Extract from President Jacob Zuma’s address to the South African Parliament on the Budget Vote Debate, Cape Town, May 31, 2012. These were his first public comments since a South African art gallery displayed an explicit painting of him with his genitals exposed:
I would like to sincerely thank Honourable Members for their participation in the Presidency Budget Vote.
The Honourable Minister of Arts and Culture, Mr Paul Mashatile reminded us yesterday that today, the 31st of May, is the anniversary of the formation of the Union of South Africa, which formalised the exclusion of the black majority.
Addressing a meeting of the South African Native Convention which met in Bloemfontein's Waaihoek township in March 1909 to consider means of protesting against the draft Union of South Africa constitution, one of the founding fathers of the African National Congress, Pixley ka Isaka Seme, said:
"The white people of this country have formed what is known as the Union of South Africa - a union in which we have no voice in the making of laws and no part in their administration.
“We have called you therefore to this Conference, so that we can together devise ways and means of forming our national union for the purpose of creating national unity and defending our rights and privileges."
It is important to remember such landmarks in our history, lest we join the school of thought which preaches that reconciliation should mean that everything that happened before 1994 must be forgotten, and must not provide lessons for what we do today.
Writing in 1953, ANC scholar and thinker, RV Selope Thema, eloquently described what life was like for black South Africans in 1910 when the Union was formed.
"In those days the black man was treated as a beast of burden. He was knocked and kicked about with impunity. In the magistrate's courts his voice was hardly heard and his evidence hardly believed.
He was stopped at street corners by policemen demanding the production of his pass and his tax receipt. He was not allowed to walk on the pavements and had to dodge motor cars in the streets.
He was not allowed to travel first, second or third class on the trains. He travelled in trucks almost similar to those used for cattle and horses...
Politically he had no voice in the making and administration of the laws. Economically he was kept in a state of abject poverty.”
Years later in 1961, Chief Albert Luthuli, in his acceptance speech on receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, described South Africa as follows:
"It is a museum piece in our time, a hangover from the dark past of mankind, a relic of an age which everywhere else is dead or dying.
“Here, the cult of race superiority and of white supremacy is worshipped like a god. Few white people escape corruption and many of their children learn to believe that white men are unquestionably superior, efficient, clever, industrious and capable; that black men are, equally unquestionably, inferior, slothful, stupid, evil and clumsy."
We also recall the words of President Nelson Mandela in his statement from the dock in the Rivonia Trial.
He said: "The lack of human dignity experienced by Africans is the direct result of the policy of white supremacy. White supremacy implies black inferiority. Legislation designed to preserve white supremacy entrenches this notion.”
Madiba went on to describe attitudes at the time which seriously impacted on the dignity of Africans.
He said: "Menial tasks in South Africa are invariably performed by Africans. When anything has to be carried or cleaned, the white man will look around for an African to do it for him, whether the African is employed by him or not.
“Because of this sort of attitude, whites tend to regard Africans as a separate breed. They do not look upon them as people with families of their own; they do not realise that they have emotions.”
Honourable Speaker, I am reminding the House of this because we should not lose sight of the fact that this country has a history, a very, very painful history whose deep scars still show.
Life did not begin in 1994. No amount of denial will take this historical fact away.
We are building a new nation out of the ashes of colonialism and apartheid.
We are building a new nation out of a country where to be black meant subjugation, indignity, inhumane treatment, humiliation and dispossession simply because those in power believed that black people were lesser human beings by virtue of their colour and race.
Scores suffered, some paid the supreme price, others left the country of their birth, as they pursued the struggle for freedom, justice, equality, democracy and human dignity.
Therefore, we cannot take our freedom lightly. We cannot take the rights that were won in 1994 lightly and use them for political point scoring.
Out of that pain, we must build a new society together, and bury hatred and mistrust. Madiba directed us to move in that direction in his inauguration address in 1994, where he declared: "Out of the experience of an extraordinary human disaster that lasted too long, must be born a society of which all humanity will be proud.”
That society which was born in 1994, was underscored by a very progressive Constitution with a Bill of Rights.
For a people whose every moment was a lived experience of humiliation and a denial of their human dignity, the restoration of their human rights, including that of human dignity, meant the restoration of life.
Many can find meaning in the declaration by Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata who said: "It's better to die on your feet, than to live on your knees.”
We cannot go back to the period or memory of Number 4 prison, where black men were made to strip naked and perform the "tauza" dance.
Nor do we want to re-open the wounds of the humiliation of Sarah Baartman, who was painfully exhibited in London and Paris, and whose genitals and brain were stored in a pickle jar and shown off in a museum until the administration led by President Mandela demanded the return of her remains for a decent burial.
We dare not repeat that painful, brutal, primitive treatment of a human being.This is why we are also currently working with the government of Austria regarding the remains of Khoisan people who were taken to Austria for experiments in 1909.
Already, the remains of Mr and Mrs Klaas and Trooi Pienaar have been brought back to the country and we are working on the logistics of the reburial. The Austrian scientist Rudolph Poch had taken more than 80 South African human remains to Austria for experiments.
