‘It isn’t true we have nothing to show after 28 years’, says Ramaphosa
President Cyril Rampahosa on Thursday evening defended government’s efforts to eradicate poverty, unemployment and inequality, saying “It’s not true that the glass is empty”.
“It isn’t true we have nothing to show after 28 years. It cannot be true. I refuse,” Ramaphosa told the annual Black Business Council summit dinner at the Gallagher Convention Centre in Midrand, Gauteng.
The two-day summit brought together government, civil society and business leaders to deliberate on socio-economic opportunities and challenges facing the country.
Ramaphosa said the economy has been “on a downhill” since the economic crisis in 2008.
“We have been seeking to create jobs on an ongoing basis. We have barely been creating 300,000 jobs a year. Job entrants have been coming in at 500,000 or 750,000 every year and it is no wonder we have such a high unemployment rate today.”
Ramaphosa said this could largely be attributed to the structure of the economy and the fact that SA has been deindustrialising over the years.
“If we have a keen understanding of how our economy functions and we put our heads together, we can begin to turn the tide around.”
He said Africa’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated what can be achieved when countries work together towards a common goal.
“We started scouring around for masks, which we did not make, and sanitisers.”
During the pandemic Africa proved integration and collaboration can be a powerful instrument.
“ South Africa had just been elected to become chair of the African Union. We had just been elected and we had set a clear programme that we want the clear empowerment of women and we wanted this and that.
“When Covid-19 came we had to ditch all of that and focus on Covid, and we realised the continent does not have easy access to personal protective equipment (PPE). We mobilised the entire continent and said we need to set up what we called the Africa Medical Supplies Platform.”
Ramaphosa said wherever African countries went to buy PPE, the prices kept “going up, and up. We said the only weapon we have is to work together to collaborate and we set up a Medicine’s Supply Platform”.
He said a young woman in Senegal helped to set up the IT software platform which enabled African countries to go around the world and collectively procure medicines and PPE.
“We phoned some leading countries. I personally phoned Chinese President Xi Jinping and said, ‘We want your companies to start selling to us through this platform’. The platform was set up and the opportunity that came is that SA companies started making masks and other equipment and started selling PPE on that platform.”
To date, SA companies have sold R5bn worth of PPE through the platform.
Furthermore, Ramaphosa said when vaccines became available, the continent set up the Vaccines Acquisition Task Team to buy vaccines collectively.
“All that started showing that integration on our continent can work.”
He said international developments weigh heavily on the performance of the economy.
“At the same time we are confronting several domestic challenges, some of which are the legacy of our apartheid past.
“Other challenges are the result of state capture and governance failures, where we ourselves made mistakes. Others arise from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and the July 2021 unrest. The recent floods in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape have added to some of the challenges we have to address.”
He said a company like Anglo American was led by an African woman and “platinum is being led by a white woman”.
“Our democracy is empowering the black woman and African women in our country. That was never envisaged. It has also empowered the white women of our country who were also oppressed.”
Ramaphosa said even “Oppenheimer did not think his company would be led by women. Therefore you cannot say that we have nothing to show. There is no truth in that”.
“Almost 38-million South Africans who would have been relegated to abject poverty today have a social dispensation that supports people who apartheid and colonialism had relegated to total continuous poverty. We cannot come here and say the 4-million houses that have been built by this government do not exist.
“Today we have a coal company, the third largest in the world, that is black owned and black led. It is extracting and exporting coal. This was enabled by the policies of this government.”
He said even in the so-called “white universities — Wits, Pretoria, Stellenbosch, you name them — most of them are black children, not white people. You cannot come and stand here and say we have nothing to show.”
In addition, Ramaphosa said government had expanded access to skills, markets, finance and opportunities.
“Black people today have greater opportunities. We have used instruments like preferential procurement, employment equity and broad-based black economic empowerment to begin to correct the huge distortions in our economy.
“When one stands here and says the cup is empty, it is not true. Rather say the cup is half full. You cannot say the cup is empty when you yourself have been enabled to get to where you are by this very government.”
It was important for people to “stop playing to the gallery and deal with the real issues” and work together instead of “throwing stones at one another”.
Ramaphosa said it was important to realise the moment the country was in to respond accordingly.
“If things are falling apart you must be saying ‘I want to help to put those things together, Thuma Mina [send me]’. That’s what it should be.”
Business and government had a shared responsibility to reduce unemployment and poverty and accelerate empowerment and deepen transformation.
“Of course the government will make mistakes. The government will move slowly and possibly implement wrong policies and sometimes not implement what it said it will do. Our task is to say, ‘government come along, let’s keep moving’ because we have a shared responsibility.”
He said all efforts should be placed on inclusive growth and job creation.
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