Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

Twenty-three years after democracy, SA is in many ways a different country. The curse of racial segregation and underdevelopment of the majority has been lifted. The Constitution guarantees freedom, human dignity and democracy for all.

Over the same period, millions more South Africans have gained access to basic services — housing, health, water, sanitation, electricity and a social security for children, the elderly and other vulnerable groups. After apartheid’s last two decades of declining per capita income, GDP growth since democracy has averaged about 3.3%, above the population growth rate.

We have a robust political system, a free media and social capital in community institutions and civil society. These are foundations for an SA that belongs to all.

At the same time, 23 years later, there are more people on social grants than are employed. More than two-thirds of children who start Grade 1 fail to complete school or gain their matric certificates, let alone matric exemptions. Young people at universities struggle to pay their fees and demand free education.

Economic growth, including per capita growth, has been pedestrian at best since the global financial crisis. We see this in the lives of ordinary South Africans: more than 30-million men and women live in poverty. The poor, according to Statistics SA, are mainly "children (17 and younger), black Africans, females, people from rural areas, those living in the Eastern Cape and Limpopo, and those with little or no education". Inequality remains unacceptably high, and so is crime and violence, especially against children and women.

Each year, at a least 1-million more young people enter the labour force, the majority joining an army of the long-term unemployed.

All these are compounded by a slow, unresponsive public service, corruption, state capture, declining confidence in public and private institutions and lack of trust among South Africans. At the core is the blatant and ugly reality that the structure, ownership, management and control of the South African economy remain unchanged. It continues to benefit the few at the expense of children and youth, of the black majority and women, and at the expense of working people (black and white).

Thus, many feel the dream of 1994 has faded and that we have lost our way. Indeed, as our founding father, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, reminded us in Long Walk to Freedom: "After climbing the Great Hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb."

The valley of a thousand hills that confronts SA today is the structural causes of poverty, unemployment, inequality and corruption. If we fail to tackle these, soon the streams of discontent about the injustices will become a flood, which will leave no one unscathed.

To build an SA that belongs to all, we must know which hills to tackle next. I believe that these are the mountain of economic transformation, the highland of land redistribution and the summit that must see us educating and skilling our people. If not, the negatives will swallow the gains we have made.

A more just and inclusive society is in all our best interest. The national conference of the ANC later in 2017 is therefore important, and so are the elections in 2019. I, like millions of South Africans, continue to believe in the ability of the ANC to self-correct and in its capacity to unite the country and tackle the challenges we face.

The national conference must give guidance on three priorities. The leadership elected must work to unite the ANC and the country, and lead implementation of these priorities with integrity, selflessness, diligence and determination:

Radical transformation of the economy. We cannot continue to tinker at the margins of the economy without fundamental transformation to ensure growth, development and redistribution. This requires that we prioritise an entrepreneurial industrial policy and plan, by adding value and beneficiating mineral resources.

It requires us to strengthen and invest in sectors such as the green economy, tourism, the cultural and creative sector, petrochemicals, the blue oceans economy, infrastructure development, food and beverages, mining, agriculture, transport and logistics, the financial sector and manufacturing. And we must agree on a macroeconomic policy environment that aids sustainable transformation, job creation, investments and growth.

At the centre of this transformation plan must be job creation and economic opportunities for all, with a special focus on young people, black and white. It must be deliberate in correcting the skewed racial and gender patterns of economic ownership and control.

Radical transformation of the economy. We cannot continue to tinker at the margins of the economy without fundamental transformation to ensure growth, development and redistribution

We must in the process tackle the festering sore of the land question, not just land for agriculture but also urban land for settlements, so that we change the apartheid geography of our rural areas, towns and cities and allow SA to become a player in the regional and global food and agricultural sector.

Land is also needed to tackle the squalor of informal settlements in urban areas and to build infrastructure for businesses, for education, culture and sport.

To achieve this, the government at national level must engage all South Africans in a genuine economic dialogue, to develop this plan of radical economic transformation.

It must be a democratic process, with sectoral and local dialogues, so that all South Africans, black and white, urban and rural, young and old are part of the solutions.

If we could in the space of less than five years have former enemies sit across the table, negotiate the dismantling of apartheid, talk about a nonracial, democratic and nonsexist SA, arrive at a political settlement and organise the first nonracial democratic elections on April 27 1994, we owe it to past, current and future generations to have a similar process to build an economy and land that belongs to all.

Invest in the South African people. Countries that successfully pulled themselves out of poverty in a single generation are those that invested in their people, in addition to radical transformation of their economies.

I do believe, like Tata Mandela, that education remains the most powerful tool to change the world. From basic education to vocational, artisanal and technical training, to higher education, to the investments required in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and innovation, we need an education and skills revolution, with all hands on deck.

Components of this must include tackling disparities in education infrastructure and resources. We already have the basic norms and standards for every school in the country to have "water, electricity, internet, working toilets, safe classrooms with a maximum of 40 pupils, security and libraries, laboratories and sports facilities", and must commit to find the resources to meet these norms in the shortest possible time.

We must also bring together our best minds, to adjust our curricula so that young people leave matric with the capabilities and skills to either go to university or further education, or to become entrepreneurs. It must be a curriculum that teaches the values and ethics of our Constitution, with a pan-African and global outlook. And we need a plan to train and empower teachers, to restore pride in the profession as the moulder of future generations.

Investing in people means we must continue to meet basic needs, water and sanitation, housing, nutrition, energy, health and social security. And, since women and girls are half the population, we must empower them to help drive transformation.

Building a democratic development state around this mission. To build a developmental state around these two absolute priorities, we must root out corruption, ensure a responsive public service and local government, and state-owned enterprises that are at the centre of transformation and fulfil their mandates.

A developmental state also means a partnership between government, business and labour, and a partnership with and respecting all citizens. It means working together across all political lines for the achievement of common national objectives.

If we focus on these three priorities: transforming the economy, investing in people and building a democratic developmental state, we can place our country on a different trajectory. We all want to live in a country that is peaceful and stable, where all people have a decent standard of living.

SA has the people — black and white, young and old — with the desire and will to make it happen. We can build an SA that belongs to all.

• Dlamini-Zuma, a former chairwoman of the AU Commission and former minister of home affairs, foreign affairs and health, is now an ANC MP and a member of the party’s national executive committee.

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