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SA has work to do, but is well on the way to an ideal society by David Ntshabele

One of the weakest criticisms recently offered of African Union (AU) chairwoman Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, which she effortlessly but profoundly put down, was that adopting a long-term AU Vision 2063 in effect insulated her from taking overall responsibility for it, as she will in all likelihood no longer be in office at that time.

Dlamini-Zuma’s shrewd riposte to the cynical question was that if our struggle pioneers projected their vision for their lifetime only, we would not have the freedom we are enjoying today. This contention underscores the importance of a collective vision and plan in the life of any particular nation. In fact, many success stories of development were built around common visions and missions.

When he came to office in 1994, Nelson Mandela acknowledged success in the effort to "implant hope in the breasts of the millions of our people" and pledged his government’s commitment to liberate the people of SA from the "bondage of poverty, deprivation, suffering, (and) gender and other discrimination" so as to meet the hopes that had been raised.

Informed also by the Freedom Charter, which is attaining its 60th anniversary this year, this vision captures the essence and soul of the SA we are working to build, under the leadership of President Jacob Zuma, building on the work of his predecessors, including Thabo Mbeki.

Throughout the 21 years of democratic governance, every plan that has been adopted, regardless of variation in form, emphasis and nuance, has been geared towards attaining social transformation — freeing the people of SA from poverty and all forms of socioeconomic deprivation; in essence, leading people towards economic freedom and social emancipation. This certainly is not utopian, impractical or even lofty; otherwise the many historic 20-year milestones we celebrated last year, captured in our reviews, could have not been reached. Such milestones were critical steps in attaining the social transformation we envisage.

An essential part of any national vision, such as ours, is galvanising the people around it and instilling the collective ownership or buy-in of everyone in the country, regardless of their political affiliation. Thus, the prerequisite for the success of a national vision is an active citizenry that identifies with and owns the vision and mission, and which sees itself as a central agent in the success of national goals — a nation that is driven by its vision and which in turn drives that vision through enacting the mission.

The SA we seek to build is one where we share a collective sense of destiny, which is to live in a society free of poverty and inequality.

In furtherance of our vision of socioeconomic transformation, our mission as a country is embodied and articulated, among others, through our National Development Plan (NDP). The key kernel of the NDP is to build the capacity of the state to play a developmental and transformative role.

Critical in building state capacity is the empowerment of the people, particularly the youth, with skills and other opportunities to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the state. We therefore seek to build an educated and skilled national youth corps, which will champion the reforms that we express in our national plans and which we envisage for this critical phase of radical economic transformation in our country.

Competitive skills will enhance the higher labour-absorption rate we envisage in our economic plans.

The 1-million jobs we envisage for 2030 hinge on quality education and concerted human resource development efforts. With emphasis on education, as demonstrated through various expansive efforts by the Departments of Basic and Higher Education, we are basically multiplying transformative agents and catalysts in our society.

The human resources factor is very important for the 5% annual economic growth we envisage in the medium term. Developing our national human resources base is not only a leveller of inequality and a catalyst to social transformation, but is the surest relief for our social security and healthcare regime, and has a direct effect on crime reduction, so we seek to build an economically active and independent society that depends less on social support.

We are a country that seeks to exploit its strategic niches and competitive advantages to accelerate the priorities we have set. In his recent state of the nation address, Zuma mentioned a nine-point plan to accelerate the economic transformation of our society. This partly consolidates some of the areas that have been identified in the past, such as the agricultural sector, the Industrial Policy Action Plan, mining and the small business sector. Our financial support to small businesses, for example, affirms our vision of building a strong entrepreneurial base among our youth to enable them to create rather than ask for employment.

In addition, for the past six years, we have as a country been on a huge infrastructure roll-out, both domestically and now even internationally. This should unlock many opportunities for our many young entrepreneurs so that we have a meaningful effect on our economy.

Our mission is therefore to revitalise and expand the economy to broaden opportunities for the people.

We are a nation that prides itself on an internationally acclaimed democratic constitution. Far from being merely ornamental, our constitution enjoins us to build a democratic society in which we enjoy equal rights regardless of race, gender and creed, and this we must continue to do.

Our constitution outlines not only our rights and freedoms as people but also the role and responsibilities for each and every sphere of government.

The constitution in essence, therefore, just like the Freedom Charter, presupposes a capable state that is able to deliver on the rights and expectations of the people, and this is what we are seized with as a country. This is why we are a performance-orientated government, so that we measure our outcomes and the effect we are having in improving the lives of our people.

Our constitution also enables us to enjoy our cultural diversity as a nation, and we seek to enhance social cohesion and identity by collectively rallying around common national symbols.

Internationally, we aspire to be both an enabler and a beneficiary of regional growth, and it remains our enduring desire to be one of the central agents in ensuring peace and stability on this continent.

We may be far from achieving our ideal society at this stage, but we have certainly made and are still set to make enormous strides in realising our vision of the free, equal and prosperous society that we set out to build.

All the work that Zuma is doing, leading government in all three spheres, is designed to take us to that ideal society. And it is achievable.

• Ntshabele is Director of Communications in the Office of the President.