The visitor registers at the Union Buildings and Sefako Makgatho Presidential Guesthouse in Pretoria – and government premises across our country – tell an important story about our country’s present and its future.
These registers bear the evidence of how government is reaching out to various sectors of our economy and society – or at the very least responding to meeting requests from such sectors – as, together, we move South Africa forward.
Since the beginning of this year, government has in various ways and on various occasions had in-depth consultations with business leadership in South Africa to work out ways in which we can release some of the severe pressure under which the South African economy finds itself.
In January, when we braved the cold in Davos, Switzerland, to present the case of the South African economy to the world’s political and business leadership, government and the South African private sector did so in unison under the Brand South Africa flag.
Late last year, the Union Buildings was the site of a high-level engagement between government and representatives of university executives and student leadership as we grappled with making higher education more affordable for academically deserving young South Africans.
Partnership and having all hands and brains on deck in these tough times is the key to developing solutions and creating opportunity for all South Africans.
This is not just a response to our economic reality, but it is also part of our ongoing effort to bring South Africans from various backgrounds and persuasions together in building a cohesive and collaborative South Africa in which we can all share a vision of our future and work together to make this a reality.
As South Africans, we love to discuss and analyse our problems, and point fingers in all sorts of directions before – as an old jazz song says – “we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and start all over again”.
We can start all over again.
Government’s consultations with various social partners in the past few months have given us the benefit of practical ideas from social partners who want to see South Africa succeed and who want to see an end to poverty, unemployment and inequality in our country.
Some of the challenges in our economy are the result of the global downturn; other challenges entail things we can improve, accelerate or fix ourselves.
The 2016 Budget tabled recently by Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan reflects our effort to keep – and get – our house in order to provide some shelter from the global storm.
Based on belief that when opportunity knocks, it is education that turns the key, you will see from the Budget that we are investing in education more than any other item in the Budget.
To date, government spends R1,8 billion on early childhood development for children up to the age of four, reaching more than a million children.
"More than nine million learners attend school without paying fees, and the same children receive free daily meals to improve concentration and participation in class. In promoting technical and vocational education in our schools, R1 billion has been made available for all provinces through the Mathematics, Science and Technology Conditional Grant."
More than nine million learners attend school without paying fees, and the same children receive free daily meals to improve concentration and participation in class.
In promoting technical and vocational education in our schools, R1 billion has been made available for all provinces through the Mathematics, Science and Technology Conditional Grant. This will help us move towards the National Development Plan goal of producing 30 000 artisans per year.
Through the Operation Phakisa in Basic Education, which focuses on information and communication technologies, government is due to connect 2 892 schools to the internet this year and also train teachers and learners in the use of technology to improve learning and teaching.
Government is also building three new universities and 12 technical education and training colleges.
Government, the private sector and civil society at large agree that this investment in improving the skills of our people and therefore increasing their chances of success in life is the right thing to do in the midst of economic difficulty.
A skilled nation is one that will create opportunity and income for itself and one that will expand South Africa’s presence in the world economy and global markets.
However, for us as South Africans, success cannot be measured in rand, cents, dollar or yuan alone.
Given our history, success for us means growing and developing together as compatriots, neighbours, colleagues and friends, regardless of background or belief.
It is for this reason that we will in 2016 pay close attention to social cohesion, nation-building and the elimination of racism.
We must build tolerance and understanding but we must also come down hard on those who hold onto racist thoughts and behaviours and who tragically are passing these on to young children who have been born into our society after the transition of 1994.
In the course of nation-building, government will again reach out to various sectors of society and work with various organisations representing all South Africans.
2016 is a year in which government will reach out to social partners and invite social partners to pass through our open doors to express any frustrations they may have, but more specifically to explore their ideas for moving South Africa forward.
This means visitor registers in many sectors and sites of our country will reflect the deepening partnership between government and the people in making South Africa an even better place.