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Address by Cyril Ramaphosa, ANC Deputy President to members of the Jewish Community

21 February 2013, Investec, Johannesburg

Chief Rabbi Goldstein,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a singular honour and always a great pleasure to be invited to address members of the South African Jewish community.

This is a community that cares deeply about South Africa and is keenly engaged with the issues that affect its future. It is a community with strong roots in this country, and which has played a significant role in shaping its development. Members of the Jewish community are to be found, and have excelled, in almost every field of social, scientific and economic endeavour.

Though small in numbers, the South African Jewish community is significant in its influence and capabilities, and in the contribution that it has made, and continues to make, to building this nation.

There is much that South Africa as a nation can learn from its Jewish community. There are many lessons and perhaps even some cautionary tales.

Yet, for me, the most important of these can be found in its very understanding and representation of the notion of `community`.

For all its outward appearance, a community - any community - is not defined by language or religion, by geographical proximity or nationality. It is not even defined by a shared identity or a common ancestry.

Rather, common to all communities is an essential and overriding concern with the interests, well-being and progress of all its members.

Community is about solidarity. It is about mutual respect and understanding.

Community is, at its essence, about a shared and abiding concern with the condition of the most vulnerable and marginalised.

As South Africa approaches the 20th anniversary of the achievement of democracy, we need to reflect on the extent to which this sense of community is present in our young nation.

Can we say that we are bound together, all 50 million of us, by an unwavering determination to improve the lives of those among us most affected by poverty, neglect, violence and injustice?

Can we say that we have done everything we can, as required by our sense of community, to redress the iniquities and the inequalities of apartheid?

The Vision Statement to the National Development Plan perhaps clearly describes our connectedness as a people when it says:

"Now in 2030 we live in a country which we have remade.

We have created a home where everybody feels free yet bounded to others; where every

We felt our way towards a new sense of ourselves:

  • Trying, succeeding and making mistakes
  • Proclaiming success and closing our minds to failure
  • Feeling orientated and disorientated through our own actions
  • Affirming some realities and denying others
  • Eager to live together, yet finding it difficult to recognise shared burdens
  • Learning to recognise and acknowledge shared successes.

Our new story is open ended with temporary destinations, only for new paths to open up once more. It is a story of unfolding learning.?Even when we flounder, we remain hopeful. In this story, we always arrive and depart. We have come some way.

We are connected by the sounds we hear, the sights we see, the scents we smell, the objects we touch, the food we eat, the liquids we drink, the thoughts we think, the emotions we feel, the dreams we imagine. We are a web of relationships, fashioned in a web of histories, the stories of our lives inescapably shaped by stories of others.

We love sharing our stories in our schools, places of worship, libraries, in the variety of media whatever they may be.

We are inevitably and intimately implicated in one another."

In seeking to answer such questions, we need to examine what it is that we still need to do to promote, encourage and sustain a truly inclusive South African `community`.

In contributing to this very necessary national discussion, I wish to humbly offer a few comments.

Firstly, we need to acknowledge that our individual interests are inextricably linked to the interests of the collective.

Unless we attend to the needs of all our people, whatever material progress we may individually have made will be, at best, vulnerable, and, at worst, fleeting.

Our sense of justice, our sense of community, should be deeply offended by a society in which islands of wealth are surrounded by a sea of poverty.

It is not tolerable, and it is not sustainable.

That is why each of us has a very direct interest in achieving a prosperous, more equitable society in which all may enjoy equal opportunity.

We each have a very direct interest in the improvement of the lives of all South Africans, be it the living conditions of migrant workers; the provision of formal housing, water, sanitation and electricity to people living in informal settlements; ensuring that those who live in rural areas have the means and the opportunity to make a living off the land.

It is for this reason that the call by President Zuma for a Social Compact that brings together labour, business, government and other social partners has such resonance.

It says that although these sectors may have different, and sometimes divergent, interests, they share an overriding concern about the growth of our economy and the transformation of our society.

It places an obligation on each of us to ask what it is that we can and should be doing to contribute to meaningful change in our society. The clarion call that President J.F Kennedy made to Americans at his inauguration in 1960 has relevance for us as South Africans when he said: "Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country."

The second comment I would like to make is that, if we are to be effective in charting the way forward, we must acknowledge the significant progress we have already made in fostering a sense of an inclusive South African community.

As we grapple with the challenges of the present, we tend to forget how far we have come since the achievement of democracy. We at times wallow in the stupper of forgetfulness that the South Africa of today is very different from the South Africa of 1994.

The 2011 Census provides some useful insight into the areas where we as a people and country have made progress.

It shows, for example, that between 1996 and 2011, the proportion of South Africans who had completed matric increased from 23 percent to 41 percent.

This is, in part, the result of our efforts to improve access to schooling, which has seen a marked improvement in our participation rates.

Over the same period, the proportion of South Africans living in formal dwellings increased from 58 percent to 77 percent.

The proportion of households with piped water increased from 61 percent to 73 percent, and the proportion with access to electricity increased from 58 percent to 84 percent.

These figures represent a marked improvement in the living conditions of millions of South Africans.

Where we have made a concerted effort, such as in health, we have managed to turn around some worrying trends. In large part due to the interventions we have made in the treatment and prevention of HIV and TB, there has been a significant increase in average life expectancy, from 56 years in 2009 to 60 years in 2011. Medical observers have said that this is stunning. There has also been a significant decrease in infant mortality.

We need to recall also the significant strides made in, firstly, turning our economy around, and, secondly, placing it on a growth trajectory.

Until the global economic crisis of 2008, the South African economy had experienced the longest period of sustained growth in its history. The economy was creating around half a million new jobs every year. We had significantly reduced our public spending and the cost of servicing our public debt.

