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Reply by President Cyril Ramaphosa on The Presidency Budget Vote Debate 2023, National Assembly, Cape Town

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Speaker of the National Assembly,
Deputy President Paul Mashatile,
Ministers and Deputy Ministers,
Honourable Members,
Fellow South Africans,

Allow me to begin by thanking the Honourable Members for what has been a spirited debate on The Presidency Budget Vote.

This debate is, as in the past, the sign of a healthy, robust Parliamentary democracy. The debate enabled a frank exchange on some of the key challenges facing our country.

Many of the contributions were useful, constructive and well-informed.

For example, the Hon Groenewald urges Government to prioritise water in our interventions as much as we have prioritised electricity. He is correct. Which is why we have placed investment in bulk water infrastructure, technical support to municipalities and reform of the water sector foremost among our most pressing tasks.

But although there were such contributions, there were also those contributions that sought to misrepresent and distort both the South African reality and the actions of this Administration.

The Hon Steenhuisen quoted at length from my inaugural address in 2019, but made no effort to mention to what has really happened in this country and in the world in the intervening years.

So, I will remind the Honourable Leader of the Opposition.

Before this Administration was a year into its term, a devastating pandemic swept the world, causing the loss of more than 6 million lives across the globe and more than 100,000 in our own country.

The COVID-19 pandemic triggered what the OECD described as one of the worst job crises since the Great Depression.

By some estimates more than 225 million jobs were lost worldwide, including a substantial number in our own country.

To appreciate the long-term effects of the pandemic on the entire world one need only look at the International Monetary Fund’s latest World Economic Outlook 2023.

It warns of a rocky recovery, with the residual effects of the pandemic, high inflation, financial sector turmoil and the ongoing effects of the war between Russia and Ukraine all looming large.

Besides the pandemic, we experienced deadly civil unrest in July 2021 that cost over 300 lives and the loss of an estimated R50 billion to the economy.

International instability is fuelling higher fuel and food prices, increasing the cost of living for millions of South Africans.

On top of all this, we are in the grip of an energy crisis that is many years in the making, the seeds of which were planted more than two decades ago.

I state all this not to explain away any of the unresolved challenges we face as a country. I state them because perspective is, as always, critical.

Despite the effects of all of these developments, we have been working with determination to fulfil the electoral mandate given to this Administration in 2019.

We have been forthright about the challenges the country faces.

The anger and frustration that South Africans feel in the face of sustained load shedding is understandable. At times like this, the electricity crisis appears unrelenting, as if there is no end in sight.

Yet, if one considers the work that is being done and the progress that is being made – as outlined yesterday by Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa – it is clear that we have solid ground for hope.

While we have been honest and forthright about the difficult months ahead, we are confident that the measures now in place, including the massive new investment in electricity generation capacity, will enable us to end load shedding and achieve energy security.

Indeed, the pessimism emanating from the opposition benches is not shared by all.

I draw Members’ attention to the Standard Bank Group’s Annual Integrated Report 2022, where Group CEO Sim Tshabalala writes:

“South Africa’s severe shortage of electricity is costing us dearly. The economy has been severely slowed for several years already by this constraint; we will continue to underperform for as long as the constraint continues to bind.

“However, the right set of policies are – at long last – in place and a great deal of new public and private investment in generation is starting to follow. Standard Bank is, therefore, confident that South Africa will, once again, have a fully adequate supply of electricity within the next few years.”

Africa’s largest bank by assets speaks in this report about the value of optimism.

It says that optimism “is a precondition for more accurate analysis, stronger leadership and better outcomes”.

This is a sentiment we share.

As The Presidency, we share the belief that more space should be created for collaboration among social partners to solve pressing economic and human development problems.

We have therefore sought to build a Presidency that is inclusive and collaborative.

We have worked to bring Government, business, labour, civil society and other social formations around a single objective of building a better South Africa that leaves no one-behind.

This is the essence of building a social compact.

We were able to drive a well-coordinated and aligned national response to the COVID-19 pandemic because Government, business, labour and civil society came together instead of working independently.

The impact of the Solidarity Fund is well known, as is the private sector contribution to the national vaccine rollout.

