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Yes, we still face the triple challenges of poverty, inequality and unemployment, but progress has been made since 1994 to bring stability to this country, writes Gwede Mantashe.
In an anecdote told about South Africa, it is said that a chief executive of a big multinational company investing in our country was making a presentation at a global conference where he intimated that South Africa was not a safe place.
He then proceeded to inform his audience that in the three months prior to the conference he stayed in South Africa, during which time he encountered no ill-fated or criminal incident. From South Africa he travelled to Mexico where he spent three days. In the three days he was robbed twice.
In reply to his perplexed audience who enquired why he had then opined that South Africa is unsafe the chief executive said; “It is because South Africans say so themselves.”
Consider, therefore, the significance of us saying to ourselves and to the world; we have a good story to tell: South Africa is a far better country than ever before.
This is an account of the consistent and coherent work by the ANC government, begun by the first democratic president – Nelson Mandela – then consolidated and advanced by the subsequent administrations of presidents Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma, respectively.
Beginning that journey, Mandela had called upon us to “act together as a united people, for national reconciliation, for nation building, for the birth of a new world” so that “there be justice for all; there be peace for all; there be work, bread, water and salt for all”.
The challenge of forging a nation and a sense of nationhood has been the commitment of the ANC.
Fulfilling the commitment enshrined in the Freedom Charter that “South Africa belongs to all who live in it, Black and White” entails ensuring that the majority that had been deprived and excluded, participates and has a direct share in the political and economic life of the country.
Today we can boast, and correctly so, that a child born in the most destitute background has a reasonable chance to progress from conception to adulthood, with reasonable expectation to accessing basic services.
Let us illustrate what we mean that South Africa is a far better country than ever before.
A pregnant mother and a child of 0-6 years old have access to free basic health care.
This care includes ARVs to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV.
The child can be absorbed into the education system from early on through early childhood development, which will now be made compulsory.
This child from a poor household is guaranteed a meal at their school through the school feeding scheme.
They can complete no-fee secondary schooling, and proceed to post-school education that is subsidised by the state through the National Student Financial Aid Scheme. In the same way, it is easier today for an individual to take a single trip out of the once turbulent Soweto to anywhere in the world.
All it takes is a Rea Vaya bus ride to Joburg, whereupon one can catch the Gautrain to OR Tambo International Airport.
This is a fundamentally different reality to the one the majority of South Africans knew before the governments of the ANC.
This new society, unfolding, is essential to normalise society so we can realise the dream inherent in those words of our first democratic president; “Let each know that for each the body, the mind and the soul have been freed to fulfil themselves.”
The fact of more young people enrolling in the FET colleges to gain skills as artisans and engineers bodes well for our country. The long-term effect of this is the abundance of a core of skills that can respond to the challenges encountered at local government level.
This will further contribute to the growing middle classes in our society, which is a desirable component for a growth-oriented economy.
It is a well-known fact that our economy has been under strain over this period due to the global financial crisis. This is precisely because of its close relationship to the developed economies, which were heavily hit by the crisis. The most recent economic and financial situation in the US has also had an effect on our currency. This presents us with serious constraints with regards to our import sector and infrastructure roll-out plan regarding costs.
But it also presents opportunities for those in the export sector, such as mining. The latter suggests that the role players should take advantage of this reality to boost our economy and drive job creation.
However, the fact that our economy was able to create close to 700 000 jobs last year is an indication of our government’s clear planning and the resilience in our economy owing to measures we implemented over time. While we face challenges, we have not reached the drastic levels as experienced in the PIGS countries (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain).
In fact, if anything, there are signs that we can overcome these turbulent times.
Some have suggested that, in outlining some of the achievements of the five years of this administration and those of the 20 years of ANC governments, the president’s State of the Nation address bordered on bragging.
But surely it is befitting for our nation to brag about the good things we have done and are doing.
It is such advances that attract others to want to work with us and share in our positive story. It is even more so in our telling the good story that they are confident in our ability to reach new heights. We, too, are lifted higher.
When we understand and appreciate this simple truth, we will understand the motivation behind the UN using ours as a model to combat the HIV/Aids pandemic.
A nation that recognises that it has improved life expectancy from 54 years to 60 years in three years, between 2009 and 2012, has risen to celebrate itself. It is a nation that has reason to celebrate.
As we tell the good story of how we have changed South Africa, we are mindful of the resistant triple challenges of poverty, inequality and unemployment. We have opted not to bury our heads in the sand or shout from hallowed pedestals, but to find solutions and force our government to ensure even greater change.
The NDP contains the vision and framework of a plan of where we need to be and what we must do to reach our intended goals.
The current leadership of the ANC learnt an invaluable lesson from its predecessors, as Mandela said “we understand it still that there is no easy road to freedom”.
Indeed, it is a long walk and those who embark on it must be prepared to stay the course and endure.
Therefore, in the course of our responsibility to serve the people we take comfort in this heritage to guide our path forward.
As another of our former presidents, Mbeki, said when Mandela concluded his presidential term, “We have you, Madiba, as our nearest and brightest star to guide us on our way. We will not get lost.”
Indeed we will not get lost to tell the good story; a good story about a fundamentally transformed South Africa.
We say so now as we confront our day’s challenges, embarking on the second phase of struggle – that of economic freedom, ever mindful that together we move South Africa forward.
* Gwede Mantashe is secretary-general of the ANC.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.