21 February 2005
President Thabo Mbeki has spoken out against perceptions that black economic empowerment only benefits a small elite and that his administration’s policies amount to “reverse racism”.
The future of black and white South Africans was closely intertwined, he told Parliament during the debate on his State of the Nation Address: the one could not succeed without the other.
Several political party leaders argued during the debate that the government was leaning too much towards black South Africans in its policies on poverty alleviation, language, gender parity, land reform, black economic empowerment and the reading of history.
Responding to the claims, Mbeki said that the government was operating from the premise that “South Africa belongs to all who live in it”, consistent with the Freedom Charter and the country’s Constitution.
The government, Mbeki said, was working to create “a developed and prosperous South Africa whose citizens will, through their collective efforts, defeat poverty and underdevelopment as well as create a non-racial and non-sexist society”.
There were some, Mbeki said, who believed it impossible to rescue millions of black South Africans from poverty without discriminating against white South Africans. The President described this view as “distorted”, saying that both races needed each other for the country as a whole to succeed.
To achieve this, both races had to agree to compromise, agree to fight racism and underdevelopment, and act together to achieve a common goal of national cohesion and “a shared destiny within a common motherland”.
South Africa’s collective future, Mbeki said, “depends on the ability of all our people to understand that the success of black South Africa is conditional on the success of white South Africa, and that the success of white South Africa is conditional on the success of black South Africa”.
South Africans, both black and white, ought to ask themselves what they needed to do to ensure that both succeeded, thus sharing in the country’s wealth.
“In answering this question, we [will] have to make a determination about the price each one of us is ready to pay to contribute to the greater good, without which our better future cannot be guaranteed.”
On equality, Mbeki said that Pretoria would draw lessons from the United States, European Union and the United Kingdom to improve its race relations.
Regarding black economic empowerment, Mbeki said that government had awarded billions of rands in contract and service procurement to black businesses.
“I am confident that if the honourable members checked the names of those who got these contracts, they would not find the names of those that are always given as examples of BEE benefiting the few politically connected individuals.”