‘Being a public servant is a noble calling and the greatest of all professions’

AYANDA DLODLO 

IT is indeed significant that the theme of this year’s Public Service Month in South Africa is: The Year of Charlotte Maxeke – a resilient public service responsive to the coronavirus pandemic”. 

Honouring the life of Ma-Maxeke is particularly befitting during this time of socio-economic distress, and uncertainty since her life’s journey shows us the true meaning of resilience and what it means to selflessly commit to a life of service to the people.  

This year’s Integrated Public Service Month reminds us that as we join our efforts to combat corruption, build the capacity of the State, fight the coronavirus pandemic, and provide quality services to our people, we must strive to emulate the ethos of resilience championed by Ma-Maxeke and live out the best and finest values of public service. The greatest heavyweight boxing champion of all times, Muhammad Ali, famously said that “service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth”.

Apart from her known activism for women’s rights and succeeding to become the first African woman to graduate in South Africa despite the discriminatory policies of the time that fashioned a docile and inferior role for African women in society, Ma-Maxeke contributed significantly to this democratic government’s understanding of public administration as a system of governance that must at all times be caring, responsive and focused on putting people first. Batho Pele! (People First). Public service is about complete dedication to the people and the nation.

Indeed, it was Ma-Maxeke who first articulated what is today a fundamental building block of our democratic government’s Batho Pele Policy when she reminded us that when we work in the interest of our people, we must “kill the spirit of self” and “put the people first”. 

As a government, we honour these sterling contributions of Ma-Maxeke to our present-day democracy as we remain committed to the principle of “Putting People First”, especially when it comes to the delivery of public services that address their needs. 

I am well aware that the government’s commitment to quality service delivery means little without you, our public servants, who are at the coalface of service delivery in our country. 

  • It is you that our citizens come to for guidance and support with the issues affecting their everyday lives. 
  • It is you, the police officer they turn to for safety and protection when confronted with danger and calamity. 
  • It is you, the teacher they rely on to educate their children so that they are able to realise their full potential. 
  • It is you, the healthcare worker they turn to for life-saving medical advice and assistance. 
  • And, it is you, the frontline worker they trust to facilitate their access to public services that are necessary for their everyday lives and livelihoods. 

As public servants, you should always know that your work matters! You matter! 

Being a public servant is a noble calling and the greatest of all professions. It demands dedication, selflessness, professionalism, commitment, and the utmost faithfulness to the principles and standards of Batho Pele; of “Putting People First”, just as Ma-Maxeke had enjoined us to do many years ago.

FIGHTING MISMANAGEMENT, CORRUPTION AND IMPROVING SERVICE DELIVERY

Our freedom was hard-won. And we must nurture and defend it jealously at all times.

Now, more than ever, we must defend our freedom against the scourge of corruption that is eroding our democratic values and our dream of being a capable, ethical and developmental State. Ken Poirot, an author, succinctly captures the effects of self-interest on the detriment of public service when he says: “When self-interest supersedes public service, society collapses under the weight of corruption.

By fighting to end corruption, we guarantee our citizens access to equal and quality services to which they have a constitutional right. This further ensures that the efficiency of government and the processes of delivering services to the public are not undermined. 

An honest public service is one that is competent, agile, innovative and responsive to the needs of all. In all our workspaces, we have to find innovative ways to manage the resources that the public have entrusted to us to deliver services timeously. It is not only about the delivery of services but quality services. The only way to do so is to constantly strive to remove barriers, reduce transaction costs, and ensure equitable and equal access for all. The public service is not ours but belongs to the public. 

We also acknowledge that you, our public servants, are our first line of defence. You are entrusted with managing State resources for the public benefit. 

The mismanagement of resources is not a victimless crime. It directly harms the most vulnerable members of our society who rely on government resources to sustain their livelihoods. It interrupts investment, reduces economic growth and distorts the data related to government expenditure. 

Let us always uphold the supremacy of our Constitution and the rule of law. Let us meet the expectations our people have of us by serving them with pride, dedication and the best of our abilities. Let us fight corruption and build a capable, ethical and developmental State that puts people and their needs at the centre of our work.

BUILDING A CAPABLE STATE

At the launch of last year’s Public Service Month, President Cyril Ramphosa made reference to the need for a new integrated model for service delivery that is responsive, adaptive and brings development to where it is needed most. 

This adaptive service delivery model, or District Development Model (DDM), is precisely what the Batho Pele principle compels us to do: to establish a citizen-centric Public Service that is seamless, adaptive and responsive. I, therefore, call on you, as professional public servants, to step up and identify ways in which we can realise this citizen-centric Public Service that is the hallmark of a capable State. 

As government, we recognise that a capable State starts with the people who work in it. Therefore, officials at all levels must possess job-appropriate financial and technical skills and the right attitude to serve others with pride and professionalism.  

We cannot make this a country of freedom, peace and prosperity for all if service delivery is neglected by elected officials and public servants who believe that holding a position of authority is an opportunity for self-enrichment. 

We cannot build an ethical State if those who make up the rank and file of the State are self-serving and unprincipled. And we cannot professionalise the Public Service in a context where poorly qualified individuals are being parachuted into management positions through political patronage. These practices, wherever they occur, do not represent the majority of our people. They represent the “spirit of self” that Ma-Maxeke had said we must destroy within ourselves and society.   

President Nelson Mandela drafted the M-Plan, which is a simple commonsense plan for organisations on a street basis so that congress volunteers would be in daily touch with the people, alert to their needs and able to mobilise them. These are the words espoused by OR Tambo. Through public participation, we produce legislation, the NDP and other plans and visions that are designed to improve the lives of our people in line with the aspirations enshrined in the Constitution.

THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC 

Every year during Public Service Month, we recommit ourselves to improving all areas of public service delivery, and we encourage you to stay strong and always do your best. 

The past year, in particular, has not been easy. We are facing several challenges whilst trying to accelerate service delivery in the midst of a global pandemic. Many of you work under extremely difficult and pressured conditions. The expectations our people have of you are high, and you may often find yourselves disappointed when you are unable to meet those expectations for whatever reason.

Yet you show resilience by reporting for work every day, ready to serve. You are the embodiment of Charlotte Maxeke. You put others first, often at the expense of your own health. 

Daily, you assist our people to acquire official documentation, to educate the next generation of leaders, to get support for their businesses, to access basic services, to obtain essential medication and care, and to collect their grants and other forms of social support. Your work is acknowledged and greatly appreciated.

On behalf of the government and the citizens of this beautiful country of ours, I want to thank you for your selfless service to our people and for meeting their needs on a daily basis.

  • This is an edited version of a keynote speech by Ayanda Dlodlo, SA’s Minister of Public Service and Administration at the launch of the country’s Integrated Public Service Month.


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