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Opening Address by His Excellency, President Jacob Zuma to the 2017 Basic Education Sector Lekgotla, Saint George Hotel, Pretoria

Basic Education Minister, Mrs. Angie Motshekga,
Deputy Minister, Mr. Enver Surty,
All MECs present,
Director-General and Heads of Provincial Departments,
All Education Stakeholder Representatives,
Fellow South Africans,

It is indeed my honour and privilege to address this important Basic Education Sector Lekgotla.

We declared education an apex priority of the democratic Government in 2009.

Education is the ladder out of poverty and economic stagnation.

It is our primary weapon in the struggle for economic transformation, and in the quest for a better life for our people, especially the poor. It is for this reason that education gets the biggest slice of the national budget.

That is also the reason why this gathering is so important. You have all come together because you care about education, and care about the well-being of our children and youth.

As stakeholders, you are called upon to share your ideas and dedicate all your time and brainpower at this lekgotla, in the interests of strengthening and improving the country’s education system.

We will always prioritise the education of our children, because it is only through quality education that we can win our struggle against unemployment, poverty and inequality.

Our country’s Constitution enjoins us to provide quality and compulsory basic education to all South Africans irrespective of race, colour, creed, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, and disability.

We remain committed to meet this Constitutional directive.

As we converge here today, we also remember with fondness the finest son of the soil, the late ANC President and one of the key architects of our freedom and democracy, Mr Oliver Reginald Tambo.

Had he lived, he would have turned 100 years old, and this year marks his centenary.

We have thus decided to dedicate this year’s Basic Education Sector Lekgotla to Oliver Reginald Tambo.

President Oliver Tambo is celebrated for his exceptional leadership qualities and for providing direction during the darkest years of the struggle for liberation.

Importantly, President Tambo was also a teacher. He graduated with a B.Sc. degree in Mathematics and Physics from Fort Hare University. He then enrolled for a diploma in higher education although he could not complete it after he was expelled for his political activism.

He taught Physics and Mathematics for five years.

Later on, he completed his post-graduate degree in Law and went to open the first black-owned legal practice in Johannesburg with his friend and fellow comrade, President Nelson Mandela, the first President of a free and democratic South Africa.

President O.R. Tambo was indeed, for the better part of his adult life, an embodiment of all that was good and noble about the teaching profession and leadership. He was also the chief custodian of the principles of fundamental social change. This makes him the perfect role model for all educators in our country. They should study his life for inspiration.

We thus encourage all our teachers to honour, protect and advance the legacy of this outstanding educator, President Oliver Tambo.


As you meet today, it is against the background of good progress that has been made in education in the past 22 years.

We have made progress towards universal coverage of school going children. We have made progress in the introduction of Early Childhood Development.

We have progressively worked towards eliminating mud schools and inappropriate school structures, replacing them with state-of-the-art buildings, especially in historically neglected areas.

The Accelerated Schools Infrastructure Delivery Initiative Project, through which we eradicate the mud schools has gathered momentum over the years.

Government has now completed over one hundred and thirty five new state-of-the-art schools in the Eastern Cape, Western Cape and other provinces. We have also provided dignified sanitation, water and electricity to hundreds more schools.

To fight hunger and poverty in schools, we have expanded the school nutrition programmes or feeding schemes in both primary and secondary schools. The nutrition programme now reaches over nine million children every school day, who are given food free of charge to improve concentration and productivity.

We have also expanded access to free education for children from poor households. More than nine million children attend no fee schools, which is at least 80 percent of our schools. No child must be denied basic education because their parents are poor or deceased.

We have also made progress by steadily and emphatically improving Matric results.

In this regard, let me once again congratulate the Matric Class of 2016. They have worked hard and made us proud.


There are a number of other notable achievements we can cite, that we have scored since we declared education as an apex priority in 2009.

We have developed and distributed over one hundred and fifty million workbooks to learners from Grade R to 9, since 2009. We urge provinces where there could be a slow delivery of books this year to speed this up so that all children can have their books before the end of January.

Government pays for these books. Administrators must ensure that they reach our children on time every year.

We have also completed the Operation Phakisa in Education programme, which gave us a concrete plan that will accelerate progress towards using technology in education.

While we are happy with the progress made, government is also the first to concede that immense challenges still remain as we rebuild our education system.

We must do more to improve learner outcomes in Mathematics, Physical Science, Accounting and Languages. More children must be encouraged to take these subjects, and more teachers must be trained to teach these subjects. The Basic Education Department is working on these matters.

We must work hard to improve reading and literacy throughout our schooling system.

In this regard, I call upon all parents who are able to do so, to read to their children and to also encourage them to read. Let us not allow television to take away the time of our children to read. Parents should control the time spent by children watching television, so that it does not affect their school work.

Importantly, as stakeholders, I urge you to work together to stem the tide of drop outs from schools. Our own analysis shows that only less than 50 percent of all the learners who joined our education system reach matriculation level after 12 years of learning.

There are many reasons for this anomaly – mostly socio-economic reasons and social ills. Whether it is financial reasons, abuse of drugs or other social challenges, we need to tackle them together. We must keep our youth in school.

We collectively call upon all sectors of society to play their meaningful role to keep our youth in school. That is one of the key issues that this Lekgotla will be looking into.

We also convened this Lekgotla to reflect honestly on accountability throughout the basic education system.

I wish to emphasise that there must be consequences for principals and School Management Teams who recorded a zero percent pass rate. We must not allow any room in the public service for ineptitude and incompetence. Everyone must strive for excellence, more so in education.

I urge this meeting to pay special attention and develop concrete plans to attend to whatever problems exist in the underperforming districts, provinces and schools.

Let us attend to shortcomings and ensure that we continue improving performance in education.

We have no choice but to succeed. Education is our only weapon towards prosperity.

In conclusion, as Government we appreciate and acknowledge the positive contribution of our dedicated teachers and teacher unions, corporate South Africa, NGOs, principals’ associations, SGB Associations, learner formations, and civil society as a whole.

Working together, we shall ensure that our schools produce learners who are well-equipped to help us build inclusive growth and prosperity, when they graduate. 

I wish you all the best in your deliberations! 

I thank you.