Geographies in Depth

Nelson Mandela’s 1992 Davos address

Nelson Mandela
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This is a transcript of the speech that Nelson Mandela gave at Davos in 1992, unveiling the ANC’s economic vision and calling for a society based on freedom and dignity.

The ANC, and I personally, would like to thank the World Economic Forum most sincerely for inviting us to attend and address this important gathering. We would further like to express our profound appreciation for your decision to allocate time for discussion of the South African question. We believe that your initiative in this regard is most timely.

The impending political transformation of South Africa is part of the truly phenomenal processor renewal which our planet is experiencing. The features of this process are clear enough. They delineate a future in which the peoples, in all countries, will govern themselves under open and plural democratic systems

In our own country this means the end of white minority dictatorship and the building of a new nation of many colours, languages and cultures, bound together by a common South African patriotism, a shared spirit of nationhood and bonds of mutual dependence.

As in other parts of the world, we, too, will establish a society based on respect for human rights, to ensure the freedom and dignity of every individual, as an inalienable condition of human existence and development.

The new world that is being born foresees the dawn of the age of peace, in which wars within nations, between countries and among peoples will be a thing of the past.

We need to reach the point when weapons of mass destruction will themselves have been destroyed and the trade in weapons of death will have been reduced to an absolute minimum.

And yet many of these masses, who are freeing themselves from tyranny and expanding the frontiers of liberty, exercising their right to self-determination and committing their lives to the defence of peace and life itself, are themselves threatened by death from starvation.

The planet they inhabit faces the awesome menace of destruction as a result of a human-made ecological catastrophe.

I am certain that it is a matter of common cause among us here that the continued impoverishment of millions of people throughout the world has become one of the great sources of global instability. Those who are deprived will inevitably act to demand a better life. The gnawing pain of persistent hunger must, in the end, lead to food riots.

In response, governing authorities that will feel threatened by the rebellion of the masses will resort to repression, to a denial of political rights and a return to a world hostile to freedom. None of us want this.

The migration of people from Central and South America and the Caribbean into the United States; a similar movement of people from Africa, the Near East and Eastern Europe into Western Europe; the phenomenon of boat people in the Far East, all serve as safety valves helping to avert the threatening food riots in the countries from which the emigrants originate.

But the question has to be posed and answered as to whether this is the best way to address the issue of poverty, which afflicts so many countries in the world.

Is it in the long-term interest of these countries and humanity, as a whole, to uproot the most enterprising individuals from these communities and dump them as unskilled and semi-skilled workers on the developed economies of the world?

Nor can the reality be ignored that in response to these population flows and to the pressure of poverty, there is, certainly in various parts of Europe, a growing tendency towards the proliferation of racist and neo-Nazi ideas and the thuggery that goes with them.

I have no desire to overestimate the seriousness of this problem. But I would also like to submit that it is not one that can be ignored either. Certainly those who are immediately threatened, be they black, Arab or Jew, cannot think this a matter to be treated with benign neglect.

The simple point we are trying to make is that the dire poverty of some is not an affliction which impacts only on those who are deprived. It reverberates across the globe and ineluctably impacts negatively on the whole of humanity, including those who live in conditions of comfort and plenty.

The inescapable conclusion from all this must surely be that our interdependence, bringing us together into a common global home, across the oceans and the continents, demands that we all combine to launch a global offensive for development, prosperity and human survival.

We are aware of, and respect, the initiatives that have been undertaken in the past to address these issues, including those of the United Nations, the EEC-ACP countries, the non-aligned movement, the North-South and South-South commissions, the OAU, as well as many others.

But I am certain that none of us here can assert that there does indeed exist a real and meaningful global offensive for development, prosperity and human survival, drawing into one concerted effort governments, the private sector, non-governmental organizations and the people themselves.

To come closer to home and talk about the African continent, we cannot but take advantage of this occasion to reiterate the alarm that others have expressed at the continuing deterioration of conditions of life for millions of people.

There is no need for me, in front of this knowledgeable audience, to dwell at any length on the specifics of the socio-economic situation on our continent.

