February 16, 2006

30 years after Soweto, Mbeki pledges to accelerate change

South African President Thabo Mbeki invoked several historical markers to illustrate the country's advances in his recent State of the Nation address "in this year of the 30th anniversary of the Soweto uprising." His address ranged back 50 years to the women who marched on the Union Buildings in Pretoria on 9 August 1956 "thus placing the women of our country in the frontline of our struggle for national liberation." He reached back 100 years to pay homage to Mahatma Ghandhi's launch in South Africa of the non-violent struggle that "liberated India and inspired millions of freedom fighters everywhere else in the world."
Closer in time, he spoke of the "mysterious plane crash" that killed Mozambique's first president, Samora Machel at Mbuzini in Mpumalanga 20 years ago, on 19 October 1986, a plane crash that he said "still requires a satisfactory explanation." Fifteen years ago, he recalled the martyrs who were killed by the apartheid regime in Matola, a suburb of Maputo; and the representative of the African National Congress (ANC) in Zimbabwe, Joe Gqabi, who was assassinated in 1981 in Harare.

The South African president, speaking to a joint session of the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces, said, "The representatives of the youth that rose up in revolt 30 years ago in the Soweto Uprising sit everywhere in this House, including the benches of the ruling party, and have therefore had no need to have special representatives sitting in the gallery of this House." He recollected the visionary speech by democratic South Africa's first president, Nelson Mandela, at his inauguration in May 1994, on the need for the people to value and redefine their role in the new South Africa. Mbeki expressed satisfaction with progress in the first dozen years and with the optimism of the business sector and the population noted in recent surveys.

Noting the objective to halve poverty and unemployment by 2014, Mbeki said government was fully committed and determined to meet these challenges; he thanked the private sector, trade union movement, women, youth and civil society who have made a valuable contribution to an initiative "that must be owned and implemented by our people as a whole."

Mbeki identified land reform and land restitution as critical elements to the transformation of South African society, and he announced that the state intends to play a more central role in acceleration of the land reform programme. He said the ministry of agriculture and land affairs will this year review the policy of willing buyer, willing seller; review land acquisition models and possible manipulation of land prices; and regulate conditions under which foreigners buy land, in line with international norms and practices.

"We must not forget that this year we will commemorate the centenary of the Bambata Uprising in the present-day KwaZulu-Natal, which was occasioned by the imposition of a poll tax to drive the people off the land, forcing them to join the ranks of the proletariat." He promised that South Africa will continue to engage in African challenges, such as peace and democracy in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Côte d'Ivoire and Sudan, the strengthening of the African Union, and the programmes of the AU's New Partnership for Africa's Development (Nepad). "As the current Chair of the G77+China, we will do everything possible to advance the interests of the South, including the in the context of the continuing WTP negotiations, and the urgent challenge to reform the United Nations, including the Security Council." (Southern African News Features, Harare)


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