Our diagnosis of SA's problems - Trevor Manuel

Planning minister says too few South Africans work, much education is sub-standard

Parliamentary speech to launch the Diagnostic Report by Minister and Chairperson of the National Planning Commission, Minister Trevor A Manuel

9 Jun 2011

Distinguished Madam Deputy Speaker;
Ministerial Colleagues;
Honourable Members;
Dear friends.

This House has just acknowledged the remarkable lifelong contribution of Mama Albertina Sisulu, one of its most distinguished former members. Her life as mother, wife and comrade was a sterling example to all of us of what it means to live one's beliefs. Mama Sisulu lived a life true to the best values of our struggle and of our constitution. Her selflessness and humility have inspired generations of freedom loving South Africans. It is a privilege for me today to address this House to honour one so great who has been amongst us.

It is in paying tribute, that we also seek to advance those issues that our Mother lived and struggled for - so it is fortuitous that the National Planning Commission can offer its first outputs to this House and all the people of South Africa on this day.

Today, the National Planning Commission is releasing the Elements of a Vision Statement for the kind of country that we must attain by 2030. We are also releasing a diagnostic report, analysing the key challenges that confront our country and our people. The elements of the vision and diagnostic report lay the basis for a national conversation about the country we want by 2030, the key challenges in achieving our vision and how we fix them, collectively as South Africans.

In April 2010, President Zuma appointed 25 Members of the National Planning Commission from civil society to work with me to develop a plan. These appointments were made against the backdrop of a Green Paper that had been debated by this House.

In inaugurating the National Planning commission in May last year, President Zuma was abundantly clear about his expectations of the Commission. He said, "The mandate of the commission is to take a broad, cross-cutting, independent and critical view of South Africa, to help define the South Africa we seek to achieve in 20 years time and to map out a path to achieve those objectives. The commission is expected to put forward solid research, sound evidence and clear recommendations for government.

The commission will also work with broader society to draw on the best expertise, consult the relevant stakeholders and help to shape a consensus on what to do about the key challenges facing us. Government has often taken a sectoral and short-term view that has hampered development. Taking a long-term and independent view will add impetus, focus and coherence to our work.

The establishment of the National Planning Commission is our promise to the people of South Africa that we are building a state that will grow the economy, reduce poverty and improve the quality of life of our citizens.

Madam Deputy Speaker, this mandate, given to private citizens is without precedent anywhere in the world. As a rule, governments examine their strengths and weaknesses behind closed doors and the marginal changes that flow from these processes seep unnoticed into society. In a show of confidence and entirely in the spirit of our great Constitution, the President took this measure in the interests of ensuring a better quality of life for all our citizens.

This boldness should not go unnoticed. It is not premised on party political lines. It is an act of commitment to our shared beliefs. It is an act of strength, not weakness. So the steps taken by President Zuma are based on a deep belief that democracy is built with the people, not merely on their behalf. It is possible because we are of a people and of a generation that was able to make the most remarkable strides to deliver a constitutional democracy premised on the highest values.

The task of the National Planning Commission (NPC) starts with this experience and builds on it. The NPC has a mandate against forgetting and for change. The path that the NPC chose has involved undertaking a detailed analysis of the achievements of our still-young democracy and identifying those issues that we can measure as preventing the fruits of democracy from touching all lives. It is an approach that requires that we recognise what we have achieved, and what remains to be done. We have called the part of this that focuses on what remains undone, a diagnostic. In the diagnostic report, very particular challenges for all of society have been identified.

To address these, we would have to draw on all our strengths and capabilities and on our collective experience of uniting to achieve a common purpose. South Africans are a remarkable people. We stared into the abyss of violence and disintegration in the 1980s and decided that dialogue was the only way forward to achieve a peaceful settlement. We came together to negotiate a transition from apartheid to democracy in a process that today is still the envy of the world. We held our first election on the basis of equal suffrage peacefully. We drafted a constitution that gave all South Africans dignity, rights and freedoms that seemed unachievable just years before.

Since then, we have united as South Africans to achieve so much. The experience of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission taught us humility and appreciation of the suffering of people with different views and historical experiences of South Africa. Since 1994, we have established institutions of state, integrated racially divided public institutions, established provincial and local government and key economic governance agencies. We have a respected and independent judiciary and we have legislatures tasked with making laws and overseeing the executive.

