We’re still divided: Mbeki

Mbeki was addressing a joint sitting of Parliament to mark the 10th anniversary of the adoption of South Africa’s constitution, and took the opportunity to take a swipe at those misusing government authority and disregarding the law. He said despite 12 years of independence following the end of apartheid rule, the country had still not achieved its ambition of national reconciliation and was still a “divided nation” in some areas. “But above all, we continue to face the challenge to achieve the balanced and mutually reinforcing outcome mentioned in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Act of ‘reconciliation between the people of South Africa and the reconstruction of society’. “We have to continue to work for national and social cohesion among our people, who were taught that they were permanent victims of God-ordained differences that were irreconcilable. “As part of this, we have to restore the integrity of our social fabric and ensure moral regeneration, affecting all aspects of human endeavour,” Mbeki said. Observers said the speech appeared to have been targeted at authorities in government and the ruling African National Congress (ANC), which have at various stages been reported to be under threat of infighting. The observers also said Mbeki’s speech was aimed at restoring confidence in the government and the ruling party in the wake of the Jacob Zuma trial that they believe has damaged the reputations of both the state and the ANC. Mbeki also stressed the importance of widespread education on the basic rights of all South Africans and continued respect for democracy, which had seen the South African constitution growing into one of the most respected on the African continent. “. . . we must also strive to ensure that all of us understand that freedom does not translate into licence, into an unlimited right for anyone of us to do as they please, regardless of the law. “We must understand that none of us has a right to pursue what we believe is due to us by compromising the rights of another,” he said. “We must understand also that, as the Freedom Charter said, all must be equal before the law, with none among us acting as though they are above the law, acting in a manner that deliberately seeks to undermine, weaken or discredit the institutions of the democratic state.” The president’s statements came against the background of rampant allegations of abuse of state power ‘ and resources ‘ by some government officials Criticisms have also flown that senior government officials have chosen to enrich themselves at the expense of the rest of the populace, which should also benefit from available opportunities. Addressing the issue of violent protests that characterized the March parliamentary elections, particularly in the Khutsong district, Mbeki said the statutes enshrined in the constitution made it clear that the country had the means of addressing its problems and disputes without taking the route of violence. He also pointed to Cape Town’s new coalition government, led by the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA), as evidence of “the will of the people enshrined in the constitution”. “This we must understand as well, that the freedom we have won, and the rights codified in our Constitution, mean that we have the means to address our demands and solve disputes by peaceful means, without resort to violence. “Indeed it means that, by definition, (any) resort to violence within our democracy is inherently directed against the democratic system itself,” he said, adding that: “We must respect the results of the exercise by the people of their right to vote and elect governments of their choice, affecting all spheres of government.” While applauding the positive strides that have been made through the constitution, opposition parties were, however, critical of their declining role since the constitution came into use, and also complained over their exclusion from the day’s parliamentary events. DA, IFP, ACDP, FF Plus and the United Party of South Africa leaders, who held a Press conference after Mbeki’s speech, said the decision by parliament’s presiding officers to sideline them was contrary to the objectives of the founders of the constitution, who desired a multi-party spirit to exist.

May 2006
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