Keynote Address by Deputy Minister Ntombazana Botha, at the South African Week, Dominican Republic

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19 Apr 2006


South Africa is immensely honoured that the Dominican Republic has decided to declare the period from 19-21 April 2006 as South African Week. It is pleasantly fulfilling to learn that our young democracy is recognised and celebrated by progressive countries such as the Dominican Republic.

The roundtable today expects me to address the complex and contentious issues of “Transition to Democracy” and “Cultural Diversity” in South Africa. These subjects are far too broad for me to develop a comprehensive argument in the limited time because the story of South Africa’s transition to democracy is indeed one of the great miracles of the 21 st century. Nevertheless, I will attempt to give a broad overview in respect of the key milestones that distinguish the new South Africa from the one under colonial and apartheid rule.

Historical Background

The Republic of South Africa and the Dominican Republic share the regrettable history of colonisation, domination and repression. These countries have emerged triumphant against some of the harshest and most horrific circumstances ever conceived by humanity. Democracy in the Dominican Republic, just like in South Africa, was born out of a people’s concerted efforts to emancipate themselves from the throngs of oppression and colonial domination. The history of these two countries epitomizes a people’s determination to live in a democratic society. Our struggle for liberation was inspired by movements around the world and the Caribbean, in particular, has always been a source of inspiration. President Mandela, the icon of South Africa’s liberation struggle, speaks with affection and respect about this region as he “[The Caribbean] has, in song and verse, in political philosophy and action, long been a source for the articulation of both the lamentations and aspirations of black people everywhere.”

The background of colonisation and dominance in the Dominican Republic dates as far back as the late fifteenth century, when in 1492 Columbus laid claim over the then island of Hispaniola. The attainment of independence from Haiti in 1844 did not automatically translate the Dominican Republic into a state of utopia. The dramatic political developments in this period instigated a spate of sustained struggles against oppression. The struggle was dominated by tumultuous political upheavals which included reverting to the Spanish Empire in 1861, restoration of independence in 1865, and the subsequent inauguration of Joaquin Balaguer as President of the Dominican Republic in 1966.

The same holds of South Africa, which endured three and a half centuries of colonial domination and almost half a century of apartheid rule. The arrival of the Portuguese explorers in the Cape in 1488 and the subsequent settlement by the Dutch settlers in 1652 are some of the early advances that led to the colonisation of South Africa. From then onwards, the history of South Africa became a story of appropriation of the land and its mineral wealth. African people were treated as second class citizens in the country of their birth as colonialism and racism entrenched itself over the African majority. Subsequent to these circumstances, more than just a political conquest, the colonisation of South Africa had far reaching effects that remain imprinted in different spheres of our lives including language, culture, religion, health, literacy, economy, etc. This effect, free as we are today, we still feel the impact of its influence in our economy and the entire body politic.

Transition to Democracy

When the people of South Africa went to the polls on 27 April 1994, they cast their votes in order to free themselves from the legacies of repression, division, and gross violation of human rights that were characteristic of the apartheid South Africa. Some thought that the massive win of South Africa’s first democratic elections by the African National Congress (ANC) in 1994 was the immediate demise of the horror tale of apartheid, where everyone would ‘live happily ever after.’ Many were obviously unaware of the extent and depth of the legacy left by apartheid rule in our country.

As the democratic rule began, we came to a realisation that the jettisoning of apartheid was actually a means towards the attainment of complete freedom to create a society where everyone would live equally irrespective of their diverse cultural, racial, religious, sexual or ideological backgrounds. President Mandela, in his well-known autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom (1994:544), sums up the challenges of the post-apartheid South Africa in the following words: “But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb… for with freedom comes responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not yet ended.” Indeed, as Mandela had timeously observed, the challenges of the post-apartheid South Africa are vast, and reconciliation and nation building emerge as the most crucial aspects in this period.

Reconciliation and Nation Building

The transition to democracy is not just a political utopia or discourse, but is also an act of reinstating humanity to the peoples of South Africa who for decades remained hostile to one another. The government of South Africa, inspired by the conviction that ‘South Africa belongs to all who live in it’, embarked on a robust campaign to promote national unity. This included the seemingly brave gesture of having F.W. De Klerk, the last President of South Africa under apartheid rule, appointed as one of the deputies to President Nelson Mandela under the government of National Unity. The South African government had to grapple with the dynamics of dealing with our brutal history while at the same time making sure that peace prevailed and that the former oppressor and oppressed lived and worked side by side. This is what necessitated the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was headed by Arch-Bishop Desmond Tutu, also an activist in the liberation struggle of South Africa.

