Documents on Democracy

Issue Date April 1994
Volume 5
Issue 2
Page Numbers 157-58
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South Africa

Among the distinguished speakers at the International Press Institute’s 43rd annual General Assembly in Cape Town 13-16 February 1994 (see pp. 159-60 below) were ANC president Nelson Mandela and South African president F.W. De Klerk. Excerpts from their speeches follow:

Mandela: A critical, independent and investigative press is the lifeblood of any democracy. The press must be free from state interference. It must have the economic strength to stand up to the blandishments of government officials. It must have sufficient independence from vested interests to be bold and inquiring without fear or favor. It must enjoy the protection of the constitution, so that it can protect our rights as citizens.

It is only such a free press that can temper the appetite of any government to amass power at the expense of the citizen. It is only such a free press that can be the vigilant watchdog of the public interest against the temptation on the part of those who wield it to abuse that power. It is only such a free press that can have the capacity to relentlessly expose excesses and corruption on the part of government, state officials, and other institutions that hold power in society.

I have often said that the media are a mirror through which we can see ourselves as others perceive us, warts, blemishes, and all. The African National Congress has nothing to fear from criticism. I can promise you, we will not wilt under close scrutiny. It is our considered view that such criticism can only help us to grow, by calling attention to those of our actions and omissions which do not measure up to our people’s expectations and the democratic values to which we subscribe.

De Klerk: Society undoubtedly needs the media to play a dynamic watchdog role. The media must be unleashed and should be able to patrol the national property in a free and unrestricted manner. They must be able to sniff out corruption and relentlessly follow the spoor of a hot story or a good disclosure. They must, by barking or howling, be able to alert the household to any threat lurking in the undergrowth. And despite the fact [End Page 157] that I, like most politicians, have felt their teeth, they should never be muzzled. . . .

Neverthless, anyone who has ever kept a large watchdog will also be aware of the downside. Large dogs sometimes bay at the moon and disturb the neighborhood. They knock over dustbins and strew garbage over the front lawn. They bound into the house with muddy paws and upset delicate and valuable crockery. They can be obsessed by the scent of sex. From time to time they invade the privacy of the neighbor’s garden, and, alas, they have been known to bite innocent passersby.

All this makes up part of the necessary tension between the media and government. If either side is ever too happy with the relationship, the chances are that there is something wrong either with the media or with government.


On 29 November 1993, the United Nations General Assembly passed a new resolution criticizing the continuing denial of human rights and democracy in Burma (Myanmar). Excerpts from the resolution follow:

The General Assembly, . . .

3) Again urges the Government of Myanmar, in conformity with its assurances given at various times, to take all necessary steps towards the restoration of democracy in accordance with the will of the people as expressed in the democratic elections held in 1990, and to ensure that political parties can function freely. . . .

5) Also notes with concern . . . that most of the representatives duly elected in 1990 have been excluded from participating in the meetings of the National Convention, created to prepare basic elements for the drafting of a new Constitution, and that one of its objectives is to maintain the participation of the armed forces in a leading role in the future political life of the State;

6) Strongly urges the Government of Myanmar to take all appropriate measures to allow all citizens to participate freely in the political process in accordance with the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and to accelerate the process of transition to democracy, in particular through the transfer of power to the democratically elected representatives;

7) Urges the Government of Myanmar to ensure full respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression and assembly, and the protection of the rights of persons belonging to ethnic and religious minorities and to put an end to violations of the right to life and integrity of the human being, to the practices of torture, abuse of women, forced labor and to enforced disappearances and summary executions. . . . [End Page 158]