We can also credit such collaboration for the success of other endeavours.

The Youth Employment Service – known as YES – is one of these. It is a partnership between Government and the private sector to address high youth unemployment.

To date, YES has placed over 100,000 South Africans between the ages of 18 and 29 in local businesses for a year of work experience.

Through YES, approximately R6 billion in youth salaries has been injected into the economy and has enabled participants to support their families.

Nearly two-thirds of YES participants come from households reliant on social grants, and an estimated 40 per cent of participants are employed on completion of the programme.

This is a practical example of social compacting at work to respond to the unemployment crisis and provide young people with skills and experience.

I once again call on more businesses to become part of YES and provide work experience opportunities to the many young South Africans who are unable to get work because they have never worked.

Another example of collaboration towards resolving the energy crisis is the establishment of the Resource Mobilisation Fund by Business for South Africa in March this year.

This fund is raising money to provide technical support and capacity to the National Energy Crisis Committee. This will enable Government, through an independent procurement process, to source technical expertise to support the implementation of the Energy Action Plan.

As was the case with the Solidarity Fund, the contributions that are made by the private sector, development agencies and other donors to these collective efforts adhere to the highest standards of transparency and accountability.

The respective responsibilities of the partners are clearly defined and no donor is able to exert influence on policies and processes by virtue of their contribution. The responsible Government department provides the lead on any joint project in line with its mandate and the applicable laws.

We have taken every measure to ensure that there is no scope for ‘capture’ or for the advancement of private interests to the detriment of the common good.

Following a number of engagements with business and labour around challenges in the logistics sector, the Presidency, working with the relevant Government departments, is setting up a National Logistics Crisis Committee to resolve the crisis in freight and rail.

There are many such examples of cooperation between Government and business in particular.

Contrary to suggestions of a gulf between this Administration and business, both the Deputy President and I, as well as Ministers, meet with representatives of South Africa’s business community on a regular basis. We meet to discuss their concerns and suggestions, and to forge common solutions to critical problems.

Our experience has been that the leadership of business appreciates the value of partnership and constructive engagement. As Government we do not see the role of business as oppositional.

That is why many companies have been receptive to our call to invest in young people, to support skills development, to provide work experience opportunities and to employee young people in entry level positions without the requirement of prior experience.

We repeat that call today because, as any CEO with foresight would know, an investment in capable young people is an investment in the future of the company.

Cooperation is not limited to the private sector. The Presidency provides leadership to several broad-based bodies that bring together important constituencies.

The Deputy President is chair of the South African National Aids Council, which has been at the centre of the fight against HIV, tuberculosis and sexually transmitted infections.

The Deputy President is also the chair of the Human Resource Development Council, which provides strategic direction to all aspects of the country’s skills development efforts.

The President chairs the Working Group on Disability, which brings relevant Government departments together with stakeholders in the sector to drive the work to advance the rights of persons with disabilities.

The strength of all these bodies is found in the diversity and breadth of participants. They have been able to bind together in common programmes representatives from across society.

This is the spirit that guides the work of the Deputy President as he now works with traditional leaders and military veterans to address their respective concerns and discuss the contribution that each can make towards the development of our society.

Last month, we held the Second Presidential Health Summit. In November last year, we held the second Presidential Summit on Gender-Based Violence and Femicide, and in August last year, we held the Presidential Social Sector Summit.

Each of these summits has produced programmes of action that are being implemented by a range of partners in pursuit of shared objectives.

In all this, we are deepening and enhancing participatory democracy, working together with key stakeholder to solve problems on an inclusive basis. We are giving effect to the dictum of ‘nothing about us without us’.

The Presidency is also driving collaboration across Government departments, State owned companies, agencies and other public entities.

A good example of this is Operation Vulindlela, which sees the Presidency working with the National Treasury and other Government departments to accelerate key economic reforms.

The latest quarterly progress report on the work of Operation Vulindlela was released earlier this week. It shows that we are moving ahead with reforms that will have a profound effect on the capabilities of our economy into the future.

Honourable Members,

Cooperative governance is a key tenet of the Constitution, and obliges all organs of State to cooperate with one another, consult on matters of common interest and coordinate their actions and legislation.

