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Special public lecture by the deputy president of the Republic of South Africa

THE month of April also evokes memories of the iconic Solomon Kalushi Mahlangu, a young activist who was unjustly executed by the evil apartheid regime on April 6th, 1979. His death was and remains a symbol of the injustice and cruelty of the apartheid regime, which could arbitrarily execute innocent individuals. 

We will never forget, nor will we undermine the potency of his last words when he said, ‘Tell my people that I love them and that they must continue to fight; my blood will nourish the tree that will bear the fruits of freedom’.

These words have carried us as a nation on the path of social justice and equality. They have transcended decades and still echo through the current hopes and aspirations for a better South Africa.

In thinking about the theme of this lecture, which is ‘Inspiring the youth in South Africa to imagine a better and prosperous future’, I cannot help but remember the role that young people played during the 1976 uprising.

Young people in South Africa have always been at the forefront of the struggle, playing key roles in the African National Congress, the United Democratic Front, uMkhonto weSizwe, Youth Congresses across student organisations and many other formations that served as platforms for change and social justice in our country.

Equally in April, we remember Chris Hani, who was gunned down on the eve of the elections in 1993. His death sends shocking waves and almost jeopardises our transition. However, under the leadership of President Mandela, the ANC prevailed and brought calm to our nation at the most critical time. This underscores the significance of leadership, as difficult times test leaders and define them by their ability to make decisions.

As we commemorate thirty years of freedom and democracy, we must emulate our predecessors by steadfastly pursuing and safeguarding the achievements of our freedom and democracy.

For this reason, we must invest in building a nation that has the necessary capacity and skills to contribute to our developmental paradigm. In this regard, working through the Human Resource Development Council together with the private sector, universities, and civil society, we have recently cemented various compacts that are aimed at ensuring that, as partners, we deal with our agreed programme of development. 

The importance of investing in knowledge is also because we find ourselves in a modern, developing knowledge economy driven mainly by artificial intelligence.

The University of Johannesburg has been one of the leading institutions in AI. I commend the institution for investing in this important development, and I believe the rest of us should follow suit. We, too, have decided that we must teach robotics and coding at the early childhood development stage so that the children are ready for the future, but more importantly, they must be globally competitive in this era of the digital economy.

I equally want to acknowledge the good work that the Premier of Gauteng and his executive are doing to create much-needed opportunities for the youth. As they say, “siphiispani” overwhelming the youth of Gauteng respond to say “nasispani”. These and many similar initiatives in Kwazulu Natal, Easter Cape and the rest of the country are a demonstration of the commitment of the ANC government that we care and we are willing to go the extra mile to build a better life for all.

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Over the past few decades, the South African government has taken significant steps to address historical injustices and strive towards achieving social cohesion and socio-economic empowerment for all its citizens.

Equally, the government has made significant progress in addressing socio-economic inequalities through social welfare programs in housing, healthcare, education, and social services.

The implementation of Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment (BBBEE) policies has also promoted economic transformation because our goal is to ensure that those who were marginalised become part of the mainstream economy.

To demonstrate our commitment to building an inclusive and growing economy, we have raised R1.5 trillion in new investment commitments, of which over R500 billion has already flowed into the economy.

We have made further strides in addressing load shedding, ensuring energy security, enhancing logistics systems, and improving ports and rail networks.

We are on track to accelerate land redistribution so that black South Africans now own around 25% of farmland and have supported 1,000 black industrialists in black-owned firms.

Despite these achievements, challenges remain in achieving a more inclusive and equitable society. For example, the triple challenges of poverty, unemployment, and inequality, as well as corruption, continue to pose obstacles to the nation’s progress.

In addressing these challenges, we are conscious that, as government, we must strengthen social compacts by working together with all sectors of society.

As I stand before you today, as a nation, we are looking forward to the general election on 29 of May 2024. Given that many have registered political parties and aspire to serve in parliament and the legislatures, I believe many will agree that this election is arguably the most important.

We are not surprised that there are so many political parties. The party that I have the honour to serve indeed fought for the idea that we have a flourishing democracy wherein everyone, without fear, should be allowed to participate in the elections in our country.

I am confident that we will have a successful election and that the people of South Africa will continue to place their hopes and inspiration in the organisation and movement of their choice – the African National Congress.

As we embark on the election campaign, we urge universities, political parties, labour unions, civil society, faith-based organisations, and student bodies to protect and secure our democracy, not only for the current generation but for generations to come.

As it stands, as a people, we must be proud of some of the achievements made over the past 30 years. To mention a few, these include investment in transport infrastructure, which includes the Gautrain, Freeway Improvement, and Bus Rapid Transport, the agricultural sector, the financial services sector as well as a thriving automotive sector. 

We know for a fact that to grow, we need to invest in infrastructure; hence, we have projects worth about R21.4 billion that have been completed. These projects are part of the Infrastructure Investment Plan, which articulates the country’s need for infrastructure-led economic growth and recovery.

