|February 14, 2007
Mbeki pledges action without 'theatrics' to combat crime
An unapologetic President Thabo Mbeki refused to bow to pressure to make "theatrical" pronouncements on crime but promised that government would continue to deploy considerable resources in the fight against crime until it was defeated. "There will be no empty theatrical gestures, no prancing on the stage and no flagellation, but we will continue to act against crime, as decisively as we have sought to do throughout the years of our liberation. From us, from the government, will issue no words that are lightly spoken," Mbeki said.
In the weeks approaching his state of the nation address Mbeki had come under sustained pressure from both political opposition and elements of the business community to make a dramatic pronouncement on crime in his speech to Parliament. In the debate on the issue, he was accused of lacking passion on the matter and of not demonstrating sufficiently his sympathy with the victims of crime. Part of the pressure came from the aborted campaign of First National Bank, which planned to encourage ordinary South Africans to post hundreds of thousands of letters to Mbeki complaining about his response to crime. The campaign was withdrawn at the last minute after interaction between government and the bank.
Replying in the debate on his speech, Mbeki said that in the 64 years of his life "I have never had either the ability or the courage or the need to resort to grand theatrical gestures" - and further said that South Africans would be gravely offended if he started doing that now. He then threw his weight behind a national convention of some sort that would have high on its agenda the creation of a national value system and the eradication of crime.
The president lashed African Christian Democratic Party leader Kenneth Meshoe for suggesting that crime was poised to derail South Africa's hosting of the 2010 World Cup.
Quoting figures which would demonstrate a 600% increase in the police budget between 1994 and 2010 and a dramatic increase in the number of police officers, Mbeki said: "These figures tell a simple story about the resources that our government has, through the years of freedom, allocated to the struggle for the safety and security of all our people, precisely because the achievement of this objective has always been one of the principal, and therefore priority, strategic objectives of the democratic revolution. About this, we will not apologise to anybody."
He commended Inkatha Freedom Party leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi for saying a transforming society need not be uncivilised and supported his call for recreating a sense of respect in schools and within communities and he agreed with United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa on the issue of a "national process that will help us identify the issues on which we should act in partnership, inspired by a common patriotism that would enable us to build the cross-party partnership that would be united by a voluntary national consensus".
He suggest three items for the top of the agenda: "social transformation, a national value system; the eradication of poverty; and the reduction and eradication of crime".
(Business Day, Johannesburg)