OPINION PIECE: By Gerhard Papenfus
I cannot recall a State of the Nation address that grasped my attention so much as President Ramaphosa’s maiden SONA address on 16 February 2018. Without underestimating the challenges lying ahead of us in any way, I felt exhilarated, eager to get to work and to play my part to make South Africa a better place for all who live in it.
Firstly, as a South African, then as an employer and employer representative, but also from the perspective of a particular race group with a unique history (in the South African context), President Ramaphosa’s speech presented me with many challenges, but also filled me with a sense of responsibility and renewed hope.
From my perspective, here are the statements which stood out:
The President recounted President Mandela’s wisdom, his unfailing humility, his abiding compassion and his essential integrity and challenged all South Africans to devote their every action, every effort and every utterance to the realisation of his vision of a democratic, just and equitable society. He called on us to reinforce our commitment to ethical behaviour and ethical leadership.
He envisaged a country where its peoples’ prospects are determined by their own initiative and hard work, and not by the colour of their skin, place of birth, gender, language or income of their parents.
He called on us to reaffirm our belief that South Africa belongs to all who live in it. He reminded us that there are 57-million of us, each with different histories, languages, cultures, experiences, views and interests; that although we are a diverse people, we are one nation; a nation at one, bound together by a common destiny.
He reminded us of the necessity of unity and harmony among all the people of this great land; that although we differ on fundamental issues, we are at one.
He called on our commitment to work together to find jobs for our youth; to build factories, roads, houses and clinics; to prepare our children for a world of change and progress; to build cities and towns where families may be safe, productive and content.
He gave recognition to the fact that there is still a lot that divides us and specifically refers to our highly unequal society, in which poverty and prosperity are still defined by race and gender. He called on all of us to take up the responsibility to build a new nation, to confront the injustices of the past and the inequalities of the present. He called on us to do so even under difficult conditions.
The President pointed out that South Africa, in recent years, experienced a reverse of the gains we had achieved previously: poverty levels have risen, unemployment has gone up and inequality has persisted and he recognised that, for several years, our economy has not grown at the pace needed to create enough jobs or lift our people out of poverty.
He challenged South Africans to seize this moment of hope and renewal to work together to ensure that we make a meaningful difference in the lives of all of us.
The President confirmed that, in 2018, job creation, especially for the youth, will be at thecentre of our national agenda, pointing to the following measures to address the unemployment agenda:
Working in partnership with business, organised labour and community representatives, the President pointed to opportunities for young people to be exposed to the world of work through internships, apprenticeships, mentorship and entrepreneurship.
As far as the Mining Sector is concerned, the President expressed the need to resolve the current impasse and agree on a Charter that both accelerates transformation and grows this vital sector of our economy.
The President affirmed that growth of the South African economy will be sustained by small business, as is the case in many countries. He pointed to our shared responsibility to grow this vital sector of the economy and committed Government to work with its social partners to build a small business support ecosystem that assists, nourishes and promotes entrepreneurs. He committed himself to reduce the regulatory barriers (red tape) for small business.
The President again pointed to the importance of a healthy Agricultural Sector. He confirmed the need for land expropriation (without compensation), but emphasised increased agricultural production and improved food security. From the President’s speech it is clear that huge challenges are facing this sector, but he committed Government to a process of consultation to determine the modalities of the implementation thereof.
The President promised that, in 2018, the tide will be turned on corruption.
While the President applauded many government officials who serve with diligence and commitment, he acknowledged the challenges that South Africans face when they interact with the state, admitting that in too many cases, they often get poor service or no service at all. He determined that everyone in the public service should undertake their responsibilities with efficiency, diligence, integrity and a new discipline - to do things correctly, to do them completely and to do them timeously.
To all South Africans, business in general and employers in particular, it needs to be emphasized that this is not the time to sit back in scepticism, waiting to see if all of this is going to materialise. Now is the time to put our collective shoulder to the wheel, to grasp this opportunity - a second chance - afforded to us; to make sacrifices where it is required, but also to differ and debate where that is required; to give it our everything to secure a better future for all South Africans.
This opinion piece is by Gerhard Papenfus, Chief Executive of the National Employers’ Association of South Africa (NEASA). He writes this in his personal capacity.
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