These achievements were made possible by the pursuit of sound economic policies and by a concerted effort by all social partners to unleash South Africa`s latent economic potential.

It was thanks to these policies that South Africa was able to withstand the worst of the global economic crisis. We were nevertheless significantly affected by the crisis, briefly going into recession for the first time since 1994 and losing a million jobs within the space of a year.

We are now emerging from that crisis, mindful of the challenges that still confront several economies in the developed world. Our economy is growing, albeit at a low pace, new work opportunities are being created.

This recovery is thanks in part to a massive commitment of resources to infrastructure development. In his State of the Nation Address last week, President Zuma indicated that government has spent around R860 billion on infrastructure since 2009.

Under the guidance of the Presidential Infrastructure Coordinating Commission, this investment is set to increase in the years ahead.

These figures tell a story. They tell a narrative of a nation that is emerging from centuries of conflict and division, of discrimination and dispossession. They tell a story of a nation that is striving together to create a better life for all its people.

They tell a story of a community that is being built on solidarity, mutual respect and understanding.

The third comment I wish to make is that we need to be forthright about the obstacles that hinder our progress.

We do so not so that we may wallow in despair, but so that we may clearly understand what we must do to build a better future.

In its Diagnostic Overview, released in June 2011, the National Planning Commission summarised one of the key challenges in quite simple terms. It said: "Too few South Africans are employed."

It said that this problem, together with the country`s poor educational outcomes, continue to hamper efforts to eliminate poverty and reduce inequality.

It is these realities that underlie the social and labour unrest that we have witnessed in recent months.

Farmworkers struggle to survive on minimum wages. Many migrant mineworkers live in appalling conditions. And these are the challenges faced by those who are employed. How much more difficult are the lives of the unemployed?

We must acknowledge that the problems of unemployment and poverty are aggravated by our inability to meaningfully transform significant parts of our economy. The mining industry is very much in the spotlight at the moment, but the same is true of several other industries.

We also face significant challenges in the area of governance. Despite progress in several areas, too many municipalities and departments at provincial and national level continue to receive qualified audits and underspend on service delivery and infrastructure.

That is why the National Planning Commission has placed so much emphasis on the need for a `capable state`.

The fourth, and final, comment I wish to make is that we need to seek greater consensus on the means by which we address the challenges facing our country.

While there are some who bemoan the state of our country at the moment, I firmly believe that we find ourselves, as a nation, uniquely positioned to pursue greater growth and more meaningful development.

I cannot recall a time in the history of our democracy when there has been such broad agreement among political parties and social partners about the work that needs to be done to build our future.

The National Development Plan, which provides an overarching programme to eliminate poverty and reduce inequality in South Africa by 2030, has been endorsed across the political spectrum.

The plan is significant in several respects, not least of which is the manner in which it was developed. The National Planning Commission drew on a range of expertise, consulted a variety of opinions, and examined detailed research to establish the key challenges facing the country now and in the decades to come.

The decision by the ANC`s national conference in Mangaung in December to place the National Development Plan at the centre of its programme in government is one of the most important outcomes of that gathering.

It provides a clear policy direction, which was reinforced by President Zuma in his State of the Nation Address.

It is significant also that the ANC conference dealt comprehensively with the role of the state in the economy, among other things, resolving the debate around nationalisation.

The conference demonstrated once more the depth of debate within the ranks of the ANC and the extent to which all views are canvassed. The conference resolutions reflect a clarity of vision and a unity of purpose that stands the country in good stead for the future.

The outcomes of the ANC conference, the programmes outlined in the State of the Nation Address, and the broad support across society for the National Development Plan, together establish a platform for greater and more focused progress.

South Africa has embarked on the largest infrastructure investment programme this continent has ever seen. Not only will this investment help stimulate economic activity and create jobs, it will significantly reduce the cost of doing business in South Africa and improve our ability to attract and retain investment.

While this investment programme is initiated by public institutions, its full impact will not be achieved without the cooperation and involvement of the private sector. It is necessary to shift the overall emphasis of investment towards the development of long-term productive assets.

Nor is this the only area that requires collaboration between all the social partners.

If we hope to address the difficult question of youth unemployment, we will need to achieve agreement, particularly between labour and business, on a comprehensive package of measures that incentivises the employment of young people without undermining the rights and working conditions of those already in employment.

As we seek to accelerate economic growth, we need to ensure that the benefits of this growth are more equitably shared among all South Africans.

Among other things, this will involve poverty alleviation measures like the extended public works programme, ensuring access for the most vulnerable to social grants, and the provision of free basic services like water and electricity.

But the real challenge, as the National Planning Commission reminds us, is to get more South Africans in employment and improve our education outcomes.

These two objectives are closely interlinked. With better education outcomes, more young South Africans will have the skills that the economy so desperately needs.

As we have found, education does not improve simply with the investment of more resources. It relies on effective management, improved working conditions for teachers, school environments that are conducive to learning and teaching, and the active involvement of parents and communities.

That is why education needs to be a national priority, engaging the attention, time and energy of all South Africans.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is not often that I get an opportunity to quote the words of former President FW de Klerk, but his comments at an event in Zurich in January confirm the view that South Africans are increasingly in agreement about what we need to do to build a prosperous and united nation.

De Klerk said:

"South Africa will succeed - provided that we can work together as South Africans to support our Constitution; to demand the rights that it guarantees; and to achieve the vision of human dignity, equality and enjoyment of human rights and freedoms that it articulates."

I agree. South Africa will succeed.

But it is up to us - all of us - to ensure that we approach this effort with a sense of responsibility to our fellow citizen; to ensure that we attend to the needs and concerns of the most vulnerable and marginalised among us.

If we succeed - and I am certain that we will - it will be because we understood, and embraced, what it is that defines the essence of this, our South African community.

I thank you.