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Address by President Cyril Ramaphosa at the Presidential Social Sector Summit, Birchwood Hotel, Ekurhuleni

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Programme Director, Minister of Social Development, Ms Lindiwe Zulu,
Ministers and Deputy Ministers,
Representatives of civil society organisations,
Representatives of NEDLAC,
Representatives of development agencies and all participating organisations,
Colleagues,

Four years since I spoke of the need for this Social Sector Summit in my first State of the Nation Address, and after many months of preparation, it is wonderful that we have finally been able to convene.

There were a number of factors that delayed the convening of this Summit, not least of which was the COVID-19 pandemic.

With our country and indeed the world now in the process of recovery, I want to thank and salute civil society organisations for their role in the national effort to contain and overcome the pandemic.

There are few words to describe the pride and gratitude we felt as a country as we saw our resilient and committed non-governmental organisations serving the South African people during those difficult days.

Where government had capacity and resource constraints, civil society stepped into the breach.

Where government rolled out relief programmes and initiatives, civil society provided support.

The partnership, collaboration and alignment between government and civil society organisations during the pandemic was an example of how we can work, and how we must work, to overcome our society’s many challenges.

It was a model from which we can draw many lessons as we strive to ensure that our Bill of Rights is not mere words on paper, but that it is translated into progress and prosperity for every South African man, woman and child.

A strong, vibrant and activist civil society is key to the development of any nation.

It is therefore critical that the interface between government and civil society is improved and strengthened.

We have a common appreciation that we are all heading in the same direction and on the same road towards the realisation of a better South Africa.

We know that to reach this goal we have to be partners, and not adversaries.

But at the same time, we have an expectation that where we falter or fall short, that we will hold each other to our promises.

There is an expectation that we can require transparency and accountability of each other.

Since before the dawn of democracy, civil society organisations in South Africa have taken up the causes of the marginalised, the oppressed and the vulnerable.

From the HIV/Aids pandemic to substance abuse, from poverty to illiteracy, from unemployment to gender-based violence, civil society has been crafting constructive strategies and driving collaborative approaches that put the needs of the poor first.

At the height of the HIV/Aids pandemic in in the late 1990s to mid-2000s, civil society movements waged a brave and principled struggle against stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV.

Just as civil society fought to ensure equitable access to anti-retroviral treatment, South African civil society bodies are supporting the global advocacy for equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines. 

Just as civil society advocated for legal reform to tackle discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in the early days of our democracy, civil society continues to speak out against practices and beliefs that discriminate against the LGBTQI+ community.

Just as civil society has consistently confronted entrenched practices that are discriminatory and harmful to women and girls, it now plays a key role in the fight against gender-based violence and femicide.

Twenty-eight years into our democracy, the role of civil society is as critical as ever. 

Poverty, unemployment and inequality remain the most pressing challenges facing South Africa.

Our society is confronted by lawlessness, crime and corruption, gender-based violence, hunger and malnutrition.

Over the past few days, we have witnessed scenes of violent protest, damage to public infrastructure and, in some cases, loss of life in areas such as Kagiso in the West Rand and Tembisa in Ekurhuleni.

These incidents are of grave concern and highlight many of the challenges our country faces. 

As we address these incidents, we need to distinguish between legitimate protest and criminality, addressing the concerns and grievances of communities, while acting to prevent loss of life and destruction of property.

We can all understand the public outrage in Kagiso sparked by the gang rape of eight young women last week and we all deeply and sincerely share in the pain of the victims, their families and the neighbouring communities.

Police are hard at work with investigations.

As we commend the police for apprehending suspected illegal miners and shutting down their operations, they must double their efforts in catching those responsible for the heinous crime of gang raping the young women.

This horrific crime is a reminder that as government, and as a society, we must do more to tackle gender-based violence.

Over the last few years, as a result of cooperation between government and civil society, we have strengthened the response of the criminal justice system to such crimes.

As part of the National Strategic Plan against GBVF, we have enacted new legislation and focused on the capacity of the SAPS, National Prosecuting Authority and courts to better support survivors and prosecute offenders.

We know that the NPA continues to place special emphasis on prosecuting these crimes, obtaining a conviction rate of 74%.

We want to encourage the National Prosecuting Authority and the Police to do more in their common efforts in the fight gender-based violence and femicide.

Government, represented by the South African Police Service and the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy, will convene an Imbizo with the community of Kagiso over the weekend to interrogate issues of illegal mining and crime.

As government, we remain steadfastly committed in our fight against corruption.

In the last financial year, for example, the specialised commercial crimes unit finalised 380 cases with a 90% conviction rate.

