Speech at the Youth Conference on Nation Building, Centurion City Hall – 2000/06/16

Centurion City Hall: June 16, 2000

Presidents, leaders and members of the Afrikanerbond and ANC Youth Leagues,
Distinguished participants,
Ladies and gentlemen, Friends:

First of all, I would like to extend my warmest congratulations to the leadership both of the Afrikanerbond Youth League and the ANC Youth League for convening this important conference.

I am certain that in times to come, our country will come to realise how critical your initiative was to the process unfolding before our very eyes of the birth of a new nation.

Our country faces many problems and challenges. But it also has the advantage of many opportunities to achieve the common objective we all pursue of transforming itself into a common homeland that we can all be proud of.

To transform those opportunities and possibilities into a positive reality requires that all of us, black and white South Africans, the young and the old, act together for the realisation of the goal of a better life for all.

It is from this that your conference derives its importance. I hope that by the time you conclude your deliberations, you will have agreed on the steps you will take together to contribute to the historic objective of nation building.

To do this, you will have to undertake a frank and open assessment of the major elements that characterise our society, encompassing both the positives and the negatives.

You will then have to address the question of what the correct policy responses should be to all of these factors.

Having decided this important issue, obviously you will have to determine the joint programme of action in which you will engage, and encourage the youth of our country to participate in, to ensure the success of the vision you will have elaborated together.

In this relatively short address, I will therefore try to make a contribution to your discussions by speaking on some of the issues I believe your conference should consider.

I would, however, like to suggest that, if you have the time, you should critically assess my comments. You are free, and indeed have the obligation, to reject whatever you might consider wrong and nonsensical in my remarks.

I will therefore proceed to speak my mind and will say some things that might be discomfiting to some of us. I must however assure you that I am not, in any way, trying to be controversial.

I will speak as honestly as I can because of the respect I have for you and the youth of our country and because I am convinced that we will not do the right things unless we speak and act in an honest manner.

The first point I would like to make is that, in reality, we have not as yet developed a sense of common nationhood. We are all South African by nationality and according to the Identity Documents and passports we carry.

But in our social psychology, our instincts and our perception of ourselves, we see ourselves as distinct elements of an agglomeration of different racial and ethnic groups whose interests we believe might very well be mutually exclusive.

As a result and an expression of this, we have differing and different perceptions of one another and what being South African means.

Consequently, we respond differently to various events and developments in our country, including processes brought about by new policies introduced by the government.

Accordingly, we provide different answers to the question – what is it that I need to do as a South African to contribute to the larger goal of helping to create a new society!

As a result of all of this, when Nelson Mandela called on all of us to develop and adhere to a new patriotism, there could not be an immediate mass response because the common and unifying answer to the question – what shall I be patriotic about – was not easy to come by.

If you are a black South African, you are most likely to have welcomed the end of apartheid rule in our country in 1994 with great enthusiasm. You would have seen this as an historic fact of liberation, indeed opening up the prospect of a better life.

If you are a white South African, you are most likely to have welcomed this change with a certain degree of unease. Some would have wondered whether they, their families and properties were safe from black hordes that might go on the rampage.

These would have thought that, among other things, the blacks might seek to inflict revenge for the wrongs that previous white minority governments and the white population in general might have caused them.

Indeed, around the election period in 1994, many white households built up supplies of various food and other necessities, convinced that mayhem and chaos were at hand.

Others left the country temporarily so that when the troubles broke out, they would, at least, save their lives.

This behaviour was based on certain perceptions born of our particular history in which racism, racial discrimination and oppression have occupied pride of place.

More than ten years ago, the former Chairperson of the Broederbond, Prof Pieter de Lange told me that the apartheid system was put in place because the Afrikaners felt that their very security was at risk if they did not institute a system that separated black from white and ensured that the whites held sufficient power to enforce such separation.

The racism that informed this view defined the black majority as sub-human, barbaric, incapable of sharing the same moral norms as the white minority, incapable of being civilised – and therefore menacing, requiring to be watched, contained and tamed at all costs.

After centuries of oppression, some among the black community began to believe in their own inferiority. These lost all sense of self-esteem and confidence in themselves, repeating as a matter of course – umlungu mdala! the whites are naturally superior!

