Fourteen days ago, President Cyril Ramaphosa appointed me deputy president of the republic. He assigned me specific responsibilities to:
- Lead government efforts to fast-track land reform and agricultural support;
- Implement rapid service delivery responses;
- Assist the president in the implementation of the district development model;
- Lead the SA National Aids Council;
- Be the special envoy to South Sudan and lead peace efforts on the continent, as required;
- Lead the Human Resource Development Council (HRDC) of SA, and foster collaboration between government and social partners to address the shortage of skills in critical sectors of the economy;
- Be a leader of government business; and
- Promote social cohesion.
I realise these tasks will require the cooperative efforts of all three spheres of government – especially civil servants, who are the foot soldiers of the people of South Africa.
As custodians of policy instruments, financial and human capital resources capable of resetting the trajectory of South Africa, government, business, labour and civil society should also seek to accelerate the efforts of Nedlac (the body comprising government, business, labour and community organisations) to work towards a social compact for economic reconstruction and recovery.
We can be confident because the critical mass of South Africans retains deep loyalty to the country and is determined to deploy its skills and energies to its recovery, stability and prosperity. This pedigree of women and men has consistently risen to the occasion, most notably during our transition from apartheid to democracy.
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Their proud legacy is urgently summoning all South Africans – in our diversity of race, gender, class, age and, indeed, political and other affiliations – to once again rise up and confront the problems and challenges our country faces.
South Africa’s transition has provided lessons and an inspiration to the world on the multifaceted challenge of nation-building in a diverse society.
Government will accelerate the implementation of the district development model, which involves improving and maximising the impact of government service delivery throughout the country’s 44 districts and eight metropoles.
Local government is, after all, the theatre of public service delivery and requires a framework that delivers tangible and visible results.
The success of any country rests on its human resources. Fortunately, the HRDC has developed a 20-year human resource development strategy for the country. We should constantly review the implementation of that strategy against its objectives. In this regard, we should all be concerned that our country is not producing enough pupils proficient in mathematics and physical science.
This is an old problem that has its roots in that infamous question of apartheid prime minister Hendrik Verwoerd:
We have to rise above this hideous paradigm so that we cease to be defined by our past.
For example, of the country’s 970 000 Grade 8 pupils in 2017, only 259 000 eventually wrote the mathematics exam, while a paltry 136 000 sat for the matric science exam in 2021. This has a direct bearing on our capacity to reindustrialise and grow our economy, especially in the era of the fourth industrial revolution when economies are increasingly being propelled by high-tech skills.
Regrettably, our society has become more polarised than it was some years ago. This is a regression from the progress made in the earlier years of our transition from apartheid to democracy.
When we see centrifugal forces boldly expressing themselves in the form of the secessionist impulses of the Orania type in the Western Cape today, we have no choice but to renew our resolve to build a cohesive society.
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We must reaffirm that the essence of this country, and the interests of black and white, young and old, rich and poor are better served in the context of national unity.
Government is ready to work with every sector of our society in pursuit of common national goals.
The president has specifically tasked me with working with traditional leaders, military veterans, organised religious formations and other groups.
I will seek to engage with these important entities seriously, energetically and creatively through existing and new frameworks.
In a sense, the tasks defined by the president place me as a grievance officer of sorts to whom every sector and citizen should feel free to express their concerns about government commissions and omissions.
Our collective protection demands that the country’s security services be strengthened to maximise their capacity to respond to the safety needs of the citizenry.
This is the meeting point between social compacting and social cohesion.
As the leader of government business responsible for the affairs of the national executive in Parliament, I will continue to strengthen cooperation between Cabinet and the legislative branch of government to deliver better results for the people we serve.
Since 1994, South Africa has assumed the responsibility of peacemaking, peacebuilding and reconstruction in many parts of the continent.
This is based on international solidarity, our commitment to a better Africa and world, as well as our understanding that, when others prosper, we also thrive.
Instability elsewhere on the continent invariably affects us in different negative ways, including through inflows of fellow Africans seeking refuge and opportunities.
It is in this context that the president appointed me special envoy to South Sudan, to assist this continent’s youngest country and lead other peace efforts on the continent.
Working with my colleague, the minister of international relations and cooperation, I will spare no effort in executing this aspect of my duties, including addressing potential crises before they mature into full-blown upheavals.
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We should have no illusions: we have our work cut out for us, but it is not a “mission impossible”. One ingredient for our success as a nation will be remaining focused on the task at hand, steadfastly refusing to be distracted from the bigger picture of building the country for the common good of its children.
In this context, I am fully behind the vision and leadership of the president.
I will therefore not be flying solo; my task is to support the president in realising national objectives as a collective effort with other Cabinet colleagues and different sectors of our society.
Let us all roll up our sleeves and get to work.
Mashatile is deputy president of SA