Suffice it to remind the conference that 10 years ago already, in its report entitled “Accelerate Development in Sub-Saharan Africa: an Agenda for Action”, the World Bank had various things to say which should have sounded the alarm bells.

Here are two quotations from this report:

“When, in the mid-1970s, the world economy experienced inflation and recession, nowhere did the crisis hit with greater impact than in the region of sub-Saharan Africa.”

And again:

“For most African countries, and for a majority of the African population, the record is grim, and it is no exaggeration to talk of crisis. Slow overall economic growth, sluggish agricultural performance coupled with rapid rates of population increase, and balance of payments and fiscal crisis – these are dramatic indicators of economic trouble.”

As can be expected, other issues are dealt with in the report, including deteriorating terms of trade, a continuous fall in exchange reserves and the Dracula of an external debt which many countries can neither avoid nor afford.

With regard to the current situation, the Secretary-General of the United Nations reported only last year that in the period up to 1990, “The average African continued to get poorer and to suffer a persistent fall in an already meagre standard of living.”

In his report on the “UN programme of action for African economic recovery and development”, the Secretary-General speaks of the African continent sinking deeper into “an unrelenting crisis of tragic proportions”. He goes on to say that “overcoming this crisis represents the greatest development challenge of our time.”

Therefore, perhaps more than any other part of the world, the situation in sub-Saharan Africa, which has worsened since the World Bank report we have cited was published, illustrates the importance of the global offensive for development, prosperity and human survival for which we have called.

Quite clearly, for this project to record success, it would be necessary that a massive transfer of resources takes place from North to South. Let me hasten to state it here that we are by no means suggesting that this is an easy objective to achieve.

Nor are we suggesting that the issue be approached either as an act of charity or as an attempt to improve the lives of the “have-nots” by impoverishing the “haves”. Rather we are suggesting that it is necessary that these transfers take place as a necessary condition to achieve development, prosperity and survival for humanity as a whole.

We say this fully aware of the general shortage of capital in the world, its sensitivity to economic imperatives and its mobility. We also say this knowing that the underdeveloped countries have to continue addressing such issues as better utilization of resources and management of their economies, better governance, human resource development, including the upliftment and liberation of women, as well as the protection of the environment.

Among other things that the concerted global offensive would have to deal with are, of course, the debt problem, the issue of the continuous decline in the price of commodities that the poorer countries export, and access to markets for their manufactured goods.

We would like to take advantage of this opportunity to bring to your attention, as others have done before, the problems that many African and other poor countries experience as they implement structural adjustment programmes. Carried out without providing a social net to cushion their impact on those who are already gravely disadvantaged, these programmes may create more problems than they solve.

Naturally, we must also express our own unease at any developments which might result in investor attention being directed exclusively at Central and Eastern Europe to the exclusion of Africa and the rest of the Third World.

Nor would it be beneficial to allow the positive processes leading to European integration to result in a “fortress Europe” and, inter alia, the delinkage of Africa from this and other areas of the world.

My own country, South Africa, is marching on its own road to liberation and democracy. The specific process in which we are engaged, epitomized by the Convention for a Democratic South Africa, may not be irreversible.

Nevertheless, it is quite clear that there is no force that can permanently stop our advance towards the transformation of South Africa into a united, democratic, non-racial and non-sexist country. We want to see established, as quickly as possible, a multi-party democracy, enshrined in a constitution which provides for one person, one vote, on a common voters’ roll; separation of powers between the legislature, executive and judiciary; and devolution of power to regional and local levels of government. Furthermore, we would also like to see an entrenched bill of rights, protected by an independent and representative judiciary.

Equally protected should be the rights of all our people to language, culture and religion. Further than this, we have said in the past that we are willing to look at any proposals aimed at addressing the fears of any of our population groups, provided that this was not in furtherance of apartheid and intended to subvert the normal democratic practice of majority rule.

We need to make the point also that we are against the notion of a prolonged transitional period. We have, therefore, put forward the suggestion that this period, beginning with the establishment of an interim or transitional government around the middle of this year, should not last longer than is months.