Our economy was turned around, employment has grown, the health of the public finances was stabilised; we achieved unity on the sports field and numerous successes in the international arena. Today we are a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, partly in recognition that we have taken our place in the family of nations, striving for peace and security on our continent and in our world.

We have indeed delivered a better life for many people. More people have access to housing, water, electricity, sanitation, schooling and health care than ever before. These are tangible improvements in the lives of millions of South Africans that make all South Africans proud

Madam Deputy Speaker, I can go on for much longer singing the praises of our country, our people and our government. But my job today is not to be an imbongi (a praise singer). My task today is to present on behalf of the NPC, an honest, critical appraisal of what our key objectives are and to list the key challenges in achieving those objectives.

South Africa needs to recommit to the kind of country we want, the place where we can raise children in comfort and security, with renewed and ongoing hope and opportunity. The National Planning Commission is tasked by the President to help develop a vision statement for the country and a development plan to achieve that vision. The elements of the Vision Statement are drawn from the preamble of our Constitution and our Bill of Rights, which is in turn drawn from the Freedom Charter.

This is not yet the vision statement. These elements are the key pillars or parameters of what we think should be covered in a vision statement. We invite South Africans to discuss it, criticise it, add to it, remove from it and to contribute towards a process that would culminate in a Vision 2030 that we will publish in November this year.

The elements of the vision statement are as follows:

  1. A democratic state, rooted in the values of the Constitution, working with all sectors of society to improve the quality of life.
  2. People are united in diversity, recognising the common interest that binds us as a nation, and we have achieved greater equality for women in all aspects of life.
  3. High-quality education and health care, and adequate provision of housing, water, sanitation, energy and transport, give impetus to human development.
  4. Comprehensive social security covers all citizens in need.
  5. Natural wealth is harnessed sustainably, in a way that protects our environment, using science and modern technology to ensure a growing economy that benefits all.
  6. People who are able to work have access to jobs, workers' rights are protected and the workforce is skilled.
  7. Business is afforded an environment to invest and profit while promoting the common interests of the nation, including decent work.
  8. An efficient state protects citizens, provides quality services and infrastructure, and gives leadership to national development.
  9. Individuals and communities, at work and at play, embrace mutual respect and human solidarity.
  10. Government, business and civil society work to build a better Africa and a better world.

We present these elements to you today to begin a process that must involve all citizens in a national dialogue on the type of country they would like to see in 2030.

Despite all our achievements, our conclusion as the Planning Commission is that we have not made sufficient progress in ensuring that that growth is inclusive and that the benefits of growth are shared amongst all South Africans. Poverty and inequality remain stubbornly high. Eliminating poverty and reducing inequality are our key strategic objectives, objectives that are an obligation of our Constitution and are shared by all South Africans.

Apartheid was designed to achieve social exclusion and marginalisation and did so with stunning success but this has not been adequately reversed. Using R524 per person per month as a benchmark, the percentage of South Africans living in poverty has fallen from about 53 percent in 1995 to about 48 percent today. This suggests that we have made some progress but too little, given the length of time since democracy and the pace of economic growth. Too many people live vulnerable and precarious lives in informal settlements without services, seldom in employment, burdened by disease and having accumulated too little skills or experience to transform their lives.

The level of inequality in our country is amongst the highest in the world. By most measures this elevated level of inequality inherited in 1994 has not fallen sufficiently. In 1995, the richest 20 percent of the population earned 72 per cent of national income and the poorest 40 per cent received about 6 percent of income. Today that picture is almost identical with the richest 20 percent receiving 70 per cent of income and the poorest 40 per cent about 6 per cent.

There has been a change in the racial composition of the top 20 per cent. In 1995, about half of the top 20 percent were black. Today about two thirds are black. This is a significant positive development but does little to change the pattern of poverty - the poorest South Africans are still black, mostly female and live in the former homelands. What is deeply concerning is that the income received by the poorest 40 percent has shifted from wage income and remittances to social grants. Social grants are a positive development but they mask deep marginalisation and exclusion from the labour market.

