Human Rights month must be matched with state interventions to end human suffering

Picture: African News Agency (ANA) Archives

As we conclude celebrating Human Rights Month, it is important that we continue to focus on the clarion call made by President Ramaphosa for a social contract to be developed by all in our society. Together, all of us as South Africans, need to work together in order to ensure that our country succeeds. In this respect, we should endeavour to ensure that everyone in our country enjoys human rights and succeeds in exploring those rights.

Without socio-economic emancipation the majority of our people, Black and White, who are trapped in poverty and unemployment will never be able to realise these rights. These rights, fought for by people such Nelson Mandela and Albertina Sisulu, whom we recall this year, mean nothing if people lack basics such as food, shelter, clothing and decent sanitation. We must ensure that we create a human rights cultured environment for all our people.

To bring about the true realisation of our rights, we need to pursue the building of an economy that is multi-faceted and growing. Manufacturing lies at the heart of this growth in the economy and therefore a number of measures need to be put in place in order to stimulate growth within this sector.

The ANC’s January 8th statement was clear that in order for the manufacturing sector to grow we had to implement strategies that would ensure preferential procurement in both the public and private sectors. There is a need to institutionalise the demand for locally produced goods and services in order to assist the domestic market in expanding. 

The more we demand of our own, the more benefits we will reap. In fact, President Ramaphosa in his SONA indicated that South Africa had spent in the region of R57 billion on imported goods and services but which are also locally produced. In other words, that amount could have gone into the local market. 

This is how emerging economies have done it, especially our partners in BRICS. Brazil, Russia, India and China have ensured that they rely on their local market first before they export. By producing and selling locally, one strengthens the local market and therefore investors will see the confidence that we have in our own market. Often we expect investors to have confidence in our market and yet we do not have confidence in our own market.

There is no doubt that these BRIC markets are probably twenty times the size of our market, as is the case with China. Yet that is where we as South Africa can tap into the African market which is equal to that of China’s. We must therefore support President Ramaphosa’s call for a single currency for the continent. 

In building investor confidence, locally and internationally, President Ramaphosa in his SONA announced the holding of an investor conference. Hopefully all these issues will be tackled but more importantly that the stakeholders of government and business build confidence in own our market first before trying to convince global partners. This conference in particular must prioritise an investment in township economies and rural development as well as building investor confidence.

At the same time, we must learn to identify those sectors which are skills intensive while at the same time promoting the ones with the potential for growth. Sectors such as tourism, agriculture and minerals, continue to have potential for growth but remain fundamentally primary and secondary sectors. 

In addition, we must start concentrating on sectors that are STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) intensive in order to be competitive and have a niche in the global market. Science, technology, engineering and mathematics will become key in ensuring that our young people are not only able to compete locally but at a global level. Due to the effects of globalisation, our young people and industries must produce that which is better, easier and faster.

At the same time, to open the economy as well as ensure that ownership becomes diversified, the ANC announced in its January 8th statement that it would expand the scope of the mandate of the competition authorities. This means that monopolies will hopefully be deconstructed and competition increased. 

In this respect, one can think of no better example than the overpriced cost of data. If we are to become competitive internationally, especially within STEM sectors, then one of the first areas that we will need to address is the cost of data. Our young people must be able to get onto the internet, use data in order to develop and market themselves internationally within this era of information technology. 

One of the marvels of data is that it can be accessed almost anywhere. Therefore a young person could be lying on his/her bed in his bedroom developing the next revolutionary app. Modern technology no longer requires people to migrate or travel in order to perform their duties but more and more, thanks to technology, we are able to produce closer to home. 

Needless to say that this is not the case with every industry but we must envisage a scenario that people’s work places and therefore development happens as close as possible to where they live. Emphasis must therefore be placed on instruments such as the township and rural economies. Economic development must be local and ensure that through the latest technology we are able to improve people’s lives.

For example, many of us take for granted the SMS we receive when activity occurs in our bank account. For many living in urban areas, it is no hassle to check between our phones, our bank app’s or even stopping at the nearest ATM. 

Yet for a granny living in the rural areas, who has to spend taxi fare to the nearest ATM, which could be fifty to a hundred kilometres away in the nearest town and which could easily take an entire day, simply to see whether her pension has been paid into her account or not, a simple SMS from the bank makes a huge difference. Technology is revolutionary.

Special economic zones, as announced in SONA, must be recognised as another instrument in the manner in which we attract domestic and foreign investment while building industrial capabilities and economic hubs. The establishment of the CEO’s Initiative of a small business fund, sitting presently at approximately R1.5billion, is another example of the potential the private sector has in developing our economy.

The ANC government is proud that on the 1 May 2018 another fundamental human right will be achieved in South Africa. As an organisation that has always had a bias towards the working class, we will be pleased that from Workers Day 2018, the new national minimum wage will be implemented. While we can do much more to increase the amount, it is a start. 

Though not necessarily a living wage, the national minimum wage will immediately improve the lives of nearly seven million people. It has the potential to decrease inequality while denting poverty levels. We are proud that again one of the tenets of the Freedom Charter, a document to which Nelson Mandela and Albertina Sisulu dedicated their lives, is being implemented.

However, we have yet to hear from important institutions such as the Public Investment Corporation, the Industrial Development Corporation and the Development Bank of South Africa how they will engage with radical transformation socio-economic and the resolutions of Nasrec. These state institutions play a pivotal role, together with our state owned enterprises, in promoting growth and expanding our economy. 

As we celebrate Human Rights Month we must remember that we remain a society that is highly unequal in race and gender. We must ensure that, as our Constitution espouses, we tackle the past injustices and build a new nation, freed from the legacy of what happened at Sharpeville and Langa.

Maite Nkoana-Mashabane is the Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform & Treasure General of the ANC Women’s League and Meokgo Matuba is Secretary General of the ANC Women League