TWENTY-SIX years ago, Former President Nelson Mandela address the International Press Institute Congress on 14 February 1994. The many issues about the press which he brought-up that day still remain. A press in largely whites hands; a press where truth has become ever more elusive; a press that is not independent but publishes on behalf of its masters (shareholders and advertisers) and interest groups; a press that has taken sides and has become a participant in our daily lives instead of being a mirror on society; a one-dimensional press in thinking where divergent voices are not promoted.
Here’s the full speech.
Your Excellency, State President de Klerk,
Distinguished Publishers and Editors,
Ladies and Gentlemen.
First let me express my profound and heartfelt thanks for this invitation to address this august gathering. Secondly, I want to express our deep appreciation that the International Press Institute has chosen South Africa as the venue for its congress. Your presence in our country at this time lends strength to the overwhelming national consensus that only through the inauguration of democracy can South Africa realise its undoubted potential.
In welcoming you to the shores of our country I wish also to express our collective thanks, as South Africans, for the support our struggle for democracy has received from the international media. During the darkest days of apartheid and political repression, when thousands of South African patriots faced imprisonment, bannings, house arrest, detention without trial,torture and even death, it was the international media, not least its oldest component, the press, that laid bare the atrocious conditions in our country and kept the international community alive to the issue of apartheid.
You also lent your voices to those of thousands of our compatriots demanding freedom of expression. South African writers, artists and journalists, who incurred the wrath of the South African government for daring to use their skills against tyranny, have invariably won your support. The South African media, journalists and publishers alike, will remain in your debt for that sustenance.
You have chosen to visit our country at a time when we are witnessing a process of daunting proportions. South Africa is convulsed with the pangs of a democracy struggling to be born. Those who want to delay this birth assume an awesome responsibility and should be aware of the terrible risks their actions entail. We are confident that your presence will, as in the past, assist in the birth of the democratic new order.
An outstanding South African linguist and writer, A.C. Jordan, in his novel, “The Wrath of the Ancestors”, published in the Xhosa language in 1940, compares “truth” to a powerful wrestler. No matter how hard its adversary, “falsehood”, may try to overwhelm it, truth refuses to yield. And even at the very moment when “falsehood” appears to have the upper hand, “truth” gathers new strength from the contest and casts off its adversary.
Truth does indeed have immense power; yet it remains extremely elusive. No single person, no body of opinion, no political or religious doctrine, no political party or government can claim to have a monopoly on truth. For that reason truth can be arrived at only through the untrammelled contest between and among competing opinions, in which as many viewpoints as possible are given a fair and equal hearing. It has therefore always been our contention that laws, mores, practices and prejudices that place constraints on freedom of expression are a disservice to society. Indeed these are the devices employed by falsehood to lend it strength in its unequal contest with truth.
The removal from South Africa’s Statute books of the scores of laws, ordinances, regulations and administrative measures that have empowered government to abridge the rights of South African citizens to know the truth, or which repress the freedom of the media to publish, or which limit citizens’ rights to express themselves are, in our view, essential for a democratic political climate. Freedom of expression, of which press freedom is a crucial aspect, is among the core values of democracy that we have striven for. To realise and institutionalise these freedoms requires that, in the first instance, we have a government representative of and based on the will of all the people.
A critical, independent and investigative press is the lifeblood of any democracy. The press must be free from state interference. It must have the economic strength to stand up to the blandishments of government officials. It must have sufficient independence from vested interests to be bold and inquiring without fear or favour. It must enjoy the protection of the constitution, so that it can protect our rights as citizens.
It is only such a free press that can temper the appetite of any government to amass power at the expense of the citizen. It is only such a free press that can be the vigilant watchdog of the public interest against the temptation on the part of those who wield it to abuse that power. It is only such a free press that can have the capacity to relentlessly expose excesses and corruption on the part of government, state officials and other institutions that hold power in society.
I have often said that the media are a mirror through which we can see ourselves as others perceive us, warts, blemishes and all. The African National Congress has nothing to fear from criticism. I can promise you, we will not wilt under close scrutiny. It is our considered view that such criticism can only help us to grow, by calling attention to those of our actions and omissions which do not measure up to our people’s expectations and the democratic values to which we subscribe.