Thus, we are determined to end apartheid and liberate ourselves as a matter of urgency. We are as equally determined that this transformation should bring with it real changes in the material conditions of life of the people.

This is dictated both by the fact of the widespread and endemic poverty that affects millions of black people in our country and the need to guarantee the success and permanence of democratic change. This will require that all necessary measures are taken to ensure the growth of the South African economy, pulling it out of the recession and decline in which it is now enmeshed.

This will require a rapid and sustained growth in terms of capital formation or fixed investment, drawing on both domestic and external sources to finance this investment. It will also require a rapid and sustained expansion of the domestic market, as well as improved access to international markets.

Inevitably, we must address the critical question of achieving high levels of productivity for both capital and labour. At the same time, we must attend to the issue of equitable distribution of income and wealth, without which the domestic market will remain small and social stability impossible to achieve.

We visualize a mixed economy, in which the private sector would play a central and critical role to ensure the creation of wealth and jobs. Side by side with this, there will be a public sector perhaps no different from such countries as Germany, France and Italy where public enterprises constitute 9%, 11% and 15% of the economy respectively, and in which the state plays an important role in such areas as education , health and welfare.

For it to succeed to achieve such basic objectives as creating wealth and jobs, ending poverty and creating a just and equitable society, future economic policy will also have to address such questions as security of investments and the right to repatriate earnings, realistic exchange rates, the rate of inflation and the fiscus.

We firmly believe that the South African economy has the potential for a very bright and exciting future. It is in our interest that this economy should thrive as never before. We are equally convinced that it will also offer very good prospects for the investors present in this room, both South African and international.

We, therefore, urge you to enter into a partnership with the people of South Africa, who would like to act together with you to rebuild their country to the mutual benefit. We invite you to begin now to investigate the business possibilities in our country so that you are able to move with all due speed when the moment is opportune.

In this regard, we should once more explain that our own considered position is that remaining economic sanctions should be lifted once an interim government has been established. Furthermore, we are determined to move forward as speedily as possible to establish the political and social climate which is necessary to ensure business confidence and create the possibility for all investors to make long-term commitments to help develop the South African economy.

South Africa is also part of a region of the world which has a population of anything up to 150 million people. This region must, and will, grow and develop in an integrated manner and will thus provide a sizeable market for those investors who take advantage of the opportunities this region offers and bring in the resources necessary for its development.

We must also make the point that current developments in various parts of this region point to a common striving to reinforce the democratic process, entrench a human rights culture, end civil wars and the creation of large refugee populations.

It also seems inevitable that, sooner or later, the peoples of the region will also begin discussing such issues as regional economic cooperation and integration, a regional security system based on the reduction of armed forces and military expenditures as well as coordinated measures for the protection of the environment.

In brief, we strongly believe that the region of southern Africa as a whole offers the possibility for us all to implement the global offensive for development, prosperity and human survival of which we have spoken.

Needless to say, success in this great and historic venture would do wonderful things to address the concern which is common to all of us, of achieving the regeneration of African societies and the upliftment of its peoples.

Let me end with a special appeal to you all, who constitute a critical component part of the leadership of the peoples of the world.

If the voices of millions have been freed to enunciate the political aspirations of the people, those voices will also surely speak loudly, proclaiming an urgent desire for an end to poverty and for a more equitable distribution of opportunities, income and wealth within and among the nations.

We believe that those voices must be listened to and the concerns they express addressed. If the political transformations taking place across the globe are anything to go by, it would seem clear that these masses will not allow themselves to be silenced. They will not be fobbed off with polite and courteous but meaningless responses. Nor will they accept the promise of jam tomorrow if they see nothing being done today to deliver the promised jam.

Motivated by nothing other than the fact of our common humanity and informed by the realization of the common destiny of the peoples of all continents, let us then do together what we can and must do together in the interests of all humanity, while each one of us also does what he or she must do in pursuit of their enlightened self-interest but recognizing, in the end, that no man is an island.

 Read Nelson Mandela’s address to Davos, 1999

Image: Nelson Mandela at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, 1992
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