South Africa will continue to bear the brunt of the “historical distortions of our labour market and our economy for a long time to come,” President Cyril Ramaphosa has said, citing the unemployment statistics released this week which showed the jobless rate had climbed to its highest level in 11 years.
“Our task is to implement measures that stimulate and grow the economy and create jobs, but at the same time address and overcome the root causes of inequality,” he said fielding questions in the National Assembly.
Ramaphosa said a concerted effort by all social partners, including government, labour, business, civil society and this Parliament was needed to overcome the triple challenges of unemployment, poverty and inequality.
The president was reminded that he had said in July that “nation building has economic, political, cultural and social dimensions that are interrelated,” and was asked what steps Government had taken to remove “race, gender and class as determinants of economic and social advancement.”
Ramaphosa outlined the priority remains to grow an economy that benefits all South Africans, and that generating growth meant increased levels of investment.
He pointed to the second South Africa Investment Conference where some 1,500 investors and business people will converge on Johannesburg to consider the wide range of investment opportunities in our country.
Vital to South Africa’s investment drive efforts, he said, is the country’s infrastructure build programme, a key driver of economic growth.
“It was with a view to addressing this problem that we decided to set up
Infrastructure Fund, through which we aim to to mobilise funds from various sources – both public and private – to invest in priority projects that will expand the capacity of our economy and create jobs and improve service delivery.
“This is taking place alongside, and in support of, the implementation of an enhanced industrial strategy,” he added.
Government has placed a particular emphasis on addressing the “spatial distortion within our economy which has both racial and gender dimensions,” Ramaphosa said, “developing special economic zones, reviving local industrial parks and establishing new business centres and digital hubs.”
The president also spoke about “specific measures to direct young unemployed people into employment and other economic activity; working on programmes to reduce the cost of living – through, for example, improved public transport; improving the quality and accessibility of health care for the poor through the introduction of the National Health Insurance (NHI); and through education, the most effective measure to reduce inequality and to develop skills.”
Ramaphosa added that government’s economic programmes are fundamentally directed towards the reduction of poverty, and this, he said, more than anything else, “will remove race, gender and class as determinants of economic and social advancement.”
He was also asked about his visits to various summits, and how these trips impacted the on South Africa’s economy recovery.
Ramaphosa had, since May, attended the G20 Summit in Japan, the African Union Extraordinary Summit in Niger, the SADC Summit in Tanzania, the G7 Summit in France, immediately followed by the Tokyo International Conference on Africa’s Development in Japan, and just last week, the Russia-Africa Summit in Sochi, Russia.
In summing up, he said “These gatherings provided an opportunity for South Africa to advance its foreign policy and promote its economic interests.”
He then briefly touched on some of the agreements reached and deals struck at the respective gatherings.
“While these international summits do not directly create jobs, they can contribute to an improved environment for investment, trade and cooperation,” Ramaphosa said.
“They provide a platform for the South African government and business to promote the investment opportunities in the country, to explore new markets and to forge strategic partnerships.”
In addition, the president said, “They also provide an opportunity to advance South Africa’s position on a range of issues like the reform of multilateral institutions to international support for African development.”
Ramaphosa said when he asked the House to approve the emergency action plan to combat gender-based violence (GBV) and femicide two months ago, “it was in response to a national crisis.”
He said the Department of Social Development will drive the roll-out of programmes that will engage men’s formations, traditional leaders, student organisations, youth groups, offenders inside prisons, officials working in the criminal justice system & communities, to create awareness and root out the scourge that is GBV.