Too early to scrap affirmative action - Jacob Zuma

Speech by the ANC President to investors in New York October 24 2008

Address by ANC President Jacob Zuma to investors luncheon, New York, United States Of America October 24 2008

Mr Steven Fox,
South African Consul General, Fikile Magubane,
US Ambassador to South Africa, HE Eric Bost,
Captains of commerce and industry,

Greetings to you all. We appreciate your interest in our country and our economy.

We believe that international confidence in our country is not misplaced. We have since attaining freedom in 1994 worked tirelessly to build a stable, democratic non-racial, non-sexist society.

We have worked to entrench our democratic culture and institutions and have succeeded in that regard.

Our country's Constitution enshrines every possible right, including socio-economic rights. We promote and adhere to the independence of the judiciary, the rule of law, freedom of the media and all principles and institutions that would make our democracy resilient and mature.

There have been episodes that tested the maturity of our teenage democracy and it has not been found wanting.

From several court cases to the recent recall of the President of the Republic, His Excellency Thabo Mbeki, South Africa has demonstrated that democratic principles will always prevail, over and above personal interests.

We were able to go through difficult moments such as the recall and replacement of the President of the Republic in a manner that did not destabilise the country.

With regards to socio-economic development, we have made substantial progress since freedom in 1994.

We have created conditions for the longest expansion of the South African economy in recorded history with the rate of growth averaging over 4.5% every year since 2004.

We have made several gains in the social arena such as increasing access to housing, water, education, electricity and several other basic services.

I must emphasise that the policy of the ANC is decided by the organisation as a collective, and not by individuals. Our organisation is built around the collective wisdom of its leadership, which ensures continuity.

At the last elective conference in December 2007, we emerged with several resolutions, which are now being developed into implementable policies.

We have faced various questions about a perceived dominance of our Alliance partners, Cosatu and the SA Communist Party in the development of policy. It must be underlined that ANC policies are developed by the ANC.

However we do benefit from the views of the Alliance partners, who bring the necessary balance as organisations representing primarily the poor and the working class.

But claims of dominance are inaccurate, especially when peppered with assertions that because the SACP and Cosatu supported the election of the current ANC President, they will dictate the direction of the ANC.

These claims indicate a lack of understanding of how the ANC collective operates. Commentators have also forgotten that the SACP and Cosatu supported both former Presidents Mandela and Mbeki. Nobody can say they then dictated the direction of the ANC after the two Presidents were elected into office.

Ladies and gentlemen, in preparing to govern for another term in 2009, the ANC has identified key priorities. The central and most pressing challenges we face are unemployment, poverty and inequality.

Investors have often asked us what type of economy we envisage. The ANC favours a mixed economy, where the state, private capital, cooperatives and other forms of social ownership complement each other in an integrated way to eliminate poverty and foster shared economic growth.

We want to continue having an economy that is connected to the world, and which benefits from vibrant and balanced trade with the rest of the world.

This is an economy that is increasingly integrated into the Southern African region and our continent as a whole, in furtherance of the goals of development and regeneration of Africa.

We have made the creation of decent work, poverty eradication and combating inequality the centre of our economic policies.

We have undertaken to halve unemployment and poverty from their 2004 levels, and to substantially reduce social and economic inequality. We resolved at our last economic summit that to create decent work, as defined by the International Labour Organisation, we must amongst others do the following:

  • Aim to create five million new jobs in the new five year term.
  • Fast-track existing job-creation programmes.
  • Improve service delivery in public sector.

To achieve these objectives, we must develop a growth path, which actively promotes employment-creating investment. Our pursuit of foreign direct investments will therefore be in the spirit of providing decent work, in terms of quality and quantity.

We also want to fully develop our countryside. Part of the plan is to intensify our land reform programme, to ensure that 30 percent of the land is in the hands of the rural poor by 2014. Our agrarian and land reform will have as its central focus, the promotion of sustainable rural development to develop thriving economies in the countryside.

We will take further the fight against crime to build safer communities. We want our criminal justice system to function more effectively, and criminals must get the message that crime does not pay. ANC branches are continuing to establish street committees to act as a bulwark against crime in every neighbourhood.

We are busy working on the detail of our anti-crime strategy, which will be enunciated in our election Manifesto.

