May 10, 2004

Fervent plea by Mandela / Government completed

Former President Nelson Mandela has called on the nation never to forget the country's past but utilise that experience as a guiding light to overcome challenges that still remain. "Let us never be unmindful of the terrible past from which we come - that memory not as a means to keep us shackled to the past in a negative manner, but rather as a joyous reminder of how far we have come and how much we have achieved," he affirmed. He added that the country's past history of division, injustice and suffering ought to "inspire us to celebrate our own demonstration of the capacity of human beings to progress, to go forward, to improve, to do better." Madiba made the profound statement during his special address to Parliament to mark the inauguration of the first democratically elected President and his two deputy presidents, ten years ago. At the time, Mandela was installed as head of government with FW de Klerk and incumbent President Thabo Mbeki as second in command during a decisive period that ultimately set the "rainbow nation" on a path to peaceful and democratic rule. To this end, the trio unveiled a commemorative inscription at the legislative organ cementing the historic path the country underwent then as well as celebrating ten years of democracy.

However Mr Mandela called on the nation never to stop embracing each other saying the country had become "an inspiration to many" symbolising that "good can be achieved among human beings". "My wish is that South Africans never give up on the belief in goodness, that they cherish that faith in human beings as a cornerstone of our democracy," he said to loud applause. There is enough reason for cynicism and despair, he said, but advised that the nation ought to take serious "our own experience and performance" to heart. "Let us refrain from chauvinistic breast-beating; but let also not underrate what we have achieved in establishing a stable and progressive democracy where we take freedoms seriously; in building national unity in spite of decades and centuries of apartheid and colonial rule; in creating a culture in which we increasingly respect the dignity of all." He warned about challenges still remaining especially poverty, unemployment, disease including HIV and AIDS, calling on the Speaker of Parliament Baleka Mbete to help turn Parliament into the "voice of the people."

Constantly referring to himself as an "old man and a retired old pensioner," Madiba told the MPs that he was grateful to have been elected to led the country during its turbulent years. "This old man ... notes with immense satisfaction and pride today the persistence and strengthening of that spirit of generosity, magnanimity and confident hopefulness about the future of our nation." He also took off his hat to his successor, President Thabo Mbeki, for his "sterling" leadership. "No President or Prime Minister in the history of this country can claim to have done more for the people and the country than has been achieved by President Thabo Mbeki," he said. "He is a modest man and I know he would prefer that I do not sing his personal praises, but his achievement as President and national leader is the embodiment of what our nation is capable of." Madiba sealed his thought-provoking address by calling on God to bless Africa, using six of the country's 11 official languages.

In the meantime, President Thabo Mbeki widened the scope of his broad-based government when he appointed a United Democratic Party MP as a deputy minister. Little-known UDM MP Ntopile Kganyago and equally obscure ANC MP Gert Oosthuizen were appointed deputy ministers of Public Works and Deputy Minister for Sports and Recreation respectively. This effectively shut out the IFP. The IFP's Vincent Ngema failed to take up the post a week ago.

Mbeki filled the two vacancies ahead of the all-important Cabinet lekgotla (meeting). The lekgotla will map out the government's policy implementation strategy for the next five years.

The appointment of Kganyago, an academic turned politician, in Zondi's place indicates the strengthening of relations between UDM leader Bantu Holomisa and his former comrades in the ANC. It also demonstrates the widening of the gap between the ANC and IFP at national level, despite their partnership in KwaZulu-Natal. (Bua News, Pretoria / The Sunday Times, Johannesburg)

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