President Cyril Ramaphosa says the most important people are ordinary South Africans, who are faced with socio-economic challenges ranging from poverty to diseases.
The President said ever since he delivered the State of the Nation Address (SONA) last week, many have given him an indication of a sense of patriotism with the message, “Send me”.
Responding to a debate on the SONA in the National Assembly on Tuesday, the President said the State – government and parliamentary public representatives – should always aim to serve citizens in an inclusive manner.
“Since delivering the State of the Nation Address on Friday night, I have been humbled and encouraged by the response of people from all walks of life to the call to work together to build a new, better South Africa.
“They are galvanised by a sense of patriotism that elevates the interests of the country above narrow, selfish interests. They are moved by a conviction that tomorrow will be better than today. They have all been saying they are ready to lend a hand to build a South Africa that benefits all its people.
“I have received messages from many people consisting of only two words: Send Me,” he said.
The words “send me” — a direct reference to a popular song by the late renowned jazz maestro Hugh Masekela – featured strongly in the President’s maiden SONA on Friday, 16 February. These words quickly gained popularity, with the nation expressing their enthusiasm for working with government to help develop the country.
Citizens and their needs remain government’s top priority
President Ramaphosa said what emerged clearly from Monday’s debate was that all Members of Parliament are committed to building a nation where progress is measured not by growth in Gross Domestic Product or global competitiveness rankings, but by how the lives of the most vulnerable and marginalised are changed for the better.
“We are building a nation where our greatest concerns must be those in society who have need – the poor, the unemployed. The most important people in this country are not those who walk the red carpet in Parliament but those who spend a night by the benches outside the gates of Parliament. They are the most important people.
“The most important people in this country are those whose shacks are flooded… with every rainfall, those whose taps run dry, whether there is a drought or not. It is those who have been looking for work their entire lives, those who have dropped out of school, those suffering from preventable diseases, who have been orphaned or abandoned, who rely on an old age pension… To me, those are the most important people. Those are our people,” he said.
Monday saw MPs, Minister and Deputy Ministers tackle a wide range of issues in response to the President’s first SONA. The debate lasted into the night on Monday.
Land issue needs to be brought to the fore
The President said the return of the land to the people from whom it was taken speaks to precisely the divisions of the past, which he believes can be healed.
He said there is a need to interrogate the statement that the expropriation of land without compensation is incompatible with a growing, flourishing economy.
“We need to respond to the view that what we propose represents a violation of the spirit and intent of our democratic Constitution.
“There are few in our country who would contest the fact that dispossession of black South Africans of their land contributed fundamentally to the impoverishment and disempowerment of the majority of our people,” he said.
He said while jogging with residents from Gugulethu to Athlone on Tuesday morning, he met a resident by the name of Cedric Alberts, who was forcibly removed from District Six in 1969.
The President said Alberts’ family story illustrates in vivid terms the pain and damage caused by the former rulers of this land.
“The expropriation of land without compensation is envisaged as one of the measures that we will use to accelerate the redistribution of land to black South Africans.
“We will need to determine, collectively, how we can implement this measure in a way that promotes agricultural production, improves food security, advances rural development, reduces poverty and strengthens our economy,” he said.
He said for it to serve this purpose, there is a need to locate this measure within a broad and comprehensive land redistribution and agricultural development programme.
“This is a profound responsibility that has been given to our generation.
We owe it to our ancestors and to our children to ensure that we fulfil it.
“In dealing with this complex matter, we will not make the mistakes that others have made. We will not allow ‘smash and grab’ interventions. We will handle this matter in the same way we have handled all difficult issues our country.
“We will always seek to do what is in the interests of our people,” he said.
President commends MPs for restoring the decorum of the House
The President said he was pleased to see that the dignity of the House had been restored.
He said the debate was conducted in a respectful manner and that it engaged with the issues that most directly affect the people.
“The debate was conducted with decorum and respect – respect for each other, respect for the dignity of the House and respect for the people that we have all been sent here to represent.
“We should always remain mindful that this is the People’s Parliament. It was built by our people, for our people and it belongs to our people.
“The dignified manner in which the debate was conducted was very much in accord with what our people expect from their representatives in this, their House.”
On Marikana: President determined to help healing process
President Cyril Ramaphosa says the Marikana tragedy stands out as the darkest moment in the life of South Africa’s young democracy.
“We must be prepared, as government, to acknowledge where we have failed our people. Where we have made mistakes, we will correct them,” said the President on Tuesday.
Addressing the role he played in his capacity as a Lonmin Director in the events of that tragic week, the President said: “Notwithstanding the findings of the [Commission of Inquiry headed by retired Judge Ian Farlam] on my responsibility for the events that unfolded, I am determined to play whatever role I can play in the process of healing and atonement.
“In this, I am guided by the needs and wishes of the families of the 44 workers who lost their lives.”
The Farlam Commission was appointed in terms of section 84 (2) (f) of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996, to investigate matters of public, national and international concern arising out of the events in Marikana in 2012 which led to the deaths of approximately 44 people. The injury of more than 70 persons and the arrest of more than 250 people was also probed.
Three broad areas were identified for action: compensation to those injured and the families of those who lost their lives, examining the procedures of public order policing and preparing valid cases for prosecution according to applicable laws.
“Government is making progress in continuous engagement with the legal representatives of the victims, especially on the matter of reparations to families who lost their loved ones. This must be concluded in the coming months,” said the President.
He said the incident also brought into sharp focus the distress felt by people living in mining communities.
It is for this reason that as government engages with mining companies, unions and communities on the finalisation of the Mining Charter, “we need to ensure that these measures receive priority attention”.
“Alongside Marikana, the Life Esidemeni tragedy stands out as an instance of the most appalling dereliction by the state of its duty to the people.
“We welcome the arbitration process led by former Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke and are determined that we should never allow anything like this to happen again in our country,” said President Ramaphosa.
Cabinet: Announcement to be made at an “appropriate time”
President Cyril Ramaphosa says an announcement regarding changes to the National Executive will be made at an appropriate time.
A number of speakers during the debate had welcomed the decision to institute a review of the configuration, number and size of national government departments, as alluded to by President Ramaphosa during his State of the Nation Address on Friday night.
“Changes of this nature need to be well considered. They should be evidence based and should not be made in haste. This review, which we expect to take several months, will be based on a thorough analysis of the suitability and cost of the existing configuration.
“It will involve broad consultation so that the views of a broad range of stakeholders are considered and so that South Africans understand the rationale for the decisions that will ultimately be made,” said the President.
He spoke out against some of the comments made about members of the Executive. “Whatever views one might hold about members of Cabinet, this does not justify in any way the kind of character assassination and insults we have heard.”
President Ramaphosa said it was time to implement the resolutions regarding conducting lifestyle audits of all people who occupy positions of responsibility, starting with members of the Executive.
“The work we must undertake to tackle corruption and state capture has, quite correctly, featured prominently in the debate… As we indicated in the State of the Nation Address, we are equally determined to tackle corruption and other economic crimes in the private sector.”
President Ramaphosa said that complaints that young white people face unfair discrimination is not based on fact. He said: “Employment prospects still favour young white people [more] than their black compatriots.”
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