Address by President Ramaphosa at the Launch of the 25 Year Review Report, University Of Mpumalanga, Mbombela

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Programme Director,
Minister in the Presidency, Mr Jackson Mthembu,
Premier of Mpumalanga Province, Ms Refilwe Mtshweni-Tsipane,
Ministers and Deputy Ministers,
Vice-Chancellor of Mpumalanga University, Professor Thoko Mayekiso,
MECs, Mayors and Councillors,
Members of Parliament and Provincial Legislatures,
Esteemed Members of the Judiciary,
Directors-General and senior government officials,
Representatives of organised labour and business,
Traditional and religious leaders,
Representatives of civil society organisations,
Leaders of the governing party
Commissioners of the National Planning Commission,
And leaders of various entities in our judicial and legal system,
Head of the NDP, Advocate Shamila Batohi,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Fellow South Africans,

It is my privilege to be here today for this important reflection on the road that we have traversed over the past 25 years.

This is a day in my view of dual celebration.

This morning we opened the Mpumalanga High Court, the first of its kind in the province, built by the democratic government.

For far too long the people of Mpumalanga did not have a high Court that they could resort to get justice and to have their dispute resolved. Today we have the most beautiful High Court right here in Mpumalanga and we say thank you to this government for providing such a court.

And now we are launching the country’s 25 Year Review Report here at the University of Mpumalanga, the first university in the province also built by the democratic government. And that forms the dual celebration that we are having.

The 25 Year Review Report is not the exclusive work of government, as we have heard, but has been produced in consultation and partnership with multiple stakeholders.

As you get this document don’t ever think that it is a thumb suck of Minister Dlamini-Zuma or Minister Mthembu or indeed the Director-General Mpumi Mpofu. It is the work of plethora of people, and we just saw a good of example of a number of people who drafted the chapters but also there are a number of other people who participated in drafting the report.

This is in many ways is an acknowledgment that we have differing perspectives on what we have done right, where we have faltered along the way, and most importantly, on where we are headed into the future.

We may ask ourselves why we reflect on the past 25 years.

There is a person, Titus Livius, also known as Livy, who lived around 27 BC, and he said:

“The study of history is the best medicine for a sick mind; for in history you have a record of the infinite variety of human experience plainly set out for all to see; and in that record you can find for yourself and your country both examples and warnings; fine things to take as models, base things, rotten through and through, to avoid.”

That was said as early as 27 BC.

Now reflecting on 25 years of democracy enables us to give meaning and context to our current experience. This allows us to interrogate the forces that are impacting up on the collective lived reality of the 57 million people living in this country. But it also empowers us to be effective agents in moulding the events of tomorrow.

It gives us a tool to critically examine the tapestries woven by threads of time. This is summed up beautifully by Sankofa, the metaphorical symbol of the Akan people of Ghana, often depicted as a mythical bird that is continuously twisting its head and its beak behind itself so as to bring forth an egg from its back.

The motif is loosely translated as ‘go back and fetch it, look back and bring it forth.’ It is often associated with an aphorism which says literally it is not wrong to learn from hindsight. There is nothing wrong in looking back and say this is what I want to learn from.

Sankofa urges us to reach back in time and seek back the knowledge from the ways of past. As a process that is used by the Akan people of Ghana, it also says it encourages us to learn from the blunders that we have committed in the past but also to learn from our triumphs and to reclaim what was lost and journey forward.

Sankofa is a backward glance at yesterday, in a bid to guide the present and herald the future as well. We examine the past so that we do not repeat the past. We turn to history to find clues about the current conditions of our country. We look back to see how the country and its people were socially, politically, economically and spatially moulded by the periods they’ve been through.

We take a brief journey in time from 1994 with a view to becoming agents in moulding a better and greater future.

The 25 Year Review reports a basic, but profound truth, that democratic South Africa is a nation at peace with itself and the world.

This country that we all live in and love occupies its rightful place in the global community. This membership of the global community was more than achieved when our Springbok team made us all proud in Yokohama. That just confirmed that indeed we are members of this global community.

We went into that match as underdogs, some thought that South Africa will never rise above itself, some thought we were yesterday’s country and we will never explode on the global stage and grasp that Webb Ellis Cup. We proved them wrong and came back with a cup.

