The new cabinet has its work cut out. It has to implement the National Development Plan with vigour, writes ANC treasurer-general Zweli Mkhize.
The inauguration of South Africa’s president is always a jovial affair as it is a celebration of our thriving democracy and an emotional yet symbolic reminder of the day our great Madiba was inaugurated on May 27, 1994.
On that day, when Nelson Mandela strode with his towering stature to the podium and took the oath of office, the white generals of the South African armed forces stood up and saluted the man who up to that moment represented the biggest threat to them, a man every white South African had been taught to hate and fight against, even if it meant laying down their own lives.
There are many of us who shed tears. It was unbelievable that at long last apartheid, with its abhorrent discriminatory and inhuman policies, had gone.
There was now a prospect for the end of state-sponsored violence, the healing of many deep wounds of oppression and the establishment of racial harmony and the creation of a climate in which the country and its people would start on the long road towards socio-economic development, for real.
At long last, South Africans would begin to see themselves as a nation of equals, united in diversity in a free democratic country where their dignity was protected by the constitution and the state.
When President Jacob Zuma was sworn into office for the second term, one could not escape the old memories. How fast time flies! How quickly mortal beings forget!
The announcement of election results had brought to an end the festive mood that has become invariably associated with election time.
The ANC had conducted a very intense campaign visiting communities throughout the country.
Zuma led from the front, talking to people in railway stations and bus ranks, inside trains and taxis. The entire leadership was out there in suburbs, townships and informal settlements – the ghettoes that continuously remind us that the legacy of apartheid deprivation will take decades to fully eradicate.
The ANC deployed an army of several hundred thousand volunteers, party loyalists and supporters into each of the voting districts in about 5 000 wards in all municipal councils.
Effectively, the ANC ran 22 000 election campaigns located in each of the voting districts every day, explaining both the achievements of the ANC government in the past 20 years and plans for the future.
Though arguably the fiercest election the ANC has ever fought, the confidence of the people of South Africa was demonstrated beyond any shadow of a doubt through a 62 percent victory. The nearest party, the DA trailing with a 40 percent gap, obtained 22 percent. The Economic Freedom Fighters received 6 percent.
For some in the local and overseas media, including journalists and commentators, there has been a campaign building over a few years to create an impression that the ANC would lose the elections. This impression, erroneous as it was, existed in the highly imaginative minds of a few who believed their own statements and were later to be surprised by the results.
Despite revolts and public protests with burning barricades many communities turned up to vote overwhelmingly for the ANC.
The frankness with which the ANC leaders were engaged by communities said it all.
People appreciate the role of the ANC in leading South Africa from oppressive apartheid to democracy and the improvement ANC policies have brought to the lives of millions. However, they reserve the right to object where services do not meet their expectations or where communication or contact with elected representatives is inadequate to address their aspirations and dissatisfaction. In the aftermath of all the disorder, the government has an urgent task to identify areas of immediate intervention to ensure participating in the vote irrespective of which party is voted for, does indeed bring changes.
Fighting an election with a generation of first-time voters who have no experience or recollection of the apartheid past in an environment that scoffs at reference to apartheid as an excuse for non-performance, was a huge challenge. Similarly, an election during a difficult economic crisis, especially with huge youth unemployment, tends to be harmful to the incumbent.
The campaign was conducted under the theme: Together Moving South Africa Forward and it reflected on the good story of the progress of the post-apartheid democratic dispensation. The message of the ANC was a simple and balanced account of the positive strides of the country and the lessons from any failures and weaknesses under the stewardship of the ANC.
The overall message remains positive despite many challenges including issues surrounding Marikana, Nkandla, e-tolls and other current affairs that dominated the front pages of the media.
The ANC believed the election was about the long journey towards the attainment of a free, non-racial, non-sexist, united, democratic and prosperous country – a vision that will outlast us all and thrive beyond our disagreements on day-to-day matters like those mentioned above.
In many ways these elections became a tribute to Madiba’s legacy of uniting South Africans and forging a common identity, a common sense of nationhood as well as political stability based on tolerance of divergent views.
Freedom of choice and expression and freedom of association enshrined in the constitution were reflected in the elections declared by the African Union observers as free, fair and most transparent.
This is the most important measure of the credibility of the South African democracy in which about 79 percent of registered voters participated. Apart from a few terrible incidents, the last election demonstrated that our country has moved a long way away from the intolerance and disruptive violence associated with the 1994 first democratic elections.
For South Africans the peace and stability, the sustained positive economic growth, the creation of 4 million jobs and 10 million people moving into the middle class in the past 20 years, reflects the good story of our country.
Similarly the fact that more than 3 million homeless South Africans were provided with free housing and proper sanitation, electrification reaching more than 75 percent of the population from just under 50 percent in 1994, is a reflection of successful policies targeting the poor, especially women-headed households. Clean water brought to 80 percent of the population has improved the quality of life and freed citizens from common waterborne diarrhoeal diseases and removed a burden from women whose task had always been the carrying of huge containers of water to take care of their households.