Our diagnosis identifies nine key challenges that we face in eliminating poverty and reducing inequality. We raise these issues so that we can come up with solutions to ensure even faster and more inclusive progress going forward.  

  • Our first challenge is that too few South Africans work.
  • The quality of school education for most black people is sub-standard.
  • Poorly located and inadequate infrastructure limits social inclusion and faster economic growth
  • Spatial challenges continue to marginalise the poor
  • South Africa's growth path is highly resource-intensive and hence unsustainable
  • The ailing public health system confronts a massive disease burden
  • The performance of the public service is uneven
  • Corruption undermines state legitimacy and service delivery; and
  • South Africa remains a divided society.

These challenges have been identified following an exhaustive process of research, consultation and engagement. If left unattended they will delay the achievement of our objectives and could even reverse the progress that we have made since 1994. Progress and development are not a given, it must be worked for actively, consciously and continuously.

While all nine of these challenges are important, in the view of the planning commission, two stand out as being our priorities. These are that too few South Africans work and the quality of education for the poor is substandard. They are the biggest factors in explaining the persistence of high levels of poverty and inequality. Tackling these two challenges should be our highest priority and if we are to make progress in doing so, it would support our efforts in addressing our other challenges.

For every 100 adults between the age of 18 and 60, only 41 work. This ratio is extremely low by international standards. In most countries, in excess of two thirds of adults do some sort of work. The causes of the low level of employment is the product of centuries of social exclusion and decades of racism in education, in where people live, in what jobs people could do, in land ownership, in owning a business and in accumulating assets. The structure of our economy has, built into it, a bias against employment and, in particular, a bias against the advancement of black and unskilled people in the economy. Despite progress since 1994, these biases are still present and still formidable.

Our country inherited a legacy of apartheid education that stifles our human potential. Despite progress in increasing school enrolment and in achieving a greater degree of equity in the financing of school education, quality for the majority of learners remains poor. Of the 68 percent of learners who passed matric last year, only 15 percent received an aggregate mark above 40 percent. We also know that a significant proportion of young people drop out of school before reaching matric. Poor performance is predominant in schools that are formerly African and Coloured. These statistics are derived from the Department of Education's own reports. So government is aware of these problems and has put in place several positive initiatives to address these challenges. Nevertheless, the performance of township and rural schools remains a major blot on the copybook of our entire nation.

Contact time in township schools is almost three hours a day less than in former model C schools and absenteeism is high. Improving the quality of teaching and getting better school principals are our biggest challenges, notwithstanding significant backlogs in school infrastructure which must be tackled too.

Allow me to briefly elaborate on the other seven challenges that we identified. South Africa missed a generation of investment in our infrastructure. The infrastructure we have is often poorly located and designed for a set of economic activities and settlement patterns that have changed since the early 1990s. While the increase in public spending on infrastructure since 2003 signals a positive shift towards renewing and modernising our infrastructure, this level of investment is still too low to meet the needs of our economy and our people. It is of concern that we seem to have an inherent bias against maintaining our infrastructure, which will cost us dearly in the future. We lack the institutional mechanisms to coordinate, design, finance, operate and maintain our infrastructure networks.

The spatial effects of apartheid remain with the poorest, still living in remote rural areas far from economic activity today. Even in urban areas, the poor live far from city centres. These settlement patterns have probably been made worse since 1994 with many new housing settlements on badly located land. They reinforce social exclusion, raise the cost of living and make it much harder for the poor to break out of poverty.

Our economic path, our settlement patterns and our infrastructure all combine to place our country on an unsustainable growth path from a resource utilisation perspective. We are the 27th largest economy in the world but we produce more carbon dioxide emissions than all but eleven countries in the world. We are a water scarce country but we use our water inefficiently. We have to change these patterns of consumption and we have to learn to use our natural resources more efficiently. We must do this with appropriate consideration for jobs, energy and food prices.

We confront a quadruple burden of HIV and Aids and other communicable diseases such as TB; high rates of infant and maternal mortality; high levels of violence and road accident fatalities and injuries; and rising epidemics in non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. At the same time, we know that our health system is ailing, both because of the disease burden but also because of policy errors that we have made since 1994. Addressing these challenges will require more resources, but also a firm commitment to improve the quality of healthcare in public institutions, to put the concept of care back into healthcare and to deal with longer term causes of ill health such as our lifestyles, our diets and the level of violence and road accidents.