Over that period, 380 government officials were convicted for corruption and related crimes, whilst 209 people were convicted for private sector crimes.

The Asset Forfeiture Unit has completed 370 confiscations estimated at a value of R406 million.

There are currently 82 state capture cases are under investigation with 65 accused persons enrolled for prosecution in 20 cases.

There is clearly much more that needs to be done, but the fight against corruption is gaining momentum.

Overcoming these and other challenges requires all sectors of society to bring their respective capabilities together and unite behind a common vision.

Civil society organisations are where our people are, whether as NGOs, as community, professional and faith-based organisations, as academia or as worker representative organisations.

One of the priorities of this administration is to drive people-centred, localised development through the District Development Model.

It seeks to promote an approach to development that takes into account needs, circumstances and priorities on the ground. 

Now more than ever we count on your breadth and diversity of knowledge, experience and expertise to work with us, but also to guide us on what interventions are needed, where, how and on the best way to allocate scarce resources.

Civil society reaches where business and government often cannot.

You have a solid track record of organic interventions and activations that yield results.

For this reason, this summit is crucial, for us to align our efforts and actions.

Our most pressing priority right now is recovery from the pandemic.

We are hard at work implementing the Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan to grow our economy and create jobs.

It is only through a stronger economy that we will be able to lift millions out of poverty, expand the rollout of comprehensive social support, improve the delivery of services and create employment so people can lead lives of dignity.

We have listened to your ideas and proposals on how to drive an inclusive and equitable economic recovery that leaves no one behind.

We also thank you for your participation in the ongoing process to develop a comprehensive social compact.

As civil society organisations continue with their difficult work they are confronted with challenges that demand our attention.

Foremost among these are financial constraints.

Like your global counterparts, South African civil society has been impacted by fewer resources, reprioritisation of donor budgets, worsening economic conditions and other factors.

Many civil society organisations are struggling to find money to keep their doors open, to pay their staff and to implement their programmes.

The COVID-19 pandemic has only worsened their situation.

Currently, government invests substantially in supporting the work of civil society organisations through the Department of Social Development.

In addition, the National Development Agency provides grant funding and capacity building to the sector.

We have to work collectively to develop sustainable and consistent funding streams for civil society, including emerging community-based organisations.

The second challenge is a capacity shortage that undermines the effectiveness of organisations.

I have heard reports of some civil society organisations being unable to submit annual reports as required by the NPO Act simply because they lack the expertise.

Besides a lack of professional skills, there are difficulties with recruiting highly qualified personnel.

Qualified staff are often lost to government and other sectors because civil society organisations cannot pay competitive salaries.

Civil society needs an enabling regulatory framework.

Many social sector organisations find that onerous red tape is holding them back.

In this regard, the Department of Social Development has published the Non-Profit Organisations Amendment Bill.

It seeks to strengthen the existing regulatory regime and make it more relevant to the prevailing environment, but without constraining the sector.

The Bill seeks to increase efficiencies and reduce red tape.

This is in recognition of the benefit civil society brings to policy-making and to the provision of services in our society.

We must acknowledge that corruption has contributed to the funding challenges the sector is facing.

By way of example, the Special Investigating Unit has uncovered how some civil society organisations were set up with the sole intention to loot the National Lotteries Commission.

This denied legitimate and deserving organisations the opportunity to access funding.

It is good that the investigations are progressing, that a number of arrests have been made and that civil action is being considered against a number of implicated individuals.

At the same time we must acknowledge that there needs to be greater accountability and transparency in the sector itself.

It is unacceptable for the lion’s share of donor and other funding to be spent on paying senior staff or funding lifestyles, instead of programmes.

High standards of governance, proper accounting and due diligence must apply.

This Summit has provided an opportunity to hear more about these challenges and how they can be overcome.

It has been an opportunity to hear more about work civil society organisations are doing in communities across the country, having taken stock of the reports that have come from all provinces through the Provincial Dialogues and roundtables.

Colleagues and friends,

The signing of the Social Sector Framework Agreement today is a milestone.

We are establishing a more comprehensive and inclusive framework for collaboration that recognises, supports and empowers civil society.

It sets the basis for us to foster a strong state-civil society partnership to tackle poverty, inequality and employment, and to deepen democratic participation. 

We must seize this opportunity to deep our collaboration as we build a better South Africa that leaves no-one behind.

I would like to thank all representatives of civil society organisations that have been part of this process.

I would also like to thank the Department of Social Development, the NEDLAC Community Constituency and the Presidency for guiding this process.

I have no doubt that government, civil society and all social partners will continue to work together meaningfully beyond this Summit, as we have done for many years, to improve the lives of our people and build a better country.

I thank you.