I trust that the social cohesion and nation building summit in July will give us all the opportunity to turn our backs on denial and confront this painful history, with a view to finding final closure and healing. Our people have suffered enough in dignity.
Honourable Chief whip of the ruling party Mathole Motshekga pointed out correctly that the dialogue would promote racial, cultural and religious tolerance and contribute to nation building and social cohesion.
Most importantly, it will allow the sharing of experiences.
Our knowledge of this country must not be solely defined by written texts, but should be informed by the experiences of the people who make up the wonderful tapestry of this wonderful nation.
I would like to assure this House that as much as we fought for this freedom and liberated both the oppressor and the oppressed alike, we will defend all the rights enshrined in the Constitution including the right to freedom of expression and the right to human dignity. No right is superior to other rights.
In the same vein, we must disabuse ourselves of the notion that certain rights are more important to certain sections of South African society than others.
Freedom of expression is as important and as understood and appreciated in Constantia as it is in Gugulethu.That is why this government defends the right of our people to express themselves in any manner including protest action, except if in exercising that right they begin to violate the rights of others, such as destroying property or stopping other people from exercising their own rights.
No right is absolute. It must be exercised with due regard to the rights of others. That is the balance we have to strike at all times.
Most importantly, as leaders we have a responsibility to live, uphold and defend the Constitution regardless of narrow political goals. No right is so important that it can be used to undermine other rights with impunity.
Honourable Deputy Minister Jeremy Cronin eloquently captured the importance of balancing all the rights in our Constitution and not to promote those rights that are important to those with power and influence only or those that are convenient at a given time. We cannot be selective with our Constitution.
And it does not matter who the subject of the violation of any right is. All rights are important and must be respected.
What is remarkable about our country, is that despite this human disaster that lasted too long as described by Madiba, we still had that historic gathering in Kliptown in 1955, where under the leadership of the ANC, delegates to the congress of the people declared that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white.
It is remarkable too, that while our struggle was a struggle against racism, it was never a racist struggle. That is why we had white democrats fighting side by side with their black compatriots to liberate this country and put an end to racism and subjugation.
Madiba declared from the dock while facing a possible death sentence: "The ANC has spent half a century fighting against racialism. When it triumphs it will not change that policy.” Indeed, it has not, and will not.
When we speak of the triple challenge of poverty, unemployment and inequality, we are essentially talking about the economic and social patterns of colonialism and apartheid.
Therefore, while we have done remarkably well, as our Mid-Term Review demonstrates, we still have some way to go before Qumbu can look like Rosebank. But we are determined to get there.
We thank Honourable Bhoola for acknowledging that considerable work has been done and that people must not pretend as if nothing has been done.
As Honourable Sue van Der Merwe pointed out: "There is evidence that policy decisions are being turned into practical programmes with the emphasis on building on sound policies and tweaking those that proved less suitable.”
Indeed we are a learning government and we improve each day in the delivery of services.
Our performance monitoring and evaluation mechanism allows us to know what is working and what needs to be fixed. In this regard, we are able to give a frank and honest account of where we are succeeding, and where we must still work harder.
We know what we are doing, we know where are going and how to get there.
And as Honourable Mfundisi correctly stated, we have parted ways with "business as usual", we are doing things differently and in a more hands on manner.
Honourable Mphahlele you stated that our land restitution programme has been a sad story of failure or set up for failure as there is no meaningful support for government beneficiaries.
In 2009, we set ourselves a target to redistribute 30% of the 82 million hectares of white-owned agricultural land to black people by 2014. This 30% translates to 24.5 million hectares.
Our midterm review has indicated that the process of acquiring and distributing a particular piece of land is often lengthy, and this escalates the cost of redistribution because the former owner stops investing in the land. We agree with you therefore Honourable Mphahlele, that many of the farms are in a poor state of repair at the point of acquisition.
In addition, there has often been a decline in productivity on the redistributed farms. In response, government adopted the recapitalisation programme in November 2010.
By December last year, 595 farms were in the process of being rehabilitated through this programme.
Strategic partners and mentors, who are competent and experienced farmers themselves, are appointed through to assist beneficiaries with farming activities. The strategic partners and mentors are required to develop the farming skills of beneficiaries, provide them with access to markets, and where possible access to the entire value chain of that particular business.
Most importantly, the strategic partners are required to share in the risks of the farming enterprise to ensure the success of the venture. This further contributes to the objective of de-racialising the rural economy.
To date we are seeing drastic improvements, not only in terms of production on farms, but on the lives of the beneficiaries.
We agree that more work still needs to be done and we will do so.
As we forge ahead to build a new society out of what Madiba called a human disaster that lasted too long, we remain guided by the wisdom of our founding fathers.
Chief Albert Luthuli aptly summed up what the ANC stands for when he declared:
"Our vision has always been that of a non-racial democratic South Africa which upholds the rights of all who live in our country to remain there as full citizens with equal rights and responsibilities with all others. For the consummation of this ideal we have laboured unflinchingly. We shall continue to labour unflinchingly."