Speech by Gwendolene Mahlangu-Nkabinde, Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly, during debate on the President's State of the Nation Address in the National Assembly

13 February 2008

The President's State of the Nation Address calls for all South Africans to unite as never before to meet the challenges facing our country.

Our national success depends on the determination of government, the private sector and civil society, in addition to that of ordinary individual citizens, to stand up, take action, and make progress for the benefit of South Africa and the rest of the African continent.

The serious problems and vital issues before us compel me to reflect on the crucial role of Parliament in attaining our common objective of a better life for all.

18th Century British statesman and political philosopher Edmund Burke wrote: "Parliament is not a congress of ambassadors from different and hostile interests; but a deliberative assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole".

And so it is today: we may be elected from different provinces and different parties, but we represent one South Africa.

I ask my honourable colleagues to consider the special responsibility of Parliament to provide leadership, to set the example of unity for national progress and growth.

Sections 55 to 57 of our constitution give powers to the National Assembly: Honourable Members will agree that we still have a great deal of work ahead of us, despite real time constraints. We are going to need devoted and committed members to go the extra mile at all times.

Makanda quotes Robert Sobukwe at Fort Hare in 1949 as saying: 'we want to build a new Africa, and only we can build it. Let me plead with you lovers of my Africa to carry with you into the world the vision of a new Africa, an Africa reborn, an Africa rejuvenated, an Africa recreated, young Africa.

We are the first glimmers of a new dawn and if we are persecuted for our views we should remember the African saying that it is the darkest before dawn. Let us not fail the leaders who came before us'.

Honourable Members we ARE the first glimmers of democracy; let us ensure that future generations will remember us with pride as they enjoy the sweat of our toils; let us be proud of our efforts and continue to defend our gains while we confront our challenges.

How far have we come? When we first met in 1994 it looked like working together from different parties was impossible because of what we all went through before democracy; but we did leap that hurdle because, honourable members, it is not about us, it is the nation we must at all times think of.

As we conclude our term not too long from today it should be with pride that we return to our constituencies to men and women who will be proud of the work done on their behalf.

Our work here at home and elsewhere in the world speaks volumes: it cannot be a mistake that so many countries have such a lot of confidence in us.

We are an example to the world that, irrespective of our past, we will as a collective give our best to the country.

We can still do much better, especially in this assembly where we have the opportunity to express the will of the people on whose behalf we legislate.

One of our most pressing tasks is to bring material fruit to the many South Africans who remain very poor; that is all they are asking for.

We join you Mr President in the war against poverty: As South Africans we are the troops in the national war room; those among us who are adept in war are used like the snake of Mount Chang:

When struck on the head its tail attacks; when struck on the tail its head attacks; when struck in the centre, both head and tail attack.

Sun Tsu speaks about this snake in his book "The Art of War".

We are ready more than ever before; we will demonstrate that, like the snake of Mount Chang, we are capable of instantaneous coordination: We are unstoppable as this collective in the fight against hunger, poverty and squalor.

We must drive poverty and hopelessness out of our communities: Don't pass that little girl who goes to school without shoes or the boy whose pants are torn: make it your business. But above all we must bring skills to the communities so that they end up generating income for themselves.

Maloba re ne re gatelletswe mme go bontsha gore tsotlhe tse reneng re di batla re ne re di batlela aforika borwa re ile ra bona le manaba a tla mmogo go rotloetsa puso ya batho. Together we buried Apartheid and gave birth to Democracy.

Mr President we stand head and shoulders with you in the fight against poverty. We are in the national war room against poverty. I reiterate: Parliament is not a congress of ambassadors from different and hostile interests; but a deliberative assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole ….

Parliament's approval of bills means that there will be no law in this country which has not gone through our hands. We provide directives to the administrative bodies for the execution of government policies.

As it is business unusual for the executive and the country the burden is doubly on us: we need to be ready!