The TRC was comprised of different sections including the Human Rights Violations, Reparation and Rehabilitation, and the Amnesty committees. The task of the Human Rights Violation Committee was to investigate human rights abuses and establish whether the violations were the result of deliberate planning by the state or any other organisation, group or individual. Once victims of gross human rights violations were identified, they were referred to the Reparation and Rehabilitation Committee, which provided support to the victims. The Amnesty Committee was charged with the duty of considering applications for amnesty. After twelve years of democracy without major political upheavals, we can rightfully claim that the cornerstone of South Africa’s success is based on the spirit of forgiveness by the African people, and the spirit of Ubuntu, the recognition of a deep sense of humanness.

Cultural Diversity

The government of South Africa is committed to the vision of enhancing socio-economic development, nation building, national identity and the role of South Africa in the global arena. The Department of Arts and Culture, which I am Deputy Minister of, contributes to this broad agenda through the development, preservation and promotion of South African culture to ensure social cohesion and nation building. We are committed to effective mainstreaming of arts, culture, heritage and informational activities within the broader vision of the South African government.

Our constitution proclaims culture as a human right and encourages the use of language and the practice of different cultures in a manner that respects other peoples’ cultures. In our efforts of building a South Africa premised on the recognition of human rights, democracy and peaceful co-existence for all our citizens, we are also conscious of the challenges that are brought about our cultural diversity. The South African society is the microcosm of different people with different backgrounds, and is therefore the embodiment of the celebration of these different cultures. Culture embraces various socially transmitted behaviour patterns including language, religion, traditions, the arts and all the other products of human work, imagination and thought. While we try to advance our country away from its divided past and take pride in our shared humanity and the prevailing spirit of nation-building, overlooking our diverse cultures could be detrimental in the image of the new South Africa that we are trying to build. South Africa’s cultural diversity is also expressed through our arts, which in many ways transmits our culture to different communities beyond the shores of South Africa.

To date, South Africa boasts two Nobel Laureates for Literature in the names of Nadine Gordimer (1991) and J.M. Cotzee (2003), and we continue to work hard to uncover and nurture new talents. Many of South African works are translated to different languages spoken in various countries around the world. South Africa continues to register remarkable successes in various sectors across the arts. Most recently, a South African film, “Tsotsi”, won the Oscar award for the best foreign language film. The success of “Tsotsi” followed that of "U-Carmen eKhayelitsha", which won the Golden Bear award for best film at the Berlin International Film Festival. "U-Carmen eKhayelitsha" is a Xhosa version of Bizet's opera "Carmen" set in the context of Cape Town's Khayelitsha Township. The triumph of these two South African films is a triumph of the use of South African indigenous languages, and therefore of South African culture. In this manner the South African indigenous languages are used as vehicles to communicate to a global audience the fullest expression of South African culture across its social tapestry.

Economic Development

South Africa has shown positive signs of improvement in the economic sector since the demise of apartheid. A recent study by Proudfoot Consulting ranked South Africa’s productivity fifth in the world, narrowly trailing leaders US and Germany. The country is also rich in minerals and raw materials which enhance trade with other countries around the world. South Africa is the world’s leading producer of diamonds, platinum group metals, gold and chromium and is among the top producers of manganese, coal, iron ore, titanium and aluminum. Under the apartheid rule, many of these resources benefited the privileged few and redressing these imbalances has been one of the challenges of the new South Africa. It is against this backdrop that we established programmes that seek to empower the previously disadvantaged peoples of South Africa.

One of the programmes that seek to minimize the gap created by our past in the economic sector is our Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) programme. The BEE is a strategy aimed at substantially increasing active participation and opening opportunities for the previously disadvantaged peoples at all levels in the economy. This strategy is developed with the objective of ensuring broader and meaningful participation in the economy by transferring ownership, management and proportionate control of South Africa’s resources to the majority of the country’s citizens. In light of lack of certain skills and shortage of expertise in some areas, more than US$6.5 billion has been set aside to implement the National Skills Development Strategy which, as of early 2005, provided training to more than 3,6 million workers.

It is often said that the true worth of a nation is measured by the character of its womanhood. The advancement of the agenda of Women Building a Better South Africa and a Better World has been at the forefront of our transformation process. With more than 30% of the seats in parliament occupied by women, we are on our way towards creating a balance in the social, cultural, religious, economic and political scales based on gender. Women serve as Premiers in four of the nine provinces and hold a third of Cabinet posts at national level, including Foreign Affairs, Health, Telecommunications, Education and Justice. This year is particularly a great year for the women of South Africa as it marks the 50 th anniversary of the historic victory of over 20 000 women of South Africa who marched to the Union Buildings to protest against the extension of the Pass Laws to include women. It is through the determination of these courageous women that today South African women are able to confront challenges brought about by race, class and religion, among others, which place women at the bottom of the pile. In my country we often say Wathint’ abafazi wathint’ imbokodo, you strike a woman you strike a rock!

