Acceptance speech by President Jacob Zuma on the occasion of being awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the University of Abomey-Calavi, Cotonou, Republic of Benin
11 December 2011
His Excellency President Bon Yayi of the Republic of Benin,
The Minister of Education of the Republic of Benin
Minister of Transport of the Republic of South Africa and all Ministers Present,
The Rector of the University of Benin,
Members of the Alumni, Convocation,
Your Excellency Mr President,
Allow me also to thank you most sincerely for the warm hospitality that has been accorded to my delegation and I.
The hospitality indicates the warmth of the relations between the two nations.
Excellency Mr President,
It is a great privilege to receive this honour from such an esteemed institution of higher learning as the University of Abomey-Calavi.
I thank you for this honour, which I regard as recognition not only of the achievements of an individual, but of the Republic of South Africa and its people.
This great honour today brings to sharp focus, the warm relations that exist between the people of South Africa and the people of Benin.
Your Excellency Mr President only last month you were in South Africa on a State Visit to our country. Just two weeks later we are here in Benin to further strengthen the ties between our two countries.
That we have a reciprocal visit so soon indicates our seriousness about taking relations with Benin to a higher level.
The agreement we signed today on the Bilateral Air Services Agreement, is symbolic as it signals that we wish to make the movement between our two countries much easier for people and goods. Our relations can only go from strength to strength.
One of the most celebrated leaders of our time, the first President of the post Apartheid South Africa, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela reminded us that education is the most powerful weapon one can use to change the world.
In this regard, our country South Africa, has decided to make education an apex priority of our administration.
We have obtained our political freedom. To go further and achieve the economic freedom we so desire, we have so decided to invest in education and skills development.
At a personal level, it is indeed a special occasion for me to receive this honour given my own personal passion for education.
This passion makes me to strive tirelessly towards ensuring that every child who wants to learn obtains the opportunity to do so.
My passion for education arose in part from my inability to get the education I desired, as I came from a very poor background.
My father died when I was still very young, and I was raised by my mother who earned too little as a domestic worker to be able to take me to school.
This was symptomatic of the South Africa of that time, where education was a privilege and not a right for black children.
Even those who went to school obtained an inferior education compared to their compatriots of other races as I have already stated.
That it is the evil system whose legacy we are still working to reverse, 17 years after obtaining freedom and democracy.
This is the background which has given me the drive to ensure that no child suffers the way I and those of my generation did just to obtain an education.
Education in South Africa today is one of the major priorities of our government.
We decided to create two special departments focusing on education, one dealing with higher education and another with basic education. We split the departments in order to ensure that critical attention is paid to each phase of the education of the African child.
We did this because we are aware that education is the most powerful tool of emancipation.
Education receives the biggest share of the country’s budget. For example, in our 2010/2011 my government allocated R65 billion to the Department of Basic Education and Higher Education and Training, R17 billion more than in 2009/2010.
In February 2010 it was decided to require all grade three, six and a sample of Grade Nine learners to write annual national assessments that are independently moderated.
This has boosted the standards of our education system in more than 19 000 participating schools this year 2011.
Recognizing the central role education plays in the lives of all people and strengthening of democracy, good governance and development, we have also increased the number of children who do not pay school fees due to poverty at home, from 5.2 million school children to 14, 029 million to date.
This will raise the school enrolment of children aged 7 – 15 in my country to 98% by 2014, which will also help us, meet Millennium Development Goals obligations and also help many South Africans to be active role players in advancement of our democracy.
In addition to my work as a Head of State leading the national executive in my country, I also run the Jacob Zuma Education Trust, a community initiative which has to date educated more than 20 000 children. They would otherwise not have had the opportunity of an education due to coming from poor households.
My belief is that every little contribution counts as we seek to ensure universal access to education for all our children.
Our interest in education and skills development as government is shared by other sectors in our country, especially the business community and the trade union movement.
We recently signed the National Skills Accord with business and labour, marking an important milestone in the implementation of our country’s New Growth Path, which was launched in July 2011.
The Accord commits Government and its social partners to increasing the number of people who access training and grow the skills-based of the economy.
In terms of the Accord up to 30 000 new artisans will enter training during the current financial year - 31% in the Government sector, 13% in state-owned enterprises and 56% in the private sector.
State-owned enterprises will enrol at least 20 000 persons as apprentices and learners between 2011 and 2015.
The successful implementation of this accord will enable our country to begin to develop the scarce skills that are needed by the economy.
What we are doing is but one example of what Africa is doing generally to invest in education.
We know that for most African nations, education became the key priority as well after the attainment of independence.
Africa must invest in its children and in its youth.
Youth is our future and if their future prospects are dark, then the future of Africa is dark.
In addition, education is the most vital instrument for the promotion of justice, democracy and development.
If we are to entrench democracy in Africa, we must educate our young people.
I therefore sincerely thank you for this honour which I receive on behalf of the people of South Africa whom I represent here today.
This vote of confidence will motivate us to do more to develop our youth and prepare them to take Africa to greater height, beyond where our generation could reach.
It is a reminder to us to never rest until every African child is in school in our country, and everywhere in the continent.
I thank you.