Speeches & Floor Statements

Remarks Of Sen. Alexander - South African Democracy

Posted on April 27, 2004

U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today introduced a resolution commemorating "Freedom Day" in South Africa, the 10th anniversary of the beginning of majority rule and end of apartheid. Alexander was joined by Senators Feingold, Lugar and Biden as co-sponsors of the bill. His full remarks are as followed: Mr. President, I rise today to recognize the 10th anniversary of majority rule in the Republic of South Africa and to commend the South African people for the momentous social and economic achievements they have made since establishing a more inclusive democracy. We all remember that just 10 years ago South Africa held its first democratic, non-racial election on April 27, 1994. This momentous event, along with the subsequent inauguration of Nelson Mandela as President later in May, signaled the death knell of apartheid and the re-birth of South Africa as a more representative, non-discriminatory democracy. The struggle to end apartheid in South Africa captured the imagination and garnered the support of millions of peoples worldwide, including the people of the United States. In August 2003, my wife, Honey, and I spent a few of days in South Africa as part of a congressional delegation led by our Majority Leader, Senator Bill Frist. While there, we toured Robben Island, the prison island where Nelson Mandela was jailed for 27 years. It was a humbling and inspiring experience to walk the grounds and know that despite his imprisonment in this desolate jail, Mandela could emerge without bitterness or hate and advocate unity and peaceful change as he worked with then President F.W. de Klerk to end apartheid and establish a representative democracy, for which efforts both men received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. Traveling through Cape Town, Johannesburg, and Soweto, and meeting with both white and black South Africans reminded me how far South Africa has come in its social transformation which has improved the lives of millions. In 1994, 22 million South Africans did not have access to adequate sanitation and 60 percent of South Africans did not have electricity. Now, 63 percent of South African households have access to sanitation, more than 70 percent of households have electricity, and 9 million people have gained access to clean water since 1994. However, my visit to South Africa also underscored that South Africa still faces daunting challenges that threaten to undo the gains it has made since 1994. First, and foremost, the most pressing issue facing not only South Africa, but also all of sub-Saharan Africa, remains HIV/AIDS. The 2003 announcement by the Mbeki government that it would soon begin providing antiretroviral treatment on a national scale to South Africans living with AIDS was an important step. President Mbeki was slow to come to this decision, and I hope now he will move forward with greater commitment. The South African government must persevere in combating the challenge of HIV/AIDS by making a strong political commitment and by expanding its prevention and treatment programs, such as the impressive ones that I visited during my time there. Also facing South Africa and its neighbors is the economic and humanitarian crisis caused by Robert Mugabe's despotic regime in nearby Zimbabwe. I have spoken on this floor before to condemn President Mugabe's brutal oppression of his own people, and it is imperative that South Africa take a lead role among the international community in agitating for real change in practices of the Zimbabwean government. Nelson Mandela aptly said, "It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership." Now is the proper time to celebrate the anniversary of South Africa's transition to an inclusive democracy, and we all look forward to South Africa taking a stronger leadership role on the front lines against the twin dangers of HIV/AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa and the oppressive regime of Robert Mugabe. To that end, today I introduce a resolution to commemorate this important event. I'm proud to be joined in this effort by Senator Feingold, the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Africa Affairs, which I chair, Senator Lugar, the Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, and Senator Biden, the Ranking Member of the Foreign Relations Committee. Senator Feingold has been an active leader on African issues throughout his tenure in the Senate, and I have been privileged to serve with him on our Subcommittee. Chairman Lugar and Senator Biden were both leaders on the issue of sanctions against the apartheid regime of South Africa in the 1980s and early 1990s. I hope they feel a sense of satisfaction, today, in celebrating 10 years of successful majority rule since the peaceful end of that regime. Mr. President, today is Freedom Day in South Africa, a day to celebrate the end of apartheid, and the beginning of majority rule in that country. I hope my colleagues will join me in supporting this resolution to commemorate that event.