For many South Africans, the quality of public services is poor. We confront deeply embedded weaknesses in the public service that relate to poor skills, weak management, inadequate oversight and accountability, complex policy and regulatory systems and significant unevenness in fiscal and human capacity across the country. The planning commission has raised this issue of the capability of the state as central to our diagnosis. To plan for a future that is better without dealing with the weaknesses in the state is to set ourselves up for failure.

Madam Deputy Speaker, levels of corruption are high and negatively affect our ability to deliver services to the poorest South Africans. The reasons are complex but include weak systems, insufficient oversight and accountability, fragmented capacity to tackle corruption and poor ethical standards not just in the public service but in society at large.

The last of our diagnostic observations is that despite good progress in uniting our country, we remain a divided society. Despite improvement in deracialising the top end of the income spectrum, race is still a major dividing line. High levels of inequality fuel these divisions, but more importantly, the lack of progress in creating jobs and in improving education limits opportunity and fuels the divisions.

Redress measures are correct, both politically and economically. In several areas, we have not made sufficient progress in implementing these measures effectively. The Commission is of the view that while these redress measures are correct; they are more likely to be effective in a context of faster economic growth, rising educational standards and greater social mobility. In the absence of such a dynamic environment, corrective measures appear as win-lose measures, leading to social tension and strife.

Social cohesion is a necessary element of a successful nation and is critical to achieving our objectives of reducing poverty and inequality.

As we tackle each of these nine challenges to achieve our objectives, we must do so mindful of the environment within which we live and operate. Our world is changing. The rise of China, India, Brazil and other emerging markets is reshaping the global economy in complex ways. Similarly, democratisation and economic growth on the African continent provides an exciting backdrop against which to consider our own development plans. The world is confronting several broad developmental challenges from climate change and the need to produce more food, to water insecurity. Technology has already changed our world and provides a basis to fast-track progress and to include more people in social and economic interaction than even before. Migration, demographic transitions and urbanisation are also likely to be influential in shaping our future. These driving forces of change provide both opportunities and risks for South Africa and a collective understanding of these issues will help us navigate the next two decades.

Honourable Members, these are indeed formidable challenges and complex issues that we raise. They are the product of extensive research and engagement with experts, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and civil society. We raise them knowing that we can change, we can confront and defeat these obstacles. As a country, we have united to achieve many great things since 1990. We require that same spirit that gave rise to our miracle transition culminating in our constitution to once again unite to achieve our objectives. Success requires the participation and leadership of all South Africans.

Madam Deputy Speaker, on behalf of all the Commissioners, we would like to thank President Zuma for the boldness and faith that he has shown. We table today elements of a vision statement and an overview of the diagnosis. Five supporting reports will be released on the website today - on human conditions, material conditions, nation building, the economy and institutions and governance - and a host of background material that serves as evidence.

The diagnosis report is not a plan. It is a basis for collective agreement on the key challenges that confront us, which is a first step towards developing a plan that is acceptable, credible and implementable. Starting today, over the next three months, the Commission will actively engage with South Africans on the vision and diagnosis.

We will use meetings across the country with communities, experts and stakeholders, email, voicemail, text messages, online jams, social networking and good old fashion written letters to listen to what South Africans think and feel about the future and about their solutions to our challenges. For the uninitiated, a jam is a collaborative, online, brainstorming event designed to bring massive audiences together to discuss ideas on important social and economic issues over a specific period of time. Parliament has a clear role to play in facilitating a national dialogue on both the elements of the vision and the issues raised in the diagnostic.

Based on the public engagement and consultation, we will release Vision Statement and development plan in November this year for consideration by the country and by Cabinet. In 2012 and beyond, the commission will produce a select number of detailed reports on key issues stemming from the development plan.

Madam Deputy Speaker, achieving our objectives of eliminating poverty and reducing inequality will require the collective effort of all South Africans. Drawing strength and courage from Mama Albertina Sisulu, our struggle for a united, prosperous, non-racial, non-sexist and democratic South Africa lives on.

Issued by The Presidency, June 9 2011

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