In the global arena South Africa is also beginning to claim its place as one of the most economically prosperous countries. In a very short space of time South Africa emerged as the investment destination of choice for many leading global companies. In March 2005 the TATA motor company from India announced its plans to invest US$245 million in new projects; in April 2005, General Motors South Africa won a US$3 billion contract to manufacture Hummer H3 sports utility vehicles for export to Australia, New Zealand, Europe, the Middle East and Asia; In May 2005, Toyota chose South Africa as a manufacturing base for its US$20 billion International Multi-purpose Vehicle project aimed at supplying markets in 140 countries.

South Africa is also playing a lead role in facilitating discourses in the international community. In 2002 we hosted a summit in which the African states established the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). The NEPAD is a visionary African initiative to unlock Africa’s full potential by tackling impediments to growth and investment on a continent-wide basis. Our own experience in resolving conflict is helping us contribute to successful peace initiatives throughout the continent and further afield. Since April 2005, South Africa has been involved in peace keeping missions in six African countries and currently has the 10 th largest peace-keeping force in the world. South Africa realises that without peace in Africa, it cannot guarantee peace and economic prosperity in its borders as wars create displacement of people and economic refugees that could be a burden to development in the region. South Africa is also the host to the Pan-African Parliament under the leadership of a woman President, Ambassador Gertrude Mongella from Tanzania.

Our country has also played a pivotal role in international and multilateral organisations and forums. At various times over the past decade, South Africa chaired the African Union (AU), Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), NEPAD, Commonwealth Heads of Government Summit, World Conference Against Racism, Southern African Development Community (SADC), World Health Assembly and others. South Africa is signatory to a host of international conventions and treaties governing human rights, economic and trade issues, environmental protection and other global challenges. We have indeed played a pivotal role in the UNESCO Convention on the protection of the diversity of cultural contents and artistic expressions.


One of the most threatening misfortunes that befell Africa and the rest of the world is the HIV and AIDS epidemic. According to the AVERT, an international AIDS charity organisation, an estimated 40.3 million today live with the HIV and about 4.9 million people were newly infected in 2005 around the world. The estimation of AIDS related deaths totals 3.1 million lives in 2005. To date, Africa has about 12 million orphans who lost their parents due to HIV and AIDS related deaths. An estimate of about 25.8 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa live with HIV and AIDS. South Africa is not left untouched by this calamity. An estimated 311 000 people died because of AIDS in 2004, comprising 44% of all deaths. A study conducted by our Department of Health estimates that 29.5% of pregnant women were living with HIV in 2004.

In light of the above shocking statistics, South Africa adopted a comprehensive plan which includes education, prevention, care and anti-retroviral treatment for all who need it. In addition to the preventative measures and responsible lifestyles that we encourage through various programmes, we are pioneering new and exciting ways to ensure that even the poorest have access to high standard care and treatment. In light of the high medicine costs which forbid the majority of our people access to medical treatment, we are trying to ensure that our advanced pharmaceutical industry becomes the major source of low-cost drugs throughout the continent and beyond. We also realise that education is the key to halting the spread of HIV and AIDS.

Ladies and Gentlemen, we may not have achieved all of our objectives, but I am positive that the whole world can testify that South Africa is now a better place. Our efforts are indicative of South Africa’s determination to find lasting, consensus-driven solutions to some of humanity’s most intractable challenges. South Africans are justly proud to belong to a country that cherishes the gift of freedom. As we enter the second decade of our democracy, our wish is that countries such as the Dominican Republic will continue traveling alongside South Africa in this astonishing journey of hope, pride and fulfillment. President Thabo Mbeki has declared this century The African Century, and also refers it to as the Century of Hope, and where there is hope there is progress.

Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to go on and on but time and energy do not permit. I believe that the following poem by Margaret Walker, an African-American poet, captures the essence of my address today:

Let a new earth rise
Let another world be born
Let a bloody peace be written in the sky
Let a second generation full of courage issue forth
Let a people loving freedom come to growth
Let a beauty full of healing a strength of final clenching be the pulsing in our spirits and our blood
Let the marital songs be written, let the desires disappear
Let a race of men [and women] now rise and take control

Thank you.


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  2. Long Walk to Freedom (Auto Biography); Nelson Mandela

  3. Proudfoot Consulting Survey 2004

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  5. The Southern African – German Chamber of Commerce and Industry Survey, 2004

  6. AVERT (Avert.Org) – World HIV/AIDS Statistics

  7. YOU Better Believe It – Editor Paul Breman (Published By Penguin Books) For My People - Margaret Walker