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South Africa is Alive with Possibilities

31 Oct 2017
By HE Ms Beryl Sisulu
President Jacob Zuma meets with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Despite economic challenges and recent domestic strife, South Africa is working towards a stable future. Combatting corruption and pursing international economic and political collaboration will be important steps.

We say South Africa is alive with possibilities, and indeed, since the past two decades of our constitutional democracy we have transformed our economy from a GDP just below USD$150 billion (AUD$195 billion) to approximately USD$350 billion (AUD$456 billion). We are confident that despite the lingering global economic headwinds, compounded by domestic challenges, we will prosper.

The government focus now is on what should be done to reignite growth over the next five years, including consolidating democracy and expanding access to a better life for all. South Africa has developed a functional democratic state, with an executive parliament and judiciary that continue to execute their tasks, informed by the constitution. The government and all political parties in South Africa affirm the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law. There is respect for our courts as the final arbiters in disputes. For a young progressive democracy, these achievements are phenomenal.

Nevertheless, access to state power and resources has led to perceptions and allegations that the government is corrupt, with allegations of wrongdoing in certain cases in regard to state tenders. The failure to respond adequately and timeously to these allegations—and the length of time that it takes for investigations to be concluded—has caused immense damage to the image of government. The government has introduced legislation and created institutions specifically to deal with corruption.

South Africa is a democracy that is characterised by freedom of the media which is enshrined in the constitution. The government and all political parties promote the rights of journalists to work freely, safely, and without hindrance in our country.

The government has worked tirelessly and consistently to expand basic services that improve the quality of life for the poor and the working class. These include improved education and health care, housing for the poor, electricity, water and infrastructure in areas that were neglected by the previous apartheid regimes.

Through various economic programs, access to economic opportunities for black people who were previously excluded from such initiatives has been increased. The government prides itself on the growth of the black middle class through its policies and programs, including affirmative action and broad-based black economic empowerment.

As we reverse the legacy of apartheid, we are reflecting on how service delivery can be improved further in order to better the lives of our people. Our blueprint for economic and social growth and development, the National Development Plan (NDP), and the Nine-Point Plan for economic renewal will enable us to overturn the stubborn legacy of the past system.

On 8 May this year, we launched the 2017-18 to 2019-20 Industrial Policy Action Plan (IPAP) to support industrial development. Our effort to achieve more inclusive and higher levels of industrial development takes place against the backdrop of continued challenges in the global economy. As some of you may be aware, our economy is not doing well this year, with the country’s credit rating having been downgraded to junk status and business and consumer confidence is low. Even though the latest grading has taken us out of junk status, poor governance and a weak economy still remain a real risk.

It is important to state that the government is committed to support the private sector to enable them to create jobs and investment. There can be no economic progress that leaves the majority of our population behind.

South Africa is mindful of the context in which it operates as a middle-income nation in a global world. We appreciate the need to retain the confidence of international stakeholders. South Africa has created a body called InvestSA to make it easy to do business with South Africa. It is a one-stop-shop set up to cut bureaucratic red tape and assist investors to fast-track issues.

Efforts to intensify exports and investment in Africa, has led to the establishment of Trade Invest Africa in the Department of Trade and Industry, to lead our efforts to facilitate exports and investment to Africa across all sectors, while also developing source markets for South Africa’s import demand.

We will not achieve economic growth if our youth is not educated. One of the issues affecting our youth is funding for higher education and jobs. The funds allocated to the National Student Financial Aid Scheme for loans and bursaries to students at public universities and technical and vocational education and training colleges have increased substantially from more than ZAR$2 billion (AUD$180 million) in 2009 to more than ZAR$12 billion (AUD$1.1 billion) in 2017.

In addition to education, the government has identified a number of instrumental areas to advance socio-economic transformation. Some of the measures include accelerated land redistribution, land reform and huge support for agriculture and agro-processing on a large scale. The transformation program also talks to the eradication of social ills, including violence against women and children. The government has made the killing of women a priority crime and police have been directed to treat such cases with the seriousness and urgency they deserve.

South Africa’s foreign policy is situated within the theoretical framework of internationalism which advocates for greater political and economic cooperation among nations and peoples of the world. South Africa took a leading role as part of the core group that advocated a draft UN resolution on “taking forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations”. It is a historic achievement that the Treaty Prohibiting Nuclear Weapons has been adopted by the UN General Assembly.

South Africa engages with partners in various regions at bilateral and multilateral levels. This is the basis of our membership in the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA). South Africa became Chair of IORA when it recently hosted the 17th meeting of the IORA Council of Ministers.

South Africa took part at the 17th Annual Regional Seminar on the Implementation of International Humanitarian Law. This year’s theme focused on ‘The 1977 Additional Protocols: 40 years after’. It is South Africa’s view that the 40th anniversary of the Additional Protocols provides the international community with an opportunity to galvanise the power of humanity by pledging its renewed commitment towards strengthening compliance with international humanitarian law.

Australia-South Africa bilateral and economic relations are critical to the development of our economy. It is my objective as the high commissioner, to see enhanced friendship and partnership between Australia and South Africa for the benefit of both. I am optimistic that together we can increase the current trade and investment figures.

Working together we can move Australia-South Africa bilateral relations and people-to-people connections forward.

Her Excellency Ms Beryl R. Sisulu is the High Commissioner of the Republic of South Africa to Australia. She has previously served as Ambassador to Norway, Iceland and Japan. This is an extract from Her Excellency’s speech to AIIA NSW on 17 October 2017.

This article is published under a Creative Commons Licence and may be republished with attribution.