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THABO MBEKI SPEECH: AT THE CELEBATION OF THE 20th ANNIVERSARY OF WIPHOLD (SUN CITY, MARCH 22, 2014)

March 23, 2014

“The job of those who have stewardship of capital is to support society…” Mark Cutifani.

Director of Ceremonies,
CEO, other Leaders and shareholders of WIPHOLD,
Corporate partners of WIPHOLD;
Other participants in the programmes of WIPHOLD;
Distinguished fellow guests at this important national occasion;
Members of the media;
Fellow South Africans:

First of all I would like to thank the leadership of WIPHOLD for convening all of us here at Sun City to celebrate the 20th birthday of a corporate citizen that is as old as our democracy.

When I end, and with your permission, I will ask all of you to stand up again for us together to say – Happy 20th Birthday to WIPHOLD!

It was correct that we should convene as we have done here during this weekend of March 21st, our Human Rights Day, which correctly honours the victims of the March 21st 1960 Sharpeville Massacre and others of our martyrs.

This is because, as we must, we have an obligation always to remind ourselves, and educate the younger generations, including those not yet born, that freedom was not free!

We achieved the freedom we celebrated as we voted during our first democratic elections in 1994, owing to the great cost that many at home and abroad paid in terms of the loss in human lives and postponed development both at home and especially the whole region of Southern Africa.

Regrettably, today, a mere 20 years after our liberation, it is obvious that many in our society have forgotten or are oblivious of the human cost our freedom entailed.

Accordingly, these abuse the gift of our liberation to abuse our precious freedom to do things for themselves whose only objective is personal aggrandisement – thus to use their access to state, corporate and social power radically and systemically to subvert the required sustained and speedy advance we need towards the realisation of the objective of a better life for all our people.

By definition, this is necessarily at the expense of especially the poor majority in our country.

We have convened here today because the majority of or people understood and understand that liberation from apartheid and colonialism must and had to mean creating the possibility for the millions of ordinary South Africans and Africans to enjoy better lives free from poverty, as well as the restoration of our full dignity as human beings.

Indeed, in this regard, we will recall the tasks our Constitution set for all of us as nation. Among others it requires that we should act together to:

• heal the divisions of the past;
• achieve social justice;
• improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the full potential of each person;
• restore the human dignity of all persons;
• achieve equality among the citizens; and,
• build a non-racial and non-sexist society.

Our Constitution set these important goals to address the disastrous legacy we inherited in 1994 from three-and-half centuries of colonialism and apartheid.

This year we celebrate the 20th anniversary of our democracy. It is therefore right and inevitable that we should ask ourselves the questions – what progress have we made towards the realisation of the goals set by our Constitution; what obstacles have we experienced in this regard; and what should we do to achieve the progress we need?

We have to answer these questions relating not only to what our successive governments have done during the last two decades. Rather these must constitute the basis for an assessment of what all stakeholders in our country have done and should do.

All of us are fully conscious of how onerous and deeply entrenched the legacy of colonialism and apartheid to which I have referred is. To eradicate it, and therefore meet the national goals set by our Constitution, requires the united action of all stakeholders even if each one of these acts only in its interest.

The stakeholders to whom I refer include government in all three spheres, the corporate sector, the trade unions, the women’s and youth movements, the religious communities, academia, the traditional leaders and civil society as a whole.

As I have indicated and as you know, our Constitution sets as one of our fundamental national goals the building of a non-sexist society. This relates directly to the tasks to achieve women’s empowerment, development and emancipation, and therefore gender equality.

Women constitute the majority of our population. Accordingly the accomplishment of the national tasks I have just indicated bear directly on our society as a whole, relating to such goals as set by our Constitution as the achievement of human dignity, equality, social justice and improving the quality of life of all citizens.

To put this in other words – it is not possible to realise these goals for our society as a whole without addressing the empowerment, development and emancipation of women, leading to gender equality.