This is not optional, not for national Government, nor for provinces and municipalities.

Indeed, Chapter 3 of the Constitution says that all spheres of Government and all organs of State within each sphere must: “…co-operate with one another in mutual trust and good faith by – fostering friendly relations; [and] assisting and supporting one another.”

As The Presidency it is vital that in line with our coordinating role, that we bring together provincial and local Government and consult on all matters of national importance.

The President’s Coordinating Council is the pre-eminent forum for consultation and cooperation between national, provincial and local Government.

The President’s Coordinating Council played a pivotal role in our response to the COVID-19 pandemic, providing guidance and facilitating coordination as we worked to reduce infections, save lives and maintain livelihoods.

The promotion of cooperative governance has been strengthened through implementation of the District Development Model. This places the district at the centre of an integrated approach to development across the three spheres of Government.

The District Development Model should assist in addressing some of the problems at local level and better use the powers, capacity and resources of national and provincial governments to ensure effective service delivery.

The Deputy President has in recent months visited various areas to see how the District Development Model is being implemented and how the District Champions in the national executive are promoting development in their assigned districts. Cooperation between national, provincial and local Government is an important part of the Presidential Izimbizo programme.

Izimbizo are a vital tool of participatory democracy and allow communities space to interact with the President, Ministers, Premiers and Mayors.

We have structured these oversight visits in a manner where Government leaders listen to and learn from the experiences of communities, report on the work done by government and commit to implementable programmes and interventions.

Importantly, Government uses Izimbizo to constantly improve its systematic feedback processes to the people. It is not yet a perfect system but we are improving it with every Imbizo.

As we promised the people of the Drakenstein municipality two weeks ago, we will work together to address their concerns and that Government, at all levels, will come back to give further feedback on how these concerns will be addressed.

Fundamental to the approach of this Presidency is to draw on the expertise, experience and capabilities of formations and individuals across society.

We have therefore established several advisory bodies, bringing together a wide variety of people to provide insights and inputs based on expert knowledge and sound evidence.

The Presidential Economic Advisory Council continues to play a vital role in advising both the President and relevant Ministers on the most important economic challenges facing the country.

The Council has contributed to the development of our Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan in the wake of the pandemic and to the Energy Action Plan.

The Presidential State-Owned Enterprises Council is supporting the implementation of the fundamental overhaul of the architecture of our State-owned enterprises. It is undertaking detailed work to identify the actions needed to turn our strategic SOEs around and to ensure the sustainability and effectiveness of our SOEs into the future.

The Presidential Climate Commission brings together a unique blend of different social stakeholders to guide our climate actions, including our approach to a just transition to a lowcarbon society. Apart from its advice to the President, the Climate Commission has undertaken extensive social engagement and consultation to ensure that those people affected by the actions we take are involved in the decision-making process.

More recently, the National Anti-Corruption Advisory Council was established to both advise Government and mobilise society around a comprehensive programme to end corruption in all its forms. The Council proceeds from the understanding that corruption is often embedded in the structures, processes and cultures of our institutions, both in the public and private sectors, and that we need systemic change to rid our society of corruption.

The National Anti-Corruption Advisory Council is undertaking valuable work to support the implementation of the recommendations of the State Capture Commission.

The Presidential BBBEE Advisory Council that was inaugurated last year is tasked with reviewing progress around BBBEE, reviewing sector charters, advising on the various transformation charters, and overall charting the next trajectory for BBBEE.

It has been critical to The Presidency that there is broad representation on these advisory councils and that they draw on the best in our society.

Each of these bodies brings together talented and experienced South Africans who add value to the work of Government and support the Presidency in particular in the fulfilment of its responsibilities.

We cannot assure mutual prosperity, we cannot overcome poverty and inequality, we cannot emerge from the power crisis and we cannot resolve longstanding challenges, unless we forge such partnerships.

The Presidency is the centre of Government. The executive authority of the Republic is vested in the President.

This means that The Presidency needs to be structured, resourced and capacitated to exercise both its Constitutional responsibilities and the electoral mandate for which it is responsible.

The Honourable Buthelezi encouraged The Presidency to continue its work even under trying circumstances. We thank the Prince for those encouraging words. But he also raised concern about the current composition of The Presidency.

