As South Africans hold the Father of the Nation, Nelson Mandela in our thoughts and prayers during his stay in hospital, we are reminded of his lifelong commitment to create the great nation we are today.
Madiba has made an indelible mark on our society, having overseen our transition from apartheid to a society that is built on the pillars of democracy, freedom and human rights for all.
In the same vein and during this trying period, the government is touched by the flood of good wishes and prayers that have been offered at the Mediclinic Heart Hospital and across the country. The public response has reflected the emotional mood of a country whose identity is closely linked to Madiba. The response by South Africans displayed the values and unity of ubuntu, which are the cornerstone of our democracy.
This sense of togetherness and belonging is one of the many legacies of Madiba and a demonstration that South Africa is truly a rainbow nation united in its diversity, as well as a demonstration of the leadership qualities of our icon.
Every July we have the opportunity to reaffirm Madiba’s ideals, including his unwavering commitment to justice, equality and a non-racial South Africa.
During Mandela Month a special emphasis is placed the former President’s birthday, July 18. Mandela Day was launched in New York on July 18 2009. On November 10, that year the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution declaring it “Nelson Mandela International Day”. Locally the day is dedicated to his work and that of his charitable organisations as part of ensuring his legacy lives on.
Spurring on the nation’s preparations for Mandela Day, President Jacob Zuma called on all South Africans to begin planning for Madiba's birthday. He said: “We must all be able to do something good for humanity on this day, in tribute to our former President.''
The government encourages South Africans to give 67 minutes of their time to help change their communities and the country for the better. The theme for Mandela Month this year is “Take Action, Inspire Change. Make Every Day a Mandela Day”, with a focus on food security, shelter and literacy.
It is simple acts of kindness such as painting a classroom, visiting an old age home, helping to clean a park or even repairing water leaks that make the day special. The government also invites our society to join the Department of Basic Education in improving education. In partnership with the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, the department has started to improve conditions at schools through its 94+ Schools Infrastructure Project.
The project has its roots in Mandela’s commitment to education, and his efforts to build an equitable education system. The government has continued this legacy. Since 200, massive inroads have been made in reducing the backlog in schools infrastructure. Plans are in place to replace 200 inappropriate schools across the country, including the provision of sanitation to 869 schools, water to 448 and electricity to 369.
This month, the Department of Basic Education will also hand over new schools every week as part of its commitment to improve education. This year’s Mandela Day will see the start of the phase rollout of the smart ID card. This is part our programme to restore the dignity of most people by ensuring that all citizens have a common national identity. The Smart ID breaks with our past and signals an end to the passbook era, which was used to curtail the right to access resources and services.
Nelson Mandela’s legacy also lives on in the successes of Reconstruction and Development Programme, which saw basic services delivered to millions of people who never had them before.
Almost 20 years on we steadfastly deliver on our socio-economic promises. Census 2011 shows that school enrolment for the six-year-olds increased from 49.1 per cent in 1996 to 92.7 in 2011, while the enrolment of seven-year-olds increased from 73.1 per cent in 1996 to 96.1 per cent in 2011.
Households with access to piped water increased from 80.3 per cent in 1996 to 91.2 per cent in 2011. There has been an increase in the number of households that use electricity for lighting from 58.2 per cent in 1996 to 84.7 per cent in 2011. Households that use electricity for cooking increased from 47.5 per cent to 73.9 per cent over the same period.
The priority of addressing the massive housing backlog experienced in 1994 continues. The government plans to build 409 143 houses over the next three years for households with a monthly income of less than R3 500.
The government continues to support poorer households, social spending accounts for 60 per cent of our budget. Almost a third of the population receive social grants, the government pays for free services at public health facilities, the provision of water and electricity in poor communities and poorer pupils have access to no-fee schools.
Our prudent macro-economic policy and sound fiscal management implemented during Mandela’s presidency continue. Our public debt was reduced from nearly 50 per cent of GDP in 1994 to 23 per cent in 2008. While it has since increased as a result of the global economic crisis, we are committed to bring it back to its previous level.
As a nation, we should honour Madiba by enjoying our democratic rights and freedoms responsibly; his legacy lives on through our democratic dispensation which he ushered in.
The government remains determined to ensure that all South Africans, without exception enjoy all the rights enshrined in our Constitution.
South Africans, too, have a responsibility to promote freedom and defend our democracy in honour of Madiba’s lifelong commitment to these ideals.
Let us all heed the call to action and make our icon proud as we make this year’s Mandela Day the most memorable one ever.
Let us continue to keep the father of our nation in our thoughts and prayers. As Madiba has united us as a nation, we must pray and work together to tackle all challenges facing the country.
Phumla Williams is Acting CEO of the Government Communications and Information System (GCIS)