We will focus more on improving the quality of health service delivery and the reduction of diseases such as HIV and AIDS, tuberculosis and others.

The national HIV and AIDS comprehensive plan will be implemented effectively with the participation of all stakeholders. Prevention will continue to be cornerstone, with treatment also received emphasis.

We have done exceptionally well to provide a safety net for the poor. More than 12 million South Africans receive social security grants from the State.

Amongst these, are 8,3 million poor and vulnerable children who receive the Child Support Grant for their upkeep. The grants have made a big difference in the lives of many who would otherwise be suffering from abject poverty.

However, we want to create a developmental state, not a welfare state. We therefore want to enable the able-bodied poor to extricate themselves from poverty through job creation and entrepreneurship promotion.

Ladies and gentlemen, clause 23 of our Constitution entrenches the rights of South African workers.

Every citizen has the right to fair labour practices. Every worker has the right to form and join a trade union, to participate in the activities and programmes of a trade union; and to strike.

In addition, every employer has the right to form and join an employers' organisation; and to participate in the activities and programmes of an employers' organisation.

Every trade union, employers' organisation and employer has the right to engage in collective bargaining. We have legislation that gives meaning to these principles, for example the Labour Relations Act. We view it as an advantage that our Constitution and legislation spell out the requirements so succinctly as it creates certainty and stability for both employers and employees.

We also have the Employment Equity Act giving meaning to our equity and affirmative action policies to ensure the transformation of the workplace to be in line with the country's demographics and gender.

The areas in which black people and women are excluded mostly are the first three upper occupational levels - top management, senior management and professionally qualified and middle management.

The report from the country's Employment Equity Commission on change relating to race from 2003 to 2007 notes the following in the top management echelons nationwide:

  • Africans increased by 3.9% points to 18.8%
  • Coloureds decreased by 0.1% points to 3.9%
  • Indians increased by 1.2% points to 6.1%.
  • Whites are still dominating at 68.2%.

In the senior management level during the same period, whites maintained dominance at 65.2%, with blacks at 18.1%. On senior management recruitments during the same period, 40.6% were black and 55.2% were white.

The Commission has concluded that white males continue to dominate all three top levels including recruitment and promotion.

The employment equity figures clearly indicate that it is still early days to call for an end of affirmative action in South Africa.

In addition, there does not appear to be any basis to blame the Employment Equity Act or affirmative action for emigration by white South Africans.

The Employment Equity Commission views the exponential rise of white women in managerial positions as proof that Affirmative Action works. White women are part of the designated groups that qualify for affirmative action.

We remain concerned about the skills flight in the private and public sectors. We have lost several nurses, doctors, teachers and social workers, mostly black, to countries such as the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Canada to name a few.

Skills development will therefore be one of the foremost priorities.

Ladies and gentlemen, you would also be aware of our Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment policy, designed to broaden the ownership and management of the South African economy.

We have invited black business leaders to discuss the impact of the BBBEE policy and advise us on how it can be improved to ensure broader empowerment of all, and not just a few connected individuals.

Peace and stability in the continent are some of the objectives that the ANC government pursues with vigour, seeking solution in flashpoints, from Zimbabwe to Darfur, DRC to Burundi.

We remain convinced that lasting solutions will be found in these sister countries.

We trust that the investor community is already exploring opportunities that will arise during the reconstruction of the Zimbabwean economy.

As the world faces a financial crisis, we can say that in our country, businesses can invest in the confidence of a sound fiscal and financial environment. Our macro-economic policy framework and fiscal stance have held us in good stead so far. We will like all other economies be affected by current global economic climate, but we are confident that we will be able to weather the storms due to our hard work in building a sound macro-economic and fiscal policy framework over the years.

We have adopted a gradual approach to the relaxation of exchange controls, adopted an explicit target for inflation, strengthened bank regulation and steadily accumulated foreign reserves during the last five years.

The only turbulence you can expect in our country is the one that the United States is going through right now - the contestation and vibrancy that accompanies any election.

As the ANC we remain fully confident of another decisive victory. So far no other party has put forward, or can put forward, policies that successfully compete with those of the ANC.

Once again thank you for your interest in our country. Working together we can develop a mutually beneficial relationship, which will advantage our country.

I thank you.

Issued by the African National Congress