The legislative function of parliament is very important. We need to ask ourselves the following as representatives of the people: Did I do what I am expected to by the electorate?

Was I available to say 'yes these 24 apex areas are important'? and as a voice of the voiceless masses of our country will I go an extra mile to ensure that when my tour of duty has ended I will be remembered with pride as a person who represented a Party which left no stone unturned in pursuit of a better life for all South Africans? or did I just enjoy the fresh muffins all the time and no work?

To be able to achieve most of the work facing us this year we need a vibrant parliament, we need members committed to their committee work, we do not want to hear this year that a committee could not meet because there was no quorum: when that happens we need to be mindful that we are betraying the confidence of our people; when the departments come to brief members of parliament they should find them! And when questions are put in the House the Executive should be here to answer them, unless that is completely unavoidable.

In order to assist Members in their tasks we have launched the Leadership Development Programme which is empowering Members with the skills necessary for the performance of these functions: Democracy needs, amongst other things, good leaders.

The attention to systematic development of leaders and the concept of actually leading rather than managing or administering is increasingly becoming a priority as we are faced with the challenges thrown up by efforts to ensure continuous social justice in our society. The Leadership development Programme presents all of us with opportunities to enhance our contribution to the wellbeing of our people by enhancing the knowledge base of Members of Parliament. And these courses address not only the 'soft leadership skills' - speaking with clarity, active listening, debating, negotiating, consensus building etc, but also addresses transformational leadership which transforms individuals through an appeal to values. It is leadership that is engaged with hearts and minds.

We as Members of Parliament need to provide the leadership for long-term change that we need in the country. We need to raise the levels of consciousness of our citizens about the importance of parliament and its role in enhancing good governance and what has been the concern of very many of our citizens, service delivery.

On the 10 May 2004 former President Mandela at a joint sitting of the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces, in his address to commemorate 10 years of a democratic South Africa said:

"My wish is that South Africans never give up on the belief in goodness that they cherish the faith in human beings as a cornerstone of our democracy. The first value mentioned under the founding principles of our constitution is that of human dignity. We accord a person's dignity by assuming that they are good, that they share the human qualities we ascribe to ourselves. Historical enemies succeeded in negotiating a peaceful transition from apartheid to democracy exactly because we were prepared to accept the inherent capacity or goodness in the other".

As this collective we can make a lot of things happen so let us not doubt the strength that lies within each of us.

In fact, the respect commanded by South African MPs is enormous: All of the international forums our MPs engage with elect them to positions of leadership: among those we count the SADC, PAP, CPA, and the IPU.

This morning our Parliament engaged in yet another significant and potentially enormously constructive engagement:

Hon Rebecca Kasienyane, Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Labour,
Hon Zo Kota, Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Housing,
Hon Ruben Mohlaloga, Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Agriculture and Land Affairs,
Hon Connie September, Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Water Affairs and Forestry, and I met with HE Sugeng Rahardjo the Ambassador of Indonesia,
HE Mr Yahaya Abdul Jabar, the High Commissioner of Malaysia,
HE Justice MPH Rubin, the High Commissioner of the Republic of Singapore, and HE Dr Tran Duy Thi the Ambassador of Vietnam to discuss matters of mutual interest to our Parliaments.

Further evidence of the stature of the South African Parliament and the leadership which this House gives internationally is to be found in the fact that in April this year we will be hosting the 118th Inter-Parliamentary Union Congress here in Cape Town. This is a significant forum which brings together 148 national Parliaments from around the globe, and serves as an important forum for inter-parliamentary contact.

There is an enormous amount of work ahead; we will not hesitate to tackle it: It is for the interest of South Africans that we will join you Mr President in rolling up our sleeves and getting down to work for the betterment of our people.

Batho ba aforika borwa baitse sentle gore puso e e dirile go tlala seatla ebile ba lo rata lona baemedi ba bona le itlhoba boroko le itlhobela Aforika Boswa na gaetsho re a lebogo le ka moso bagaetsho