On the global scene, apart from having emerged victorious in Japan, we are also a member of multilateral institutions such as the UN Security Council, the Non-Aligned Movement, the G20, BRICS, the G77+China, and the African Union, among others.

The report reflects that our democratic dispensation unleashed creative energies in sport, arts, music, literature, film and dance, as well as science, technology and innovation.

Gender equality has been a central part of our struggle for emancipation.

Since 1994, government has enacted legislative reforms, approved progressive policies and implemented programmes that give expression to the constitutional rights of women and girls to equality, human dignity, freedom and security of the person.

There has been a substantial increase in the representation of women in the judiciary, Parliament and legislatures, Cabinet and the public service.

Despite this progress, our country still experiences high levels of violence and gender-based crimes committed against women and girls.

The economic empowerment of women remains one of the most significant challenges after 25 years.

In other areas, our reform of the education system has been notable.

There is now almost universal school enrolment of children aged 7 to 15.

There are more than 800,000 learners below the age of 6 in Grade R and many more keep getting into our ECDs.

The matric pass rate has increased from 58% in 1994 to 78.2% in 2018.

We have almost doubled the number of special schools for children with disabilities and special needs.

Total university enrolment has also doubled, and now stands at over a million. In 1994, this figure was around 300,000 and most of those in university were exclusively from just one racial group. Today over a million young South Africans are in our tertiary and university institutions. That is simply a phenomenal achievement by a young democracy.

Access to health care has been significantly improved since the democratic government introduced the policy of free primary health care for children under 6 and pregnant and lactating women in 1996.

Life expectancy has improved, while child and infant mortality rates have been significantly reduced.

Access to antiretroviral therapy in the public health sector has grown from 45,500 patients in 2004 to over 4.7 million in 2019.

However, evidence points to a rising burden of non-communicable diseases, which will require dedicated focus from health and other sectors responsible for social determinants of health.

The 25 Year Review Report notes that notwithstanding all the legal and policy instruments of redress, poverty, inequality and unemployment persist.

This is largely the result of skewed ownership and participation patterns in our economy. It is this skewed and deformed economy that we inherited from the past misrulers of this country that has yielded us this legacy.

Over the past 25 years, we have introduced a range of policies, including broad-based black economic empowerment, employment equity, affirmative policies in our procurement and industrial strategies, and land restitution and redistribution.

Yet, we are not where we had hoped to be in terms of the impact that we had hoped these policies would have.

Black direct ownership on the JSE still stands at around 3%, and black people still account for only 25% of top management in the private sector.

Furthermore, women still account for only 20% of top management across the public and private sectors. This is a serious weakness that we need to confront.

In 1994, democratic South Africa inherited an economy in crisis. I characterise it as a deformed economy because it was an economy that was structured never to utilise all the resources that it could have utilised to grow the economy to a much bigger size economy.

Yet the size of the South African economy has doubled over the past 25 years.

The number of people in employment has also doubled in 25 years, from 8 million to 16 million people. That too is an achievement.

While significant interventions have been implemented by government aimed at redress and pro-poor policies, South Africa remains the most unequal society in the world.

To cushion the most vulnerable members of our society against socio-economic adversity, we have provided social security support for many of our people in areas such as health, education, housing, water and sanitation, and electricity.

Poverty alleviation grants have now been extended to over 17 million beneficiaries, covering the aged, children and people with disabilities.

These measures have improved the standard of life of millions of South Africans and reduced poverty. It is in this area where the government, governing parties and various administrations have taken a very clear and conscious decision that this is an area that no matter what the difficulties and challenges are of a physical or other nature we will never allow South Africans to have the social security that we have provided to them be removed from them or be reduced. This is an area that we are committed to because the lives of our people matter and we will keep to that whatever the challenges we have in our country.

Twenty-five years into democracy, spatial planning and spatial justice are among the areas that still require attention.

Although more than 3 million houses have been provided to poor families, many of these houses are still located far from economic opportunities and social services.

We have not followed the trend in the provision of housing settlement that many other developing countries have done. We tended to have our people accommodated on a continuous basis far and far away from areas of economic activities.

The trend in many countries, in many cities, is to get all the poorer people into the city to densify the cities and enable poor people to be closest to areas of economic activity, so that they do not have to spend a lot of money to travel to look for jobs or going to work, so that they are much closer to the basic services that will support their lives.

