Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe. Picture: THE TIMES
Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe. Picture: THE TIMES

The inaugurations of new historical epochs do not reveal themselves with sharp clarity in their immediate moment. Rather, they require unrelenting fidelity to the "newness" they purport to occasion.

In his first state of the nation address, President Cyril Ramaphosa remarked that this moment in South Africa's history signifies a "new dawn": in the wake of a challenging stretch of recent history that has been marred by unscrupulous actions across sectors of our society, we need to bring forth a renewed period of hopefulness.

This year, 2018, has thus far been characterised by the seemingly unremitting intersection of loss and legacy. As icons of our struggle pass on, we pay tribute to the twinned centenaries of Nelson Mandela and Albertina Sisulu, confronted with a present that is in complex conversation with the dreams and visions of the past.

Standing removed from the initial hallowed promise of 1994, we are called to reflect on the gains of a democratic South Africa — taking stock of the mood and spirit of the nation, and noting the long road that still needs to be travelled towards the attainment of a just, equitable and inclusive South Africa.

Next weekend, in the spectacular Drakensberg, we will play host to a gathering of South African leaders from across all sections of society, including the youth, to share ideas, build agreement and wherever possible develop action plans to ensure that the potential of this next decade is met.

As we commemorate the 42nd anniversary of the 1976 Soweto uprising on June 16, we are reminded to urgently address the plight of the youth with respect to education, skills and employment — hence the urgency of the call to accelerate progress in building a more just, prosperous and equitable society.

It is an express objective of the Inclusive Growth Forum to bring together South Africans from a variety of sectors, noting that the state has a critical role to play in active partnership with the private sector, trade unions and civil society.

In this regard a group of key speakers, thought leaders and participants have been selected to participate in this crucial conference, in order to lend support to government programmes led by President Ramaphosa's plan to turn around the economy, create more jobs — especially for the youth — reduce inequality and improve the lives of citizens.

Such a gathering alone is not a solution in itself. Rather, it seeks to inspire action, building on present initiatives and pursuing the attainment of a country that realises the aspirations of South Africans like Mandela and Sisulu.

It is vital that a level of consensus be arrived at to stabilise and shift the country on the path towards the attainment of our democratic goals. This can be achieved through a shared set of beliefs about the direction over the next few years. We need to strengthen our democracy and increasingly focus on the critical question of economic growth and inclusiveness, which will be the primary platform for job creation, and the ongoing process of transformation.

The conference aims to conduct action-focused and constructive dialogue around the theme of inclusive growth. It is a well-known fact that South Africa remains one of the most unequal societies in the world, with unemployment at 27% and poverty at 55%.

The lived experience of contemporary democracy is vastly uneven, with difference in the experience of citizenship defined according to historical dividing lines of race, class and gender — among other structural injustices.

Consequently, several factors have coalesced, resulting in the entrapment of South African lives in a seemingly inescapable existence of indignity, a life without necessities and therefore a life shorn of the common human decency that is promised by our constitution.

Weakened institutions, poor management, corruption, a deteriorated economy, high levels of unemployment, poverty, and failures in service delivery mar the achievements of the present.

Such challenges, however, are not insurmountable. Achieving the collective vision of the attainment of a democratic, inclusive and successful political economy and society, which underscores the struggle for freedom, will require effort from all of us.

President Ramaphosa, who will be delivering the keynote address at the forum, closed his state of the nation address with the following words:

"We are at a moment in the history of our nation when the people, through their determination, have started to turn the country around.

"Now is the time to lend a hand.

"Now is the time for each of us to say: 'Send me.'

"Now is the time for all of us to work together, in honour of Nelson Mandela, to build a new, better South Africa for all."

This Inclusive Growth Forum presents one answer to this call. It is one contribution towards a vision of a South African future that was birthed by the founders of our democracy, and that has been entrusted to us as inheritors of their legacy.

As inheritors of this vision, we must ensure that the country we bequeath to our youth is significantly released from the structural impediments, historical divisions and challenges of leadership that haunt our present. It is then that we can truly say that 2018 inaugurated a new dawn.

• Former president Kgalema Motlanthe's foundation will host the inaugural Inclusive Growth Forum in the Drakensberg

This article was first published by the Sunday Times