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Deputy President David Mabuza: 25th Annual National Summit of NEDLAC

8 Dec 2020

Remarks by His Excellency Mr David Mabuza, Deputy President of the Republic of South Africa at the 25th Annual Summit of The National Economic Development and Labour Council

Programme Director, Deputy Minister of Employment and Labour Ms Boitumelo Moloi,
Minister of Employment and Labour, Mr Thembelani Nxesi, 
NEDLAC Executive Director, Ms Lisa Seftel, 
South Africa’s Ambassador to Spain, Ms Thenjiwe Mtintso,
International Labour Organisation Director-General, Mr Guy Ryder,
Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection  Executive Director, Mr Joel Netshitenzhe,
Members of NEDLAC’s Government, Organised Labour, Business, and Community Constituencies,
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen:

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the establishment of the National Economic Development and Labour Council, hence the 25th Annual Summit. NEDLAC was one of the first post-apartheid institutions established at the birth of our democracy. 

Over the 25 years, NEDLAC sought to consolidate our democratic revolution and has proven to be an indispensable institution, and platform for the promotion of equitable participation and representative social dialogue. This fits in well with the value that the post-democratic government put on consultation, participation and inclusivity. 

The organisers of this Annual National Summit, requested some remarks on the theme of “Social Compacting for Economic Recovery in the Time of Covid-19”. This is an important theme when government is galvanised to lead society to address the cumulative effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

At this moment, not only has South Africa and the world been confronted with a once in a century disruptive event – the Covid-19 pandemic, but we have had to address it in a situation of economic distress. 

The Covid-19 pandemic and economic crisis, has taken a toll on all South Africans. Moreover, we face the possibility of a resurgence of the virus – not only as we move into the December period, but also at the start of the year as travellers return to work, and later as we move from summer to winter. 

In the beginning, when the pandemic reached our shores, our response was to ensure that our health care system has the capacity to carry the increasing burden of treatment for those infected by Covid-19 in order to save lives, while ensuring that the provision of normal health care services is not adversely affected.

The raft of measures we had to implement to contain the virus and flatten the curve of new infections, included the implementation of nationwide lockdown that impacted on economic activities and jobs. Whereas these measures have assisted a great deal in preventing a catastrophe, we regret that many of our compatriots lost their lives, including frontline workers who died in the line duty.

Nevertheless, we are of the view that if it was not for organised business, labour and community in their own constituencies and working collectively at NEDLAC, we would have been worse off in our response to the pandemic and nationwide lockdown. 

In the same vein, we would like to applaud your efforts in supporting each other, the efforts at income replacement through the Covid-19 Temporary Employer-Employee Relief Scheme, the payment or contribution holidays that were negotiated, the collaboration and provision of technical expertise for example to introduce innovation in social grants, and the rapid mobilisation of much needed funds by the Solidarity Fund. 

Further, I understand that there has been more agreement and speedy collaboration than ever before at NEDLAC on issues such as health and safety in the workplace, measures to make transport safer and the promotion of locally produced personal protective equipment or PPEs. 

More than any other time in recent history, the role and function of NEDLAC is an existential necessity, to assist in mobilising confidence and credibility for the economic reconstruction and recovery plan. 

Ladies and Gentlemen

Government also welcomes and has embraced the speedy work of the social partners, in delivering a social compact to turn the economy around. The widening trust deficit between government, labour and business demands full support of the structural interventions and enablers contained in the economic reconstruction and recovery plan. 

We are committed to the speedy implementation, especially of necessary structural reforms and long outstanding measures in areas such as energy security and digital migration.  And we are further committed to work with social partners where implementation requires a co-ordinated approach, as well as continue to discuss difficult issues that can make our economic recovery sustainable and enduring. 

As we have said before, the National Development Plan, like the economic reconstruction and recovery plan, is not the responsibility of government alone. Its effective implementation requires the participation of all stakeholders to decisively deal with the socio-economic challenges of poverty and inequality. Without addressing these socio-economic challenges, then the foundation to nation building and social cohesion will not become sustainable. 

Equally, it demands of the private sector to assimilate these blueprints, into their strategic and operational plans. Surely, it is not enough to reduce community empowerment to a ticking-box exercise through corporate social responsibility. 

Hence, it was reassuring to hear the leader of Business Unity South Africa, earlier this year acknowledge that “the levels of inequality in our country is now an economic risk” and that “purposeful partnerships” are necessary to “get our economy, our democracy and our wonderful country back on track”.

Let us agree, that economic inequality undermines human rights for women and young people who remain largely excluded from the economic mainstream. The fault lines of inequality encourage not only absence of shared social cohesion, but contribute to the deligitimisation of both the public and private sectors. 

In measuring ourselves to deliver a better life for all since 1994, it will be on the basis of extending people’s capabilities which translates to what Amartya Sen calls “substantive freedom”. The capability approach espoused by Sen amounts to giving citizens and communities opportunities and levers to empower themselves since, as Sen says, “freedoms are not only the primary ends of development, they are also among its primary means”.      

Therefore, we cannot advance nation building and social cohesion without socio-economic inclusion, without removing the barriers of entry for small businesses, and without integrating women and youth in activities that significantly improves the elemental conditions of their lives. In fact, social cohesion is directly shaped by the material levels of equality. 

In our quest to build a sustainable future that is premised on achieving among others spatial equality, as government we are prioritising the inclusion of women, youth and people with disabilities in the unfolding land reform programme. Attending to the land question is justifiably important for meaningful nation building and for unlocking untapped agricultural and industrial economic potential for the country’s development. 

In our view, failure to address the land question is unsustainable and the prevailing condition, provides a fertile ground for social discord and political instability. In finalising the land reform programme, we also look to NEDLAC as a demonstrable platform for consultation, participation and social compacting, to once again play a key role in taking that process to its logical conclusion.