What we have intended to do and allow is to have living areas very far from the cities. Our new approach to special planning is to move our people into and near economic centres so that they move to the cities and become closer to areas where they can find jobs and where they can work and conduct business.

There has been massive progress in meeting people’s basic needs.

Eighty percent of South Africans now living in formal dwellings, 14 million households now have piped water, 16 million households have sanitation, and 84% of all households have electricity.

Land reform and rural development is one of the top priorities of our government. Between 1994 and 2018, a total of 8.3 million hectares – or 10% of the agricultural land available – have been transferred to black beneficiaries through land redistribution and restitution programmes.

We need to accelerate the pace of redistribution of land, improve the support made available to beneficiaries, and do much more to enhance the quality of life of our people in the township as well in the rural areas.

Today, in fulfilment of our commitment to unblock the obstacles to reform, we will hand over two title deeds to the communities whose land claims have been finalised.

These are the community of Mawewe, whose claim falls under the ambit of land restitution, and the community of German Heavy Force, which falls under the ambit of tenure security.

Over the past 25 years we have done much to improve the lives of our people.

Indeed, South Africa is a much better country to live in today than it was 25 years ago.

However, the triple challenge of poverty, unemployment and inequality stubbornly persist and affects many of our country men and women.

We have adopted seven national priorities for this administration based on a new electoral mandate, which dovetail neatly with the recommendations made in the 25 Year Review Report.

We must transform the economy so it is able to generate growth and create equitable socio-economic opportunities for all.

To do this we must build a social compact for radical economic transformation that addresses economic exclusion and creates more jobs.

It should support sustained land reform, an industrial plan for localisation and innovation, and the development and maintenance of infrastructure.

We must focus on an education and skills revolution.

This should include early childhood education, improving reading and numeracy skills, and broadening access to post school education and training.

We must consolidate and strengthen the social wage to ensure that all South Africans have a basic standard of living, improve the quality of basic services and ensure government is responsiveness to communities.

We must dismantle apartheid spatial patterns through integrated spatial planning, especially with respect to infrastructure and human settlements.

We must reduce the high levels of crime, particularly crimes perpetrated against vulnerable members of society.

We must change our traditional approaches to socio-economic development.

The new integrated district-based approach is about targeted development and focuses on taking development to where our people live and work.

We must promote South Africa’s economy through integration of the SADC region and the African continent.

We need to join other countries in establishing the African Continental Free Trade Area and implementing the African Union’s Agenda 2063 which sets out a clear vision where we want our continent to be by 2063, a hundred years after the formation of the OAU.

This Report will stimulate intense and, at times, ferocious debate about South Africa’s 25 year experience of democracy.

This is what it is intended to do.

We hope that people will look at it critically like Sankofa, which I referred to, to keep looking back but at the same to look forward, to bring back the past so that we are all able to move into the future.

Let us all have a say on what we believe we have achieved, our nagging challenges and the future we desire.

Rather than just being critical on an uninformed basis, let us go through this report, which is based on the lived reality of our people and be critical on an informed basis and be able to have thoroughgoing debates and discussion of what this 25 years has meant to all of us.

So government is not putting this out as a prescript that we should all believe in. It is putting it out as a document around which we should have discussion and debate.

I want to congratulate both Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Minister Jackson Mthembu for the excellent manner in which they collaborated in the production of this 25 Year Review, as well as in guiding their technical teams.

The report is correctly entitled Toward a 25 Year Review. It means that we would like South Africans to look at it and say: “Is this representative of what we been through as we move forward?” And at the same time remembering that those who move forward often look back and say: “Where have we come from?”

So that is what we have put forward, to say we have come from far, we come from 25 years where there has been rigorous work, but there have also been mistakes that have been made in the 25 years. Let us look at the mistakes, the errors, missteps critically, but let us also look at the triumphs. Let us also look at the achievements that we have made.

For we are indeed a great nation that tends to go up and down, like the Springboks. Before they achieved their victory, they waited for twelve years and seems like nearly every 12 years we do achieve a victory.

But I said to them, I now want us to reduce these 12 years. I now no longer want to have a wait for 12 years. I don’t have 12 years to wait. I just want to wait for another four years before they get their next Rugby World Cup.

I thank you.

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