The truth of this proposition is underlined by the fact that because of the well-known historical triple oppression specifically of black women, on the basis of race, gender and class, such ills in our society as poverty, marginalisation and exclusion, disempowerment and illiteracy find particular expression among the women.

Necessarily therefore, one of the focal matters on which all the stakeholders I have mentioned have to concentrate as we assess our 20 years of democracy is exactly this one – that is, what progress have we made collectively to create a non-sexist South Africa and what contribution has each of these stakeholders made towards the realisation of this objective?

We have gathered here over the last few days to celebrate yet another 20th anniversary – the 20th anniversary of WIPHOLD.

As a corporate citizen WIPHOLD is one of the stakeholders to which I have referred which should therefore, like the others, make its own assessment of its own contribution to the creation of a non-sexist society.

In this regard I am happy to say that I am confident that WIPHOLD has every right to hold its head high as indeed one of our foremost pathfinders with regard to the pursuit of the objective of the empowerment, development and emancipation of women!

But before I comment further on WIPHOLD, I would like to take advantage of the happy occasion of the celebration of the 20th anniversary of this company to salute important remarks made in 2013 by the current CEO of Anglo American plc, Mr Mark Cutifani, while he was CEO of AngloGold Ashanti.

I refer here to remarks Mr Cutifani made during the 2013 African Mining Indaba in Cape Town. I refer to these because of the critical importance of the mining sector both in our country and the rest of our Continent, and therefore the significance of Mr Cutifani’s remarks as CEO of one of South Africa’s and Africa’s major mining companies.

Among other things, Mr Cutifani sought to discuss the value system that should govern the conduct of the mining companies, acting in a manner which recognises the reality that they are a vital player in the progressive social transformation of the societies in which they operate, going beyond exclusive dedication to corporate profit maximisation.

I believe, firmly, that the corporate value system for which he argued is of general application to our business sector as a whole, relating also to the principal matter I have been discussing – corporate responsibility to our fundamental national challenge to create a non-sexist society!

In his important speech, among other things Mr Cutifani said:

“When we talk about mining we need to be clear – we are talking about the most important industrial activity on the face of the planet…Correspondingly, it is my contention that mining drives more than 45% of the world’s economic activity…

“The things we do [as the mining industry] are so important to global society, but the communities where we do business get the rough end of the stick…

“It is critical to understand how to really engage with communities. We must listen to what communities want to be, not tell them who to be…

“We have to make changes to transform the countries we work in…

“A hole in the ground, a waste dump that intrudes the visual landscape or a tailings dam that covers a children’s playground are all manifestations of local impact. The perennial challenge we face as an industry – how do we reconcile the greater good we create with the inevitable local interruptions we create. The challenge we face and the opportunities we can create for communities revolve around dealing constructively with this inherent conflict…

“We (the mining industry) have to think beyond our historical characterisation and eliminate a conversation that talks to us being an ‘Extractive Industry’. While we may extract products from rocks – we are overwhelmingly a ‘Development Industry’ that creates new social possibilities. We should be the ‘Development Partner’ that supports and catalyses the creation of wealth for all…

“A dialogue around reducing energy consumption, sharing our resources more equitably and co-operating on major global initiatives is where we must focus our transformational dialogues…We need (the resources generated by mining) to alleviate poverty and human desperation…

“The issue of poverty alleviation at the local level must be a prime focus of both (mining) companies and governments…An appropriate disputes resolution process must be aligned by all key participants…

“The definition of partnership has to be about how each participant imagines what a successful future looks like and what compromises can be made to ensure (all) parties can be accommodated in defining a pathway to a new reality…

“Marikana was a symptom of a much greater issue that needs us to engage and work together to find collective solutions. The simple fact is we need each other if we are going to realise our great potential…

“I believe in South Africa’s new democracy and the ability to debate the issues of policy that will shape the future of our industry. Consistent with this policy debate we also take full accountability for our own shortcomings as an industry…

