On a sunny day of pomp and pageantry, President Nelson Mandela outlined a soaring vision for the new South Africa on Tuesday in his first State of the Nation speech, a carefully crafted address that tried to balance the needs of poor blacks with the fears of rich whites.
The nationally televised speech before a joint session of the multiracial National Assembly and Senate in the Parliament building in Cape Town set a healing tone and a moderate course for the new democracy as it struggles to shed the social and economic inequities of apartheid.
The goal, Mandela repeatedly vowed, is a “people-centered society.” The government’s aims are nothing less than “freedom from want, freedom from hunger, freedom from deprivation, freedom from ignorance, freedom from suppression and freedom from fear.”
“Let us all get down to work,” he said, to a standing ovation from the 490 legislators.
He pleaded for reconciliation and an end to racism. And in perhaps the most moving section, he read a poem linking the growth of an African child to the demand for freedom. The author was Ingrid Jonker, who committed suicide in 1965 after breaking with her father, a conservative Afrikaner legislator, over the injustice and indignity of apartheid.
“To her and others like her, we owe a commitment to the poor, the oppressed, the wretched and the despised,” Mandela said.
Despite the inspiring rhetoric, Mandela’s initial programs and policies were unexpectedly modest for a country in which nearly half the black majority is unemployed, illiterate and without proper health care or housing.
The limited scope reflected the reality of a government based on a still-untested power-sharing formula and an economy emerging from a four-year recession and a decade of capital flight.
In his most specific pledge, Mandela promised to start a 100-day crash program under his personal supervision to provide immediate health and nutrition services to impoverished families.
Under the program, children younger than 6 and pregnant women will receive free medical care in every state hospital and clinic. Supplementary feeding programs for malnourished children also will begin in every primary school “where such need is established,” Mandela said.
Beyond that, he pledged to invest “substantial amounts” to provide nine years of free compulsory education. And he said he had given instructions “as a matter of urgency . . . to empty our prisons of children and place them in suitable alternative care.”
Mandela has said that up to 25,000 children and juveniles are held in detention and prisons, but government leaders and corrections officials have strenuously denied the charge.
Although Mandela conceded that “many details . . . remain to be discussed, agreed (to) and put in place,” he also pledged to start a public works program to “rebuild our townships, restore services in rural and urban areas” and create millions of jobs.
He gave no overall cost but said his government would allocate $735 million in its first budget for the so-called reconstruction and development plan. He said the money would come from savings and redirected spending in the anticipated $36-billion budget, which will be announced next month.
Funding for the plan, which formed a key campaign pledge of Mandela’s African National Congress, will grow each year until spending exceeds $2.9 billion in their fifth and final year, he said. The government also will exert “maximum leverage” with business leaders and foreign aid donors to coordinate private- and public-sector efforts toward helping the poor.
Foreign aid to the former pariah state, now about $500 million a year, will grow to more than $2 billion if the government uses loans available from the World Bank and other institutions.
Mandela clearly hoped that the speech would reassure the still-nervous business community, both at home and abroad, which is awaiting clear signals of intent and policy from a coalition government that includes Joe Slovo, the chairman of the Communist Party, and many other ANC leaders trained in the former Soviet Union and other East Bloc countries.
Eager to create a favorable investment environment, Mandela said he is determined “to contain general government consumption at present levels and to manage the budget deficit with a view to its continuous reduction.”
But he offered something less than a no-new-taxes pledge, saying that the new coalition Cabinet was “agreed that a permanently higher general level of taxation is to be avoided.”
Mandela’s speech was partly overshadowed by a controversy over the surreptitious hand-over by the former government of about 7 million acres of state land to a trust controlled by Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini. The transfer was signed by then-President Frederik W. de Klerk a day before the elections and was revealed by a local newspaper Friday.
Both De Klerk and Zulu Chief Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi have denied wrongdoing in the last-minute transfer of nearly one-third of the land in the new province of KwaZulu-Natal. The deal has raised suspicions because it was completed just as Buthelezi and the king ended an election boycott. The boycott was ostensibly based on demands for an autonomous Zulu homeland.
Mandela, who has said he was unaware of the transaction, has ordered a Cabinet commission to look into the arrangement. He did not mention the issue, or his campaign promises for land reform, in his address.
Before the speech, thousands of supporters lined Cape Town’s neat streets to clap and cheer as scores of white-helmeted motorcycle outriders slowly led the new president’s bulletproof Mercedes-Benz through downtown and up the cobblestoned path to the Parliament building.
Atop a red carpet leading to the building once limited to whites, Mandela placed his right hand over his heart--no longer holding a clenched fist in the air, as he did for so many years--while a military band played the two national anthems. A 21-gun salute boomed from nearby Signal Hill, scores of white-gloved soldiers stiffly saluted and six fighter jets roared overhead trailing plumes of colored smoke.
The new lawmakers--400 from the National Assembly and 90 from the Senate--stood and applauded as Mandela entered the chamber led by an usher and a traditional bare-chested praise singer, who waved a shield and bellowed tribal tributes to Mandela in his native Xhosa.
The two legislative bodies also make up the Constitutional Assembly, which will draft a permanent constitution within two years to replace the interim charter used to guide the country through last month’s election.
Cyril Ramaphosa, the ANC’s secretary general, was elected without opposition earlier Tuesday as the Constitutional Assembly’s chairman. Ramaphosa, who was widely acclaimed as the ANC’s chief negotiator for the interim constitution, declined to join Mandela’s Cabinet after he was passed over as deputy president.
In another announcement, the new defense minister, Joe Modise, said he has reappointed the former government’s military chief for a five-year term. He said Gen. Georg Meiring would run the new South African National Defense Force, which will include both regular troops and former anti-government guerrillas.
Mandela praised the defense force in his speech, but he has spoken before of cutting military spending to help fund his reconstruction program. Modise, the former head of the ANC’s guerrilla army, warned that the defense force would become “inadequate” if cuts are made.
The Parliament is scheduled to adjourn at the end of this week and then reconvene June 22.