Jobs, jobs and more jobs: this is the key focus – call it obsession – of government as we find ourselves halfway through the five-year political term that began in 2014.
Government understands the hardship and insecurity experienced by millions of South Africans who do not enjoy the dignity and material comforts that come with having any form of employment.
While this hardship is felt in households, it is also felt by businesses that will only sell products or services to people who have jobs. And if businesses fold, even more jobs are lost, poverty and inequality grow, and South Africa becomes an unattractive place for its own citizens and for investors from elsewhere.
South Africa’s masses of unemployed people were uppermost in our minds when Cabinet met in Pretoria from 16 to 19 August 2016 to look at what we can do – not as government alone, but in partnership with all sectors of our society – to kick-start our economy and keep our National Development Plan on track.
Cabinet reflected deeply on the factors inside our own country and around the world that are putting a brake on economic growth and decided on a number of actions to secure lasting growth and social development for the country.
Ultimately, the Cabinet Lekgotla served as a “GPS” for our economic recovery and further improvement of the quality of life for all South Africans. Lekgotla was, therefore, a source of hope at a time of economic difficulty.
The achievement of growth and development will only succeed if government, civil society, business and labour roll up their sleeves together to improve our economic prospects.
To ensure maximum impact, government will focus on programmes with the greatest potential to create jobs in the shortest possible time. Cabinet agreed that government will make it easier and worthwhile for businesses in sectors such as clothing, textiles, leather and footwear to operate and take on staff. Agro-processing and business process services (including call centres) are among the other businesses that will benefit from incentives.
As President, I am Chair of the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Investment that will coordinate 40 projects in which government will invest as a matter of urgency. These include agro-processing and agri-parks. As government, we are concerned that too much of our nation’s farm produce leaves our farming areas in their raw state, before being processed and packaged elsewhere.
Energy and infrastructure, manufacturing and services projects will also be top of our priorities.
We are looking into these sectors because we believe in their ability to have a major impact on our economy; they will be able to take off in the next two years, and they will attract investment beyond government.
In the next six months, government will introduce changes to the law that will make it a rule that 30 percent of government procurement should be awarded to small, micro and medium enterprises, township cooperatives and rural enterprises.
As the biggest spender in the economy, government’s buying power will therefore bring new business opportunities to parts of the country and sectors of our economy that have been excluded from such procurement before.
By procuring goods and services from the private sector – big and small – government stimulates business activity which in turn stimulates job creation and increases the amount of taxes collected by the South African Revenue Service.
More taxes mean more services and more services mean a better life for all South Africans.
At the Lekgotla, Cabinet also paid attention to the need for South Africa to save water and minimise water losses. We are a water-scarce country where we need to work seriously and smartly to keep water available for domestic, industrial and recreational use.
Later this month, national government will conclude agreements with municipalities with high water losses, to help them reduce such losses.
Given South Africans’ quick adoption of new technologies and the positive impact of technology on service delivery, Cabinet agreed to speed up implementation of the South African Connect Strategy to connect schools, health facilities and government offices.
The Cabinet Lekgotla looked at our country from all angles, to ensure that government stays true to its Programme of Action, which is based on the 2014 Manifesto of the African National Congress.
That Manifesto placed the spotlight on radical socio-economic change in the country, and prioritised the creation of education and business opportunities for the millions of South Africans who were denied such opportunities under apartheid.
Following the Lekgotla, we now invite all South Africans to work with government in making our plans and programmes a reality and to share their ideas for making South Africa an even better place.
Halfway through the political term, we have reason for hope, based on what we have already achieved.
But, as our great Olympic 800m champion, Caster Semenya, showed us just a few days ago, it is once the bell goes for the second lap that the action really hots up.
In our second lap, we will move South Africa forward even faster.