The tragic absence of diversity in the South African media has been a matter of grave concern to us over a number of years. We are pleased to note that in recent weeks measures have been announced that can begin to seriously address this problem. The acquisition of “The Sowetan”, South Africans largest daily newspaper by a consortium of African business interests; the transfer of the Argus newspapers from the effective control of Johannesburg Consolidated Investments and the Anglo-American Corporation are steps that we welcome. It remains to be seen how these changes will affect both the diversity of viewpoints and address previous imbalances in the access to and control over the press.
South African media are still largely dominated by persons drawn almost exclusively from one racial group. With the exception of “The Sowetan”, the senior editorial staffs of all South Africa’s daily newspapers are cast from the same racial mould. They are White, they are male, they are from a middle class background, they tend to share a very similar life experience. The same holds true for the upper echelons of the electronic media, again with a very few recent exceptions.
While no one can object in principle to editors with such a profile, what is disturbing is the threat of one dimensionality this poses for the media of our country. It is clearly inequitable that in a country whose population is overwhelmingly Black, (85%), the principal players in the media have no knowledge of the life experience of that majority.
For the past thirty odd years South Africa has sorely needed bold, probing and iconoclastic journalism. This is a tradition that has been pioneered by the handful of courageous, new publications that constitute the alternative press. Founded at a time of severe repression, when the proprietors of the mainstream newspapers preferred to accept a shameful regime of rigourous self-censorship rather than stand up to a repressive government, it was these newspapers that kept the flag of press freedom aloft.
These independent weeklies won the support of international funders when they were first established during the 1980s. Today they are working against a difficult economic climate in which some have already gone under.
By offering a platform to interest groups, people and communities that generally had little or no access to the mainstream press, they performed an invaluable service to our country. South African editors today enjoy greater freedom because these newspapers boldly and continuously tested the outer limits of an essentially repressive system of media censorship. South African media law remains largely un-reconstructed, despite our new interim constitution. The free flow of ideas and information is one of the objectives we will strive for in the Constituent Assembly that will emerge from the forthcoming democratic elections.
We consider the maintenance and extension of the diversity thus far attained in South African media of vital importance. South Africa can ill- afford to carry over into the re-regulated electronic media the huge imbalances that pervaded the print sector until quite recently. Without being prescriptive, one of the tasks of the Independent Broadcasting Authority which is due to be established, should be the setting out of clear guidelines to ensure a measure of diversity truly reflective of the rich tapestry of races, colours, creeds and cultures that is South Africa, especially in ownership.
That South Africa stands in need of profound changes is a commonplace. The character this process will assume is in large measure going to be determined by our ability to marry the tasks of economic reconstruction with those of development. The ANC has developed an integrated and sustainable programme to achieve these objectives. We conceive of it as a process driven by the people of South Africa themselves – through institutions of representative democracy such as the national parliament and the provincial legislative assemblies; through organs of civil society such as the trade unions, professional bodies, employers bodies, civics, etc; through various consultative fora such as the National Economic Forum, the Education Forum, and others. The thorough going democratisation of South Africa is essential for the success of this programme. This is also as a nation-building project to heal the racial, ethnic and cultural fragmentation of our country which is the legacy of a centuries of racial domination.
To state our national problems starkly, we are burdened with scandalous levels of poverty. which translates into 17 million people, out of a population of 40 million, existing below the minimum living level; 11 million of these reside in South Africa’s rural areas, the majority of them are women. Needless to say, they are all Black.
There are massively unequal patterns of distribution of income, wealth and opportunity, underpinned by current systematic discrimination affecting especially Blacks and women, in both the private and public sectors.
There is systematic denial of equal access to education and educational opportunities to Blacks, especially Black women, sustained and buttressed by current racially discriminatory allocations and budgeting.
Because it is unrepresentative, the apartheid regime has no legitimacy. It consequently became secretive and highly militarised.
There is an absence of democratic accountability and control in every sphere of government and the state.
To address this debilitating legacy requires determined action and a deep commitment to transforming our society from crisis ridden present into something all South Africans can be truly proud of.