The review of the 20 years of democracy reflected on the more than 90 percent access to education for all South Africa’s children, with almost 80 percent of schools having free education in no-fee schools located in poor communities.
Almost 2 million of these learners receive free daily meals in schools and this has had an impact on the quality of their education.
More schools show improvement in mathematics and science teaching, and matriculation results have improved by about 20 percent in the past five years, while illiteracy declined.
The country is turning a corner on health matters as the universal coverage programme is being piloted in the National Health Insurance programme. In the past five years, voluntary HIV counselling and testing has resulted in more than 20 million citizens voluntarily testing, and more than 2 million receiving antiretroviral treatment. This has not just made ours the largest HIV and Aids treatment programme in the world, but has also improved average life expectancy in South Africa from 55 to around 60 in a four-year period, while reducing the HIV transmission of mother to child to around 3 percent from around 22 percent in some provinces 10 years ago.
The poverty safety net that has provided 2.4 million social welfare grants for the poor in 1994 now reaches 16 million people and has reduced the level of poverty in communities living below US$2 a day. Many young mothers today have no idea of kwashiorkor or marasmus, conditions that were prevalent in townships and rural villages in the 1970s and 80s due to the starvation suffered by children. They listen incredulously to such stories which now sound like ancient fairy tales of doubtful veracity. The change in this country is often understated simply because of our proximity to the process of transformation despite many outside admirers who observe the progress in such a young democracy.
Tertiary education has been improved with the creation of three new universities in our new democracy. The numbers of learners at tertiary level from disadvantaged communities has grown from 150 000 in 1994 to more than 750 000 currently, through the government financial assistance that was increased to about R9 billion to date. This, with skills development colleges, will add significantly to the artisanal and professional skills needed to build the South African economy.
Collaboration with various industries will help eliminate the concept of unemployable graduates.
There was hardly space for individual celebration when the new members of the cabinet were announced since they had their work cut out for them. This is partly because of the strong message from Zuma at his inaugural address, promising tough action to stamp out indolence and corruption and to ensure accelerated delivery of basic services.
The major task of this cabinet is to implement the foundation years of the National Development Plan.
This NDP is a multi-year plan that intends to eliminate the whole legacy of apartheid and usher in a more egalitarian society, the national democratic society envisaged by the ANC.
Zuma was elected on the basis of an election manifesto that emphasised the implementation of the NDP and building a strong economy.
The NDP is a plan that focuses on vision 2030 wherein the economy of South Africa must generate as many jobs as to reduce the unemployment rate to 14 percent by 2020 and to 6 percent by 2030.
This is important since the country has to give attention to about 5 million unemployed people, most of whom are the youth that is becoming understandably anxious.
This is the most outstanding message to the ruling party.
The achievement of citizen satisfaction and the creation of civil order is critical in the elimination of violent and petty crime as well as the proliferation of drugs and substance abuse, and it depends on the economic growth that creates employment, more by the private sector than the government.
The priority of the government is the rebuilding of an integrated comprehensive energy platform to ensure sustainable economic development. This would encompass completion of power generation plants such as Medupi, Kusile and Ngula, which will be coming on stream shortly.
Included in the energy mix is the whole aspect of green and renewable energy, namely wind and solar plants for which huge investments are already pouring into South Africa in the regions of the Eastern and Northern Cape, creating jobs and augmenting energy generation.
Self-suffiency in gas and petroleum is already an integral part of the focus of government as critical in building a strong economy.
Expansion of broadband and the introduction of e-government will be accelerated as part of the huge infrastructure build for which government has allocated R3 trillion over the next two decades.
This programme includes the rebuilding of rail, roads, bridges, dams, ports and creative strategies for a win-win outcome will be used to attract private sector investment.
Already contracts have been awarded for the construction of thousands of railway coaches and manufacturing centres are up and running with the view to creation of train manufacturing capacity that will benefit the whole southern African region. State-owned enterprises will be in the forefront in skills development and job creation.
A new Ministry for Small Business Development has been created to respond to the call from the small business and informal economy sector that feel squeezed out and marginalised. The mandate of this ministry is to reduce the widening inequality between the extreme ends of the income brackets.
Experience from other countries such as India point to a dedicated focus on this sector as a guide to success. Elimination of inequality requires a focused investment to those languishing at the bottom of the pyramid. State procurement reforms and local procurement envisages government muscle being flexed to support local job creation and the promotion of black industrialists. Learning managerial and technical skills supported through mentorship and access to finances and markets as well as timeous payments to emerging business need strong government action.
When the helicopters bearing the South Africa flag, the SAA airbus flanked by the fighter aircrafts flew over the seat of government at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, amid the crowds cheering at the 21-gun salute, this programme of action must have weighed heavily on Zuma’s mind.
The expectations are huge but so is the resolve of the government and the ruling party not to disappoint the millions of South Africans who believed emocracy will usher in a better life for all.