Programme Director

We consider this 2020 Summit as particularly special, since it is an occasion to sign the Framework Agreement for a Social Compact on supporting Eskom for Inclusive Economic Growth. Purposeful partnerships through social compacting, are important to support the enhancement of our maturing democracy and the bureaucracy critical for provision of basic services in a non-partisan manner.  

This is the main premise and argument of the Indlulamithi Scenarios which say that “levels of interpersonal and intergroup trust” are about the shared expression of common values and a common vision as encapsulated in our country’s Bill of Rights and the National Development Plan.

That is why we are excited to be witnessing the signing of this Social Compact, as it signifies confidence in Eskom and its importance to the South African economy. This is in sync with the work of the Eskom Political Task Team that is chaired by the Deputy President to bring together key players within government towards the resolution of challenges facing Eskom. The resolution to the ongoing Eskom matter and stabilisation of energy supply is critical to inclusive economic growth, employment creation and poverty reduction. 

The negotiation of this Social Compact began about a year ago when we were all seized with the energy crisis facing our country – with the prospects of load shedding and high electricity prices. This year has seen significant stabilisation of Eskom operations under the current leadership, and with the support of the Eskom Political Task Team, there is a clear path towards energy security.

The Social Compact remains relevant and will be an important vehicle to hold Eskom to account to rectify the problems of the past, and serve the people of South Africa with sustainable supply of electricity going forward.

It is sincerely encouraging that the social partners, representing diverse constituencies and institutional mandates, managed to find common ground on a pragmatic and sensible programme of action, with clearly identifiable timelines and milestones to, amongst others:

Identify and support innovative cost-effective funding mechanisms to reduce Eskom’s debt, and
Identify measures to assist Eskom and government to access fresh capital where required. 

We therefore look for your active participation beyond these noble ideals because in our view, as the Eskom Political Task Team, the debt and liquidity challenges of this strategic asset, call for extraordinary interventions to ensure that Eskom is supported and brought back into operational and financial sustainability. As government, we are fully behind the management of Eskom and we seek nothing other than its success. 

Ladies and Gentlemen 

Later in this Summit we will be addressed by the Director-General of the International Labour Organisation, Mr Guy Ryder. This is indeed a privilege for NEDLAC to attract so eminent a person to address  us. The ILO has been leading discussions on the Future of Work and have identified  key drivers namely climate change, technological innovation, demographics shift and globalisation. 

Indeed,  the Covid-19 pandemic has to great extent  fast tracked some of these drivers. Government thus recognises the urgency in which we should be responding to and harnessing the positive opportunities posed by the Future of Work while mitigating against the adverse impacts that are posed by automation and artificial intelligence, for example. 

It also requires of the social partners to deliberate on the necessary changes to our skills strategy, labour legislation and social security dispensation so that the ideal of Decent Work can continue to be realised under these new conditions.  For us in the Human Resource Development Council, we recognise that Covid-19 has made more urgent the need to develop skills and training that is innovation-led, entrepreneurial-focused, and technologically advanced. 

In this regard, we would like to acknowledge the recent collaboration with the ILO on a series of webinars on the Future of Work, and we trust that the recommendations coming from these dialogues will be taken forward in the New Year.

The NEDLAC Annual Summit is also the occasion where the Annual Report of the prior year is released to the public.  Due to the lockdown, Annual Reports are being released later than usual after the conclusion of the Financial Year, nevertheless NEDLAC should be congratulated on the successful release of its annual report. It demonstrates that the vast majority of Performance Indicators were achieved and an unqualified audit was obtained. 

Perhaps after a quarter of a century, it is an appropriate time to reflect on the role of NEDLAC and perhaps to ask the question about its relevance, and whether it is still fit for purpose. We understand that this question was posed a year ago at the 24th Annual Summit, out of concern and frustration that social partners were not able to proactively and together address joblessness and poor economic growth.

Government is of the view that the actions of the social partners at NEDLAC has answered the question of NEDLAC’s relevance. However, the question of whether NEDLAC is fit to achieve the relevant roles it has taken on this year in respect of not only economic recovery and responding to the Covid-19 pandemic; but extending decent working conditions to increasing the number of atypical and informal workers as well as embracing the future of work, must still be addressed with urgency.

Compatriots and Friends, 

The Eskom Social Compact and the Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan deserve our full support. There is no room for apathy and cynicism. There is no tangible benefit in being enemies of hope. Rather, we all benefit together when we are friends to optimism.

NEDLAC is an appropriate platform that is capacitated to pursue issues for which we have a common interest. 

We must spare no effort in repositioning NEDLAC to become a relevant platform of social dialogue in our country. If we are to build NEDLAC into a vibrant and agile institution that is fit-for-purpose, we have to move swiftly to amend its founding legislative instruments so that there is inclusion and participation of the Community Constituency in all Chambers and structures of NEDLAC. 

Consensus is built through negotiation and not coercion. We reach a win-win outcome if we do not become entrenched to our private interests, but prioritise the common welfare. Compromise and trade-offs are central in this instance and not the pursuit of a zero-sum game where eventually, no one comes out a winner. 

In this regard, communication is a key tool to employ, not only the constituencies we represent but also to get the buy-in of the citizens and broader communities of our country. We mention this, since part of the Eskom Social Compact is about the revival of the campaign to encourage our people to pay for basic municipal services and to stop illegal electricity connections. Doing so is in our best interest, as we mark this significant milestone in NEDLAC’s existence.  

We wish you well in today’s deliberations. Let us take the ideas that will emerge from these deliberations forward, in ensuring that we deepen equitable participation and representative social dialogue.

I thank you!

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