount of time which we do not have this morning.
I would like to believe that all of us here are familiar with the fact that three weeks ago the Veterans and Stalwarts of the ANC, our country’s governing party, held what they described as a National Consultative Conference.
Briefly, these very senior cadres of the ANC convened this Conference exactly because of their very grave concern that because of various misdemeanours of the ANC as a governing party, our country was continuously moving away from delivering on the promises I have listed.
Let me quote part of what the Consultative Conference said in the Declaration it issued as it concluded its work.
Among others, the Veterans and Stalwarts of the ANC, our country’s governing party, said:
“We observe that the current elected leadership of the ANC is paralysed and unable to deal with ill-discipline, incompetence and corruption that point directly to the highest office in the land…
“We further observe that parliament and the executive, led by the President, (have) been found to have failed in their constitutional obligations by the highest court of the land.
“The mismanagement of our economy has led to unprecedented unemployment rates. This has exacerbated the levels of poverty amongst the masses of our people…
“We are witness to the moral degeneration in society that is overseen by a self-centred, non-caring leadership that lacks honesty, integrity and a vision for the future…
(We are also witness to) “The systematic erosion of the State’s ability to carry out its constitutional mandate of delivering services to our people…, as well as,
“(Actions by the ANC leadership which have resulted in) “Diminishing the stature and reputation of South Africa and the African National Congress in the eyes of our people, the sister peoples on the African continent and the world at large.”
I believe that these statements made by a most politically mature echelon of the membership of the ANC are sufficient to indicate how seriously the people of South Africa view and describe the reality that our country has failed to live up to its promise, and therefore their urgent desire to move away from this negative reality.
In any case and in addition, all of us are familiar with the negative assessment of the rating of South Africa which has been made by the international rating agencies, consistent with the views expressed even by the oldest of the members of the ANC!
Thus we must come back to the question – what must be done to ensure that South Africa lives up to its historic promise?
Of course, immanent in that very question, is the suggestion that it is in fact possible to achieve the objective of ensuring that our country lives up to its promise!
My comments with regard to the matters I have just raised are that:
First, it is indeed possible to ensure that our country lives up to its promise.
Secondly, to achieve this outcome, it will be important that our country is mobilised to act in unity to achieve the nationally agreed objectives as stated in our Constitution of building a non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous society, committed to addressing the grievances of the past.
Third, our starting point must be that the members of the ANC, supported by the rest of our population, must act firmly, and on a sustained basis, to ensure that the ANC seriously addresses its weaknesses and misdemeanours so that it honestly discharges its responsibilities in the context of the Constitutional objectives I have just mentioned.
I mention specifically the ANC because all indications suggest that it will continue to enjoy primacy as the governing party of choice, or the single largest party, in terms of how our population will vote during our national elections.
Fourth, it is vitally important that the masses of the people of South Africa are mobilised, as happened during the difficult years of struggle against apartheid, once more to adopt the posture that they are their own liberators determined to ensure that South Africa develops into the country for which they sacrificed and fought.
The question arises naturally as to whether all what I have just said does not amount to nothing more than a pipedream, the mere expression of an unrealisable wish!
In this regard I would like to state my very firm views.
The first of these, once again, is that it is indeed eminently possible to ensure that sooner rather than later South Africa returns to the path according to which it would live up to its promise as we defined this earlier.
I make this firm assertion exactly because as our people have done everything to defend and entrench our democratic system, so does the possibility exist that precisely because of the vibrancy of our democracy our people have the possibility, which they will exercise, to ensure that our country and theirs lives up to its promise!
Put simply, it is through the exercise of their democratic rights by our people that it will be possible for our country correctly to respond to the concerns raised by the ANC Veterans and Stalwarts at the National Consultative Conference.
In other words, the South African people must and will use the fact of the democratic gains they made through struggle to use their democratic power to defeat the negative elements which have taken control of the governing party, the ANC, including as this relates to the reprehensible phenomenon of state capture.
Already our Judiciary, and more recently the National Legislature, acting within their Constitutional mandates, have demonstrated how our democratic Constitutional system can and must respond to all efforts to negate what our Constitution says, which has resulted in our country failing to live up to its promise.
It remains for all the South African patriotic forces to ensure that all other sections of our population act in a manner consistent with what the Judiciary and the National Legislature have done thus to generate the popular power to ensure that our country repositions itself to live up to its promise.
An important part of what this will require will be that that broad and united democratic response to ensure that South Africa lives up to its promise, also addresses various matters of political, economic, social, international and other policy.
When the ANC acceded to power in 1994 its policies as a governing party were informed by two strategic policy documents.
These were the documents “Ready to Govern” and the “Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP)”.
Obviously, after 1994 the ANC elaborated other policy documents among others to respond to challenges which had come up during the process of governance, but which did not depart from the fundamental propositions of the “Ready to Govern” and “RDP” documents.
I refer here to such documents as “State and Social Transformation” and “Growth, Employment and Redistribution: A Macroeconomic Strategy” (GEAR), as well as a big complex of documented decisions taken by Government effectively to give effect to all the documents and polices I have mentioned.
I say all this to make the important point that since 1994 our democratic order has taken a multiplicity of decisions exactly to spell out in detail what democratic South Africa must do to live up to its promise!
In this context I would like to make the observation that one of the weaknesses of the National Development Plan (NDP) is that it completely fails to assess the Government policies which preceded the NDP, including whether these correctly identified what had to be done to address our country’s historic challenge of the eradication of the legacy of colonialism and apartheid.
The central point I would like to make is that when success is achieved with regard to addressing the negative challenges facing the governing party, the ANC, it will be possible to attend to such important matters as:
• elaborating a programme of action to implement the National Development Plan, the NDP, which implementation must, among others, result in achieving the objectives indicated in the Plan, such as high economic growth rates, significant poverty reduction and meaningful and sustained job creation;
• ensuring that the State and the State Owned Enterprises play their proper role in terms of contributing to the implementation of the NDP, freed from the corrosive clutches of corruption;
• ensuring the proper functioning of our constitutional democracy consistent with the manner in which our Constitutional Court explained what our Constitution expects of all our governance institutions: this would include restoring to their full health all the State institutions which have been corrupted and weakened especially during the last decade;
• strengthening the partnership between government, the corporate sector, the trade unions and civil society to ensure the achievement of the goal of a better life for all as indicated in the NDP; and,
• activating the criminal justice system to discharge its responsibilities with regard to stamping out corruption, including in its manifestation as state capture, thus to help ensure that our people as a whole, whatever their social status, practically respect the principle and practice of the rule of law.
To conclude, I am therefore saying that yes, South Africa will once again live up to its promise!
Confirming their decision to act, rather than stand and watch, in their Declaration the ANC Stalwarts and Veterans said:
“We acknowledge that our failure to address (the negative developments emanating from ANC misdemeanours) timeously has contributed towards the grave reputational damage, political and moral crisis facing our organisation and country.”
As we meet here in Cape Town, a mere ten (10) days before the start of the 54th National Conference of the ANC, millions throughout our country are engaged in various actions specifically to end ‘the grave reputational damage, (the) political and moral crisis facing our organisation and country’ to which the ANC Stalwarts and Veterans referred.
I am certain that the last decade has taught these millions the lesson that directly in their own interest they must act to ensure that South Africa lives up to its promise.