“In that same context we take our leadership obligations seriously – that is, to be an informed, an honest and sensitive participant in a debate that will ultimately determine whether South Africa realises its real potential or settles for second best as so many of our (country) competitors have done…

“We each have a responsibility to be a leader – to seek a new future and to be the first to extend a hand in partnership to those that will develop this brave new world we all want to be part of…

“The job of those who have stewardship of capital is to support society…

“South Africa could meet its challenges once government and the private sector stopped talking past each other…”

If I may, I would like to highlight some of the critical observations which Mark Cutifani made. These are that:

• those who exercise power through their control of capital, the investments which help to determine the future of all societies, must understand that this also gives them the responsibility and obligation to address the challenge of social transformation, beyond the pursuit of the objective of company profit maximisation;

• in this regard the corporate citizens must understand and accept that they have a strategic responsibility to cooperate with other partners, government, trade unions and communities, between them to agree on what they should do to improve the quality of life of the citizens;

• in this context the corporate sector must accept that all these social partners have legitimate aspirations which must be addressed within the context of seeking a win-win outcome of benefit to all these partners and therefore society as a whole; and,

• in the end the cooperation among these partners must pursue the strategic objective to eradicate poverty and underdevelopment, in favour of the progressive transformation of society, for the benefit of the masses of the people in which the partners, including the corporate citizens, operate and exist.

I would like to believe that throughout my years in government we tried very hard, and as much as we could, but unfortunately did not succeed to the extent we intended, to help ensure that the value system elaborated by Mark Cutifani informed in all respects and continuously the actual and daily practice of our corporate sector.

I would also accept that perhaps we also contributed to this negative outcome by not acting effectively to overcome the obstacles to our propagation of the explicit, systematic and sustained presentation of this challenge, outlook and system as was advanced by Mr Cutifani when he addressed the Cape Town Mining Indaba last year.

In this regard, and needless to say, we would also have had to imagine how all these objectives could be achieved in the context of a capitalist economy, which is the dominant form of property relations in our country and the world, and therefore act accordingly!

However, all this brings me back to the immediate matter of the celebration of the 20th birthday of WIPHOLD which is what has brought us together today.

In this regard, I am very pleased to confirm that whatever our own shortcomings might have been as I have suggested, there were other South Africans, the founders, leaders and shareholders of WIPHOLD, who fully understood, accepted and acted in a manner fully consistent with the value system which Mark Cutifani tried his best to advocate.

It is essentially for this reason that I firmly believe that it is entirely correct for all of us to gather here at Sun City during our national Human Rights weekend together to celebrate the 20th birthday of WIPHOLD.

Let me therefore explain why I have said what I have concerning WIPHOLD.

In this regard I am certain that there is no need for me to relate back to you what you know already about WIPHOLD, such as:

• that it is a highly successful corporate citizen;

• that the majority of its shareholders and managers are women, especially black women;

• that it deliberately avoids focusing on the personal enrichment of a mere handful of individual women, who then appear on prestigious lists as the richest among us; and that,

• rather than seek to enrich the few in the name of a grossly distorted concept of black economic empowerment;

• it uses much of its profits to finance various important social development programmes targeted on the empowerment, development and emancipation of the women of South Africa.

In any case I understand that yesterday the leadership of WIPHOLD presented to all of us here what might be called the nuts and bolts of what constitutes WIPHOLD.

Rather, I would like to refer to what I said ten years ago, in 2004, at an occasion in Johannesburg to celebrate the 10th anniversary of WIPHOLD, about which you might have been told already, which, as does our celebration today with regard to the 20th anniversary of WIPHOLD, also celebrated the related anniversary of our democracy.

Then, in an article which the editors of the newsletter, ANC TODAY, entitled “The President thanks the women of South Africa”, I reported on what I characterised as “an important and moving event which took place at the Johannesburg Headquarters of the company established by black women, WIPHOLD.”