The serious structural weaknesses which have led to South Africa’s most serious economic crisis are integrally related to our apartheid past. The economy has stagnated and has registered no growth since 1990. There has been no productive investment to speak of. In 1992, for example, total investment was lower than in 1980. There has been a dramatic decline in employment levels with something in the order of 46 to 48% of the economically active population unemployed. Average real incomes are falling.
The economic policies pursued in the not too distant past have been subordinated to the hare-brained aims of apartheid and a seige economy. Presided over by a government enamoured to secrecy and committed to racial domination, they were contradictory when they were not absurd.
Consequently South Africa remains dependent on mineral and other raw material exports for earnings in a context of falling world prices. Despite a potential which everyone recognises, South Africa has failed to develop a dynamic manufacturing industry which can create jobs and compete on the world market. South African employers, taking their cue from state policy, have tended to view workers, the majority of whom are Black, as low cost inputs rather as valuable human resources. This has invariably resulted in low skills and low productivity.
Rather than invest in new productive areas, in the development of our human resources, in research and development, South African business has tended to hoard its capital or speculate for the highest profits. Small business, which could be one of our fastest job creators, has been stunted while the government has encouraged huge and powerful parastatals that have done little to enhance employment.
We are convinced that left to their own devices, the South African business community will not rise to the challenges that face us. The objective of our policies is to create employment as our highest priority. While the democratic state will maintain and develop the market, we envisage occasions when it will be necessary for it to intervene where growth and development require such intervention. Amongst these will be the employment of mechanisms of affirmative action to redress the effects of past discrimination against Blacks, against women, people in the rural areas and the physically disabled.
We would also like to create an agency to develop and coordinate economic policy at all levels. A democratic government would participate in and encourage tri-partite structures involving business, labour and the government in cooperative efforts to formulate policy.
Public sector investment to provide basic needs and services to the people will be another key area of state intervention. We think that such action could create something in the region of 300,000 news jobs. We would also seek to stimulate further growth and job creation by encouraging public investment in social and economic infrastructure that spurs manufacturing and building a job creation focus into all aspects of industrial policy.
Emphasis on labour intensive methods, maximisation of linkages between manufacturing and infrastructural investment and the benefication of our minerals would swiftly alleviate the rate of job loss while creating new jobs for work seekers.
We would like to create a climate conducive to foreign investment through stable, consistent and predictable policies. This will necessarily entail the restructuring of public sector corporations to assist the reconstruction of the economy.
The sad truth is that for decades the South African economy was run by a minority for the benefit if that minority. Opportunities were deliberately limited just as facilities were by law restricted to a few. Only a government that derives its authority from the people can be trusted to redress this. We have a plan, that includes a national public works programme, which will address community needs and create jobs. By effecting immediate improvements in the quality of the lives of our most disadvantaged in tandem with the creation of employment, we are convinced that we will offer all South Africans a chance to share in the wealth of this country and to contribute to its development and improve their own lives.
To sum up, we want to get South Africa working! We will achieve this not by imposing our will from above, but rather through consultation, engagement and a continuing dialogue between government and the governed.
Our vision of a country made up of peoples of different colours and cultures yet united in their diversity as one nation, has been the foundation of the struggle waged by our people since the ANC was formed 82 years ago. After April 27th, when the people have spoken the challenge that will face us collectively is to heal the deep wounds of the past and to reassure those who still have apprehensions about the future. We firmly commit ourselves to the Constitutional Principles agreed to at the multi- party negotiations. And that commitment will not change whatever the majority we attain.
If the people of South Africa elect us to office, we firmly undertake that an ANC government will strive for an open society in which vigourous debate is encouraged through a free press and other media; in which equal status is accorded to all languages, cultures and religious beliefs; in which women will receive recognition as equals, deserving of the respect and the dignity intrinsic to being human.
We realise that our country is in deep crisis. We recognise that the problems that face us are immense. Yet we remain convinced that given the political will, an environment of democracy, peace and stability, and the active participation of all South Africans – women and men of all races and colours – we have the capacity to build a better life for all.
Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation