Let us put all the negativity that has dogged our country behind us “because a new dawn is upon us” – was the strong message that newly elected South African President Cyril Ramaphosa shared with the nation on Friday night.
“Together we are going to make history. We have done it before and we will do it again,” said an upbeat President Cyril Ramaphosa.
Delivering his maiden State of the Nation Address on Friday night, the President said in the spirit of honouring world icon Nelson “Madiba” Mandela, the country should put the negative past behind and focus on rebuilding, hope and renewal.
The President said that as the country prepares to mark the centenary of the former statesman, South Africans should honour Madiba by putting behind us the era of discord, disunity and disillusionment and build the future that he envisioned.
This comes after a leadership transition that saw former President Jacob Zuma resigning this week after being recalled by the ANC.
“We should put behind us the era of diminishing trust in public institutions and weakened confidence in leaders.
“We should put all the negativity that has dogged our country behind us because a new dawn is upon us.
“It is a new dawn that is inspired by our collective memory of Nelson Mandela and the changes that are unfolding.
“As we rid our minds of all negativity, we should reaffirm our belief that South Africa belongs to all who live in it,” he said.
In a speech that inspired hope and the renewal of the nation, the President said even though South Africa is a tossed salad – a diverse nation – “we are one nation”.
“We are a nation at one,” he said, bound together by a common destiny.
“There are 57 million of us, each with different histories, languages, cultures, experiences, views and interests.
“Yet we are bound together by a common destiny.
“For this, we owe much to our forebearers – people like Pixley ka Seme, Charlotte Maxeke and Chief Albert Luthuli – who understood the necessity of the unity and harmony of all the people of this great land.
Clarion call for South Africans to work together for change
The President said while change can produce uncertainty, even anxiety, it also offers great opportunities for renewal and revitalisation, and for progress.
“… bonded by our common love for our country, resolute in our determination to overcome the challenges that lie ahead and convinced that by working together we will build the fair and just and decent society to which Nelson Mandela dedicated his life.”
The President said government was committed to working as one to put a dent on employment and create jobs.
“We are one people, committed to work together to find jobs for our youth, to build factories and 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 said.
He said government wanted to ensure that there is a better management of state resources.
“We are determined to build a society defined by decency and integrity, that does not tolerate the plunder of public resources, nor the theft by corporate criminals of the hard-earned savings of ordinary people.
“While there are many issues on which we may differ, on these fundamental matters, we are at one.
“We know that there is still a lot that divides us,” he said.
Rising over challenges that confront the economy
The President said poverty levels rose in 2015 while unemployment has gone up, inequality has persisted.
He said for several years, the country’s economy has not grown at the pace needed to create enough jobs or lift citizens people out of poverty.
Despite these challenging conditions, the President said the country has – working together with all social partners – managed to achieve progress in improving the lives of all citizens.
“Even under conditions of weak growth, our economy has created jobs, but not at the pace required to absorb new entrants into the labour market.
“This means that as we pursue higher levels of economic growth and investment, we need to take additional measures to reduce poverty and meet the needs of the unemployed.”
He said since the start of the current Parliament, government’s public employment programmes have created more than 3.2 million work opportunities.
“In the context of widespread unemployment, they continue to provide much needed income, work experience and training.
“We have taken measures to reduce the cost of living, especially for the poor.
“Government’s free basic services programme currently supports more than 3.5 million indigent households.
“More than 17 million social grants are paid each month, benefiting nearly a third of the population.”
Education to be prioritised to break the cycle of poverty
The President said education was a key to alleviating poverty from poor households.
He said educating poor children, especially those from poor backgrounds, was essential and that government has insisted that this should start in early childhood.
“Today we have nearly a million children in early childhood development facilities. We are seeing improvements in the outcomes of our basic education system. The matric pass rate increased from 60.6 percent in 2009 to 75.1 percent last year. There are currently almost a million students enrolled in higher education, up from just over 500 000 in 1994.”
He said as the country enters a new era, government is determined to build on these achievements, confront the challenges are currently being faced and accelerate progress in building a more prosperous and equitable society.
“We have seen a moderate recovery in our economy and a broader, sustained recovery in the global economy.
“Commodity prices have improved, the stock market has risen, the rand has strengthened and there are early indications that investor confidence is on the rise.
“We have taken decisive measures to address concerns about political instability and are committed to ensure policy certainty and consistency. There is a greater sense of optimism among our people.”
Business confidence improving in SA companies
The President said citizens are hopeful about the future.
He said business confidence among South African companies has improved and foreign investors are looking anew at opportunities in the country.
“Some financial institutions have identified South Africa as one of the hot emerging markets for 2018.
“Our task, as South Africans, is to seize this moment of hope and renewal, and to work together to ensure that it makes a meaningful difference in the lives of our people.
“This year, we will be initiating measures to set the country on a new path of growth, employment and transformation.”
He said government has to build further on the collaboration with business and labour to restore confidence and prevent an investment downgrade.
As the Minister of Finance is set to deliver the budget on Wednesday, the President said tough decisions have to be made to close the fiscal gap, stabilise debt and restore state-owned enterprises to health.
“We are going to embark on a number of measures to address the unemployment challenge.”
He also said that he would, within the next few months, convene a jobs summit to align the efforts of every sector and every stakeholder behind the imperative of job creation.
“The summit will look at what we need to do to ensure our economy grows and becomes more productive, that companies invest on a far greater scale, that workers are better equipped, and that our economic infrastructure is expanded.
“We will expect this summit to come up with practical solutions and initiatives that will be implemented immediately.”
Government to tackle corruption head-on
The President said government will intervene decisively to stabilise and revitalise state owned enterprises.
He said the recent action government has taken at Eskom to strengthen governance, root out corruption and restore its financial position is just the beginning.
Government, the President said, will take further measures to ensure that all state owned companies fulfil their economic and developmental mandates.
“We will change the way that boards are appointed so that only people with expertise, experience and integrity serve in these vital positions.
“We will remove board members from any role in procurement and work with the Auditor-General to strengthen external audit processes.
“This is the year in which we will turn the tide of corruption in our public institutions.
“The criminal justice institutions have been taking initiatives that will enable us to deal effectively with corruption.
The commission of inquiry into state capture, headed by the Deputy Chief Justice Judge Raymond Zondo, is expected to commence its work shortly.
He said the Commission is critical to ensuring that the extent and nature of state capture is established, that confidence in public institutions is restored and that those responsible for any wrongdoing are identified.
“We are at a moment in the history of our nation when the people, through their determination, have started to turn the country around. We can envisage the triumph over poverty, we can see the end of the battle against Aids.
“Now is the time to lend a hand. Now is the time for each of us to say ‘send me’. Now is the time for all of us to work together, in honour of Nelson Mandela, to build a new, better South Africa for all,” President Ramaphosa said.
This article was originally published on SAnews.gov.za.