Others, again from the black community, took the view that the whites, viewed as foreigners who had come from across the seas, were the very incarnation of the devil. Accordingly, they would say, within the ‘private’ confines of the black community – drive the whites to the sea!

But fortunately for all of us, the black majority held to the view that its white compatriots were compatriots who needed to learn about the need to live together with their black compatriots as equals.

I think that one of the questions you should ask yourselves is whether what I have said is correct. If it is, you will have to assess what progress we have made since 1994 to defeat everything that is negative in our common history.

This is important because if we have not yet overcome this legacy, then we continue to carry perceptions of one another that militate against the development of a shared sense of nationhood and therefore the evolution of a new patriotism.

Let me illustrate the implications of what I am saying by referring, as an example, to a matter that preoccupies all of us on a daily basis.

This is the serious issue of crime in our country.

In this regard, let me state unequivocally that crime in South Africa is indeed, a serious matter and must continue to be dealt with very firmly and as one of the principal challenges that faces our government and people.

Nevertheless, difficult as this may be to accept among some of us, the fact of the matter is that, in many categories, to say the least, crime in our country has decreased since 1994.

The assertion that is constantly made that South Africa is the crime capital of the world and that all areas in our country are crime-infested is very wrong.

But equally, the incidence of violent crime in the white areas of our country has increased while crime, which became endemic in many black urban areas during the apartheid years, has not moved in the same direction.

The fact of the increase of crime in white areas has led to the propagation of the falsehoods both that the incidence of crime in the country has increased since 1994 and that we are the crime capital of the world.

What makes it difficult for the facts to speak for themselves is the simple reality that many of our compatriots, and others outside our country, carry in their heads the subjective view that black people are inherently criminally violent.

Recently, I read an article by a white South African journalist which argued that the culture, religion and traditions of the Africans made all African men instinctively and inherently rapist.

In case I get accused of misrepresenting the journalist, let me quote directly from the relevant article.

“Here, (in South Africa), (HIV) is spread primarily by heterosexual sex – spurred by men’s attitude towards women. We won’t end this epidemic until we understand the role of tradition and religion – and of a culture in which rape is endemic and has become a prime means of transmitting the disease, to young women as well as children.”

Among other untruthful and preposterous things, the journalist claimed that, because of the predilection of African men to rape, determined by their tradition, religion and culture, one out of every two women in our country would be raped at least once during their lifetime.

This article was an intensely passionate argument for the provision of AZT and other anti-retroviral drugs by our public health system, among other things to enable these drugs to be prescribed to rape victims.

I have also seen disturbing comments about the completely unacceptable incidence of violent attacks of white farmers.

These comments have suggested that these attacks constitute an orchestrated racist offensive against white people.

This is seen as an expression of the long-awaited revenge onslaught which led some whites in our country to doubt the permanence of the so-called miracle we achieved in 1994 and subsequent years.

It is the waiting for this apocalypse that resulted in the marketing of the idea domestically and internationally for some time after 1994, that there was uncertainty about the future political stability of our country, especially once President Mandela retired.

When racism has become as deeply entrenched as this, the question arises naturally – what is it that you must do, as the youth of our country, to create the possibility for all of us to recognise the fact that, after all, we are all human beings who, in reality, behave very much in the same way!

None among us, whether black or white, are born murderers, rapists, thieves with no conception of what is meant by private property, liars, and natural and original carriers of HIV!

Neither is there a view among the majority of black people that our liberation has opened any door for them to murder, rape, steal, and lie or spread disease!

I think it would be good if this conference, out of its own convictions, could come out with this message.

Thus you would make the affirmation that the overwhelming majority of our people, again both black and white, are decent, law abiding and moral people who want nothing more than happiness for themselves, their families and their fellow citizens.

Thus would you also make the call that all our people must treat one another as decent, law abiding and moral people and not wild animals that must be feared and caged.

We must also make the point together, that we are all opposed to crime and criminals and those who participate in corrupt practice, whatever colour or race they might be, recognising that neither race nor colour are determinants who shall end up being a criminal.

The other reality which I think you should reflect upon is that our country is, as I have said before, divided into two nations, one white and relatively prosperous and the other black, and poor.

In this context, you will also have to consider the import of the argument that has been advanced more recently by some in our country that the disparity in wealth and income between the black rich and the black poor has, in fact, become the distinguishing feature of the new South Africa.