Further, they include the Welisizwe Rural Bridges programme, which was launched with additional urgency following the devastating floods that ravaged KwaZulu-Natal and sections of the Eastern Cape and North West in April 2022. Through this project, there are now 58 rural bridges under development around the country, with 11 finished in KwaZulu-Natal.

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I would like to see more young people and women business-led being involved in these projects because young people are the future of our country and women carry the hardest burden of communities.

In my early years as a leader in government, I had the opportunity to be part of the team that delivered the Gautrain. I am grateful to those who gave me the opportunity and proud to have played a role in this development. Having been afforded the opportunity to serve at an early age, I too have come to believe in the potential of our youth. I know you, too, can be great. I know you have Solomon Mahlangu’s spirit of tenacity.

However, we are aware of the challenges that the youth face in our country. Hence, over the years, we have been investing in initiatives for the development of our youth and our future.

The President has tasked me with accelerating execution and implementation across the government, particularly in relation to enhancing service delivery. We are determined to speed up execution and implementation. In this regard, over the next five years, we will focus on six critical areas.

* The first is to put South Africa to work through public employment programmes that create work opportunities in the public, small businesses, and social sectors. In this regard, we want to create and sustain 2.5 million work opportunities delivering public goods and services in communities. 

This includes work done through the Presidential Employment Stimulus, funding for civil society through non-profit companies and organisations to provide work opportunities, institutionalising the National Youth Service in partnership with the SANDF, and expanding work opportunities for unemployed graduates.

* The second goal is to prepare our industries for an inclusive economy by implementing a cross-cutting industrial strategy that drives growth and creates opportunities for youth and other unemployed people. This will promote industrialisation as a driver of economic transformation by supporting localisation and high-growth, labour-intensive industries such as energy, transport, and logistics as vital network industries and strategic national assets for industrialisation, growth, and development. We will also guarantee the inclusion of small businesses, cooperatives, and enterprises owned by women, young people, and persons with disabilities—particularly in townships and villages—across all value chains by implementing set-asides in both the public and private sectors.

* The third is to tackle the high cost of living by taking steps to make everyday life more affordable for workers, unemployed persons, women-headed households, and the middle class by addressing availability and access to basic needs such as food, housing, health care, energy, transport, and wages.

* Fourth, invest in people by meeting all of their basic needs, investing in education, improving health outcomes, and improving service delivery.

* Fifth, there are ongoing efforts to defend democracy and advance freedom. This means that we will continue to promote and defend the rights of all South Africans against racism, sexism, gender-based violence, homophobia, discrimination, and other intolerances. Advance the rights and dignity of children, youth, older persons, persons with disabilities, and members of the LGBTQI community, and continue the fight for women’s emancipation and a truly non-sexist society.

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* Sixth is to build a capable and developmental state, strengthen links between governments at all levels and the people, rebuild and improve local government, build a professional and developmental public service based on Batho Pele principles, and strengthen cooperative governance through the District Development Model.

Through these priorities, we will put South Africa back on track to achieve the National Development Plan 2030 objectives to eliminate income poverty and reduce inequality.

To realise this work, we continue to invest in competent leaders who are trained to perform their responsibilities. Competent political leadership is critical because it influences the capacity of governments and political organisations to accomplish their objectives and carry out their duties.

Our commitment to developing effective leaders with the necessary skills for today’s world, as well as progressive leadership, has resulted in the establishment of the OR Tambo School of Leadership.

Equally, we have decided to move with speed to professionalise the public sector. This includes investing in the creation of a competent national school of government that provides much-needed training in partnership with several universities in our country and abroad.

I would like to assure the people of our country that, as the government, we are committed to the delivery of quality services to our people. This includes dealing with increased water and sanitation issues, as well as the energy availability factor. 

In this regard, I have been appointed by President Cyril Ramaphosa to lead a task team on the water crisis in the country, and one of the urgent priorities is to fix ageing infrastructure. We have already started this work. 

We will be meeting as the Water Task Team and visiting Ethekwini as well as other regions later to engage with the province as to how best we can resolve the eminent water challenge.

Since the announcement of the Water Task Team’s establishment, my office has received numerous requests from individuals seeking to assist and collaborate with the government. 

Together with the task members, we will outline a process of engagement so that we do not leave anyone behind but ensure that we find a lasting solution to the water challenges in our country.

The Department of Water and Sanitation has already allocated R10.1 billion to municipalities through the regional bulk infrastructure grant, R4.6 billion through the water services infrastructure grant, and R1.4 billion through the municipal recovery disaster grant to address water challenges.

I urge all of us to remain inspired by the words of Solomon Kalushi Mahlangu, ‘Tell my people that I love them and that they must continue to fight…’ .

We must continue to carry these words as a nation beyond the 30 years of freedom and democracy, towards the hundred years of the Freedom Charter in 2055, wherein we would have achieved a South Africa that belongs to all who live in it, black and white.

  • This is an edited version of a special public lecture by the Deputy President of the South Africa, Paul Mashatile at the University of Johannesburg.

By PAUL MASHATILE

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