19 October 2002

SOUTH AFRICA: President calls for transformation of society

President Thabo Mbeki made a strong call on Friday, 18 October, for all South Africans to embrace transformation. Mbeki was speaking to Gauteng business people, and members of various non-governmental and religious organisations at the Sandton Convention Centre. He said it was time that all people, from street vendors to chief executives, decided how they could positively help change the country.

The president warned that if transformation across South Africa did not occur, the country would be in the same position it was now in 10 years' time. "We need to change this society away from its past... Apartheid is with us everyday; we see it on the streets. We need to be very clear about the transformation we are making, but we need to send out the same message... so people don't see transformation as a threat to business," he said.

The address formed part of his Imbizo weekend, which Mbeki is using to obtain first-hand knowledge of the concerns of all people. A wide-range of questions were put to the president. They touched child rape, economic growth, conflicts on the African continent, the plight of the disabled and hawkers, and concerns surrounding the perceptions that Western countries had of South Africa.

On child abuse, Mbeki said it had to be understood that this scourge occurred in particular areas and communities, and under certain socio-economic conditions. He said South Africans would only be able to make the correct interventions once they had a proper understanding of this.

Mbeki used the Northern Cape, which probably had the highest murder rate in the country, to explain why certain crime was prevalent among certain sectors of society. He said a reason for the Northern Cape's high murder rate was the high incidence of alcohol abuse among the coloured community. He said that in the past alcohol was used to pay workers on wine farms, helping to develop a pattern of alcohol abuse. Mbeki said he understood that people wanted men who abused children to be punished in unmentionable ways, but this would not solve the problem.

On concerns in higher education, Mbeki said he and Education Minister Kader Asmal had agreed that both of them needed meet tertiary education institutions' vice-chancellors to discuss issues facing the sector. He also said a government working group on higher education should be established to allow for discussions on a continuous basis. Some officials in this sector were not happy with tertiary institutions merging and others have complained that the government has made the sector too bureaucratic.

Mbeki said society needed to move at a faster pace to accept the disabled and not label them as "useless". The country also had to improve the transportation, education and employment of the disabled.

The president was asked many questions about Africa's economic plan -- the New Partnership for Africa's Development. This included complaints that many people felt excluded from the plan because they did not give any input when it was drawn up. He said everybody had been given an opportunity to contribute, and could still do so by simply going to Nepad's website. It was wrong that some people and organisations felt they could only give an input once approached to do so. "Why this paralysis? It's a general problem on the continent," Mbeki said.

He said the government was interested in all points of view, and called on South Africans to get involved without being requested to do so. On Saturday the president will present title deeds to new home owners in Orange Farm and also address a rally in Evaton, south of Johannesburg. (Sapa)

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