In considering the size of The Presidency, as with Government more broadly, we need to ask how best should Government be organised to meet the country’s needs.

It is not about counting heads, but about attracting the necessary capacity, requisite skills and technical expertise to fulfil our crucial mandate.

Our country has considerable challenges relating to inequality, educational outcomes, joblessness, disparity in the quality of healthcare received by our citizens, gender-based violence and crime, to name but a few.

As The Presidency, it is our responsibility to drive progress on strategic priorities from the centre of Government. This is why The Presidency is coordinating important initiatives on economic reform, employment creation, poverty alleviation and gender-based violence.

Through these initiatives, we ensure that the work of Government is properly aligned, prioritised and effectively implemented.

The Presidency is comprised of specialised staff, including policy advisors, legal experts, communication professionals and researchers.

Within the country’s fiscal constraints, this Presidency has been able to mobilise resources and capabilities from various quarters through secondment and voluntary service. This has enabled us to make progress on several fronts that would not have been possible without such innovative approaches.

We have also put to good effect the power to establish commissions of inquiry.

These have enabled The Presidency to enquire into and establish the facts around various matters of public concern. And these inquiries have led to important reforms.

The recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry into Tax Administration and Governance were acted upon by SARS and supported the institution’s turnaround.

The recommendations of the 2018 High-Level Review Panel on the State Security Agency are guiding the transformation of the state security architecture. Our law-enforcement agencies and security services are implementing the recommendations of the Expert Panel into the July 2021 Unrest.

Across Government, departments, SOEs and public entities are implementing the many and varied recommendations of the State Capture Commission. This work is crucial for the national effort to eradicate corruption and ensure that state capture is never allowed to occur again.

As we focus our efforts on cooperation, we must attend to the issues on which we remain divided. Even after nearly 30 years of democracy, there are some who misrepresent our country’s history and who thereby misdiagnose its problems.

The Hon Groenewald says that in the past, the 31st of May was known as Republic Day. This, he says, marked the day “on which the yoke of English oppression and colonialism was finally cast off”.

No, Hon Groenewald, it is not true that the 31st of May 1961 was a moment of liberation. It was instead an affirmation of a political and economic system that perpetuated the oppression and dispossession of black South Africans.

It was a declaration that black people had no claim to the country of their birth, no rights and no means to advance their prospects.

To recall Republic Day as a moment of liberation is an affront to the values of the Constitution to which all of us have pledged allegiance. The so-called Republic Day was a day of humiliation for black people in this country.

This is not a matter on which we should agree to disagree. It is a matter on which we should engage each other so that we can properly assert the values for which our democracy stands.

As I conclude, allow me to thank Deputy President Paul Mashatile for the leadership he is providing on several important areas of the work of The Presidency.

Let me also thank the Ministers and Deputy Ministers in The Presidency, the Director-General and Secretary of Cabinet, Ms Phindile Baleni and all The Presidency staff and advisers.

I wish to thank the members of the various advisory and consultative bodies, who have volunteered their time and expertise in the service of the country.

Lastly, but certainly not least, I wish to thank the people of South Africa. It is the people of this country who are the true leaders, who raise their voice, who lend a hand, and who are determined to be their own liberators.

Look beyond the self-serving rhetoric from the opposition benches, look beyond the immediate crises and the negative commentary, and it is possible to see a Government that is leading farreaching reforms that will fundamentally change South Africa for the better.

We can and we will overcome the challenges that face us today. But more than that, we are establishing the foundation for a more capable and responsive developmental state.

Through greater collaboration, we are establishing the foundation for a more inclusive economy and a fairer society.

As this Presidency, we are aware of the great difficulties our country faces. We recognise the weaknesses in many parts of the State. We are prepared to own up to our shortcomings and work to correct them.

But what we are not prepared to do, is to give up.

We are not prepared to surrender to pessimism and doubt.

We are moving forward with rebuilding, with reform, with recovery and with fundamental social and economic change

These are difficult and painful times. But we will overcome our challenges and we will emerge a better, stronger and more united nation.

I invite all Members of this House and all South Africans to be part of that journey.

I thank you.