On that occasion, ten years ago on August 13, 2014, I said some things that I would like to repeat here today, without substantively changing anything. I said then, which continues to apply to day, that (as over this weekend):

“A number of the women spoke briefly during this unforgettable evening, raising a number of important matters. The comments they made confirmed the centrality of a number of issues that our movement, (the ANC), our governments in all spheres, and our people as a whole must take seriously. Some of these are that:

• the emancipation, upliftment and empowerment of the women of South Africa, black and white, are fundamental to the birth of our new nation;

• all this should be done with the women, and not just for them as passive beneficiaries;

• this process must not only benefit a thin upper stratum of successful women, but women as a whole, including the poorest and the most disadvantaged in our urban and rural areas;

• given the opportunity, which is all they are asking for, the women are capable of matching and surpassing men in achieving success in all fields; (present in the room were company owners, company executives, managers, accountants, finance experts, scientists, engineers, lawyers, medical doctors and other professionals, elected public representatives, and others;);

• the process of black economic empowerment should not marginalise women, treating them as token “five percenters”, given limited participation merely to demonstrate that the women have not been forgotten;

• neither should they be confined to a ghetto, patronisingly described as “the most disadvantaged”, and shoved into one basket containing the women, the youth and people with disabilities;

• real and meaningful resources should be provided by both the public and private sectors, genuinely to secure the advancement of the women of our country;

• even the most successful among the women never lose their sensitivity to the reality that much work remains to be done to end poverty and underdevelopment in our country: neither do they forget their own obligation to help address this challenge;

• however much they succeed as individuals, they will not and should not forget the reality that it is the process of national liberation that has given them the possibility to succeed; and,

• they are therefore committed to ensure that they contribute to the defence of our democratic gains and the further entrenchment of the genuine transformation process.

“To them all, I extend our humble thanks, the humble thanks of our leadership and membership, of the millions in our country, women, children and men, who, though poor, walk with a spring in their steps, because freedom has restored their sense of dignity and self-worth, and given them the priceless gift of hope.

“I thank them because what they did during one autumn night contributed magnificently to our possibility to say to those who may have nothing but dignity and hope that the blessings of the summer rains are not far behind.”

To end the article, ten years ago, I wrote that:

“One of the women said one puts on beautiful clothes as a mark of celebration, joy and happiness. And all of them had come to (the) WIPHOLD Headquarters dressed beautifully.

“During the evening I learnt of something called ‘a killer slit’. Advisedly, or so I thought, imagining what a killing slit, like a soldier’s bayonet, could do to one’s throat, I moved as far away as I could, to get out of harm’s way. By the time I came to know that it described the dramatic design of a skirt, it was too late to come closer, at least to appreciate the perfectly harmless aesthetic effect of the killer slit, so to speak.”

Having been properly educated then, ten years ago, I now understand why all the women here tonight, including my wife, Zanele, are as beautifully dressed as they are.

In this regard, and out of the hearing of the majority of our people, I must confess that I have been particularly on the look-out for killer slits, and have been sorely disappointed in this regard! Nevertheless I have comforted myself with the thought – better luck next time, perhaps ten years hence!

I am inspired, as should all South Africans, that in the meantime we will continue to celebrate the advances our country will make towards the building of a non-sexist South Africa, which will make an important and humble contribution to the collective realisation of this agreed objective throughout our Mother Continent, Africa.

This will be thanks to the sustained and principled efforts of WIPHOLD, and other women’s companies well known to all of us, which have followed in its footsteps, to give practical meaning to the world outlook indigenous to the whole of Africa, and to which all of us are intimately and emotionally attached – the world outlook and philosophy of UBUNTU/BOTHO!

Let us all rise and drink a toast or pour a libation in honour of our shared vision:

Happy 20th birthday to WIPHOLD!

All success to all our women’s companies!

Forward to the emancipation of the women of South Africa, Africa and the world!

Long live a liberated and democratic South Africa!

Pula! Nala!

Siyinqaba!

Thank you.

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