It is obvious that the removal of racial barriers as a consequence of the establishment of a democratic society, will result, among other things, in enabling more black people to attain the same standard of living as other South Africans who were privileged because they are white.

Nevertheless, personally, I consider the propagation of the argument about the implications of the class distinction among the black people as a dishonest attempt to hide the fundamental reality of the racial division of our country in order to avoid dealing with this reality.

You may, of course, have a different view about this matter.

I hope that that different view would not lead you to deny the fact of the defining feature of our society, which says to all of us that race continues to describe the disparities in our country in terms of the distribution of wealth, income, opportunity and skills.

Apart from any other consideration, the fact of this reality assumes great importance because if we do not address these disparities, which, like the land question in Zimbabwe, were central to the struggle for liberation in this country, at some point in future we will experience an enormous and angry explosion by those who remain disadvantaged.

We are determined to fight against such an eventuality and are convinced that together we will win. But we also have a common obligation to ensure that we do indeed address the racial disparities we all inherited from the apartheid system.

We are fortunate that we have many South Africans, both black and white, who have responded well to this challenge.

I would also like to acknowledge the support we are receiving from foreign governments, companies and non-governmental organisations to help us bridge the racial and gender disparities we still have to contend with.

If I am correct about this matter of inherited racial gaps, you will then have to discuss what steps we should take to close those gaps.

Accordingly, you will have to consider the sometimes controversial question of affirmative action. This must include both the facts about whether, in truth, hostile discrimination is being practised especially against Afrikaner males as well as the assertions that are repeatedly made that we are experiencing a white ‘brain drain’ especially because of affirmative action and crime.

Since none of us would support or desire any anti-white discrimination and would not like to lose any skilled people, while being committed to do everything to end the racial disparities and racial discrimination, you will have to consider how we should handle this complex situation.

What is clear is that we cannot say that we are committed to nation building and, at the same time, seek to marginalise any section of that population.

At the same time, it is equally clear that we cannot speak of nation building while doing nothing decisive to end the disadvantaged position of those whom the apartheid system deliberately sought to disadvantage.

I am also convinced that the non-racial future of our country depends to a great degree on what the youth of our country themselves do to bring about this result.

You have chosen a very eloquent slogan to express what you feel and think – yesterday was a foreign country: tomorrow belongs to us!

It is precisely because tomorrow belongs to you that you must determine what tomorrow should look like.

You will therefore have to decide what the youth of our country must do, itself to ensure that we reconstruct our country, our common heritage, into an entity that will be entirely different from what previous generations made it to be.

I am convinced that this requires that you yourselves make certain determinations.

The first of these is that you will refuse to perpetuate any racist prejudices that previous generations, including your parents, might have sought to implant into your minds.

The second is that you will work hard to ensure that you actually interact with one another, across the colour line, to engage in common action to bring about the social changes you will have decided are necessary.

The third is that you will agree that tolerance of different views and acceptance of different languages and cultures among yourselves are fundamental to the success of your common struggle to fashion yourselves into joint force for the birth of the new South Africa.

The fourth is that you will work to build a strong spirit of solidarity and comradeship among yourselves to enhance your capacity to defeat those forces in our society that will argue that yours is an unnatural marriage.

The fifth is that you will base your programmes of action on the actual challenges facing the youth and people of our country, including such issues as racism and sexism, education and training, employment, crime and substance abuse, sports and culture.

For many years, our country was an outcast among the nations because of the policy of apartheid. But precisely because of our experience, we have the possibility to make an important contribution to the African and worldwide struggle to overcome problems of ethnicity and racism.

In this regard, I would also like to remind you of the forthcoming Conference on Racism organised by the Human Rights Commission and scheduled for August. This conference is an important stepping stone towards the success of that initiative.

Whether we succeed in achieving this goal in our own interest and in the interest of humanity as a whole will depend on what you, the youth of our country do. I am certain that you will not fail us.

We meet today, on our National Youth Day, in tribute to the youth of our country who made many sacrifices to bring freedom to all our people.

In the same way that their sacrifices brought us our common victory, so are we convinced that your sacrifices will help us to overcome the legacy of the past and ensure that, indeed, tomorrow belongs to all our people, both black and white.

Thank you.

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