Keynote speech given by the Minister for Public Service and Administration, Mr Senzo Mchunu, at the Africa Public Service Day Celebration
Directors General and Heads of Departments
Distinguished guests and friends
Ladies and Gentlemen
Thank you for joining us at this year’s Africa Public Service Day celebration event. Like you, I was not planning to celebrate such an auspicious day on the African Union calendar during a time of a pandemic that is wreaking havoc across the world. Yet, here we are in this unfamiliar terrain, wearing face masks and observing social distancing to protect ourselves and the people we engage with as we work to ensure the effective functioning of the Public Service during the nationwide lockdown as declared by President Cyril Ramaphosa on 22 March 2020.
We are going through one of the most difficult periods in the history of humankind. Nowhere has there been a time since I have lived when one wakes up in the morning and one of the first things to do would be to check the number of people who have passed on due to Covid-19. We are learning a lot through this process and we are taking those lessons to the future.
It is now almost three months since our country went into lockdown in response to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. We all know and agree that this nationwide lockdown is necessary to save the lives of our people without whom our democracy would not be able to function as envisioned in our Constitution.
Impact of lockdown on delivery of public services
As Government, we are aware that the lockdown has caused great disruption to all our lives, our economy, and the efficient and effective delivery of public services to our citizens. To minimise the effect of this disruption on the delivery of essential public services, the DPSA has provided government departments with a guide on what should be viewed as critical and essential services during the nation-wide lockdown. These services are being delivered to our citizens by a cohort of essential public service workers at great risk to themselves and their immediate families.
Many African countries have embarked on similar measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus pandemic without compromising the delivery of critical public services. It is therefore fitting that we gather at this year’s Africa Public Service Day celebration to affirm the importance of quality service delivery to communities, even during a time of pandemic.
Origins of Africa Public Service Day
As you are aware, Africa Public Service Day is an event entrenched in the African Union calendar. It originates from the conference of African Ministers for Public or Civil Service that was held in Tangier, Morocco in 1994. This conference agreed that 23 June should be celebrated annually as Africa Public Service Day to recognise the value and virtue of service to the community.
Africa Public Service Day aims to promote public sector innovations, reward excellence in the public sector, motivate public servants to promote innovation, enhance professionalism in the public service, raise the image of Public Service, enhance trust in government, and encourage the sharing of best practices for possible replication within a country as well as across the African continent.
As we are celebrating this Africa Public Service Day in the midst of a global pandemic that is directly impacting on service delivery to our people, the sub-theme of this year’s Africa Public Service Day, which is “Delivering services and promoting sustainable development more efficiently and effectively”, is most appropriate.
Celebrating commitment from public servants
Delivering quality services in a sustained manner is what the public administration is all about; whether it is the delivery of basic services to households at a municipal level, the delivery of face-value documents such as birth certificates and passports to citizens, or delivering quality basic education to our children. In celebrating the continuous and sustained delivery of quality services to our citizens as per the sub-theme of this year’s Africa Public Service Day, we must recognise the hard work and commitment of all those public sector officials at the frontline of service delivery who, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, report to their respective work stations to deliver essential goods and services to our people. Through their actions, these essential workers bring into being the true meaning of public service professionalism and the ethos of Batho Pele; of putting people first, irrespective of the challenges at hand.
In recognition of the immense contribution of all government essential workers to the delivery of quality services, I want to echo the words of President Cyril Ramaphosa by thanking all our essential public sector workers who are heeding the call to stop the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic whilst providing uninterrupted essential services to our people. Addressing the nation on 23 March 2020, President Ramaphosa said:
“On behalf of the nation, I would also like to thank the health workers, our doctors, nurses and paramedics who are on the frontline of the pandemic, our teachers, border officials, police and traffic officers and all the other people who have been leading our response”.
Indeed, we salute these officials for their dedication and service to the nation. As a caring and consultative Government, we continuously engage with officials working in the public administration system through various structures, including their labour union bodies, and we have heard their concerns and calls for more support in the containment and management of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As a responsive Government, we are addressing these concerns with a firm commitment to do everything in our power to provide maximum support to our public servants as they execute their duties. To this effect, the DPSA has issued Circular No.7 of 2020 that outlines measures for the containment and management of COVID-19 in the Public Service, which include the provision of necessary tools to protect public service workers and contain the spread of the virus.
As a learning Government, we know that Public Service workers are an invaluable asset in the attainment of our national vision goal of building a Capable and Developmental State as outlined in our National Development Plan. South Africa certainly needs a developmental Sate that tackles the root causes of poverty, inequality and unemployment that is impacting on the quality of life of our citizens. But for a developmental State to materialise, we need a Capable, Career-orientated and Professional Public Service that delivers quality services efficiently and effectively. To this effect, various initiatives are being undertaken in partnership with academia and other stakeholders to professionalise the Public Service and introduce sustainable mechanisms for career-pathing and mentoring. At this juncture, it is also appropriate that we express our heartfelt condolences to family members, friends and relatives of all public servants who passed on in the line of duty. We also wish those who are currently going through this difficult period a speedy recovery and wish strength to those who continue to serve the public even during these trying times, some of whom have also been victims of Covid-19, but managed to conquer it.
Delivering uninterrupted services amidst Covid-19
The onset of COVID-19 requires us to fast-track the administrative reforms identified in the NDP that are critical for the efficient and effective delivery of public services to our people. These reforms include a resolute focus on clear objectives and outcomes, higher standards, improved productivity, and the modernisation of the public administration system to deliver the services the public needs. The Covid-19 pandemic has also brought new challenges to public administration to the fore. These challenges has to be explored at a national level and across the African continent.
As the South African Government’s Focal Point and newly appointed Chairperson of the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM), I will use my role to ensure that these emerging challenges are unpacked and addressed at a continental level. One of these challenges is ensuring that as many people as possible benefit from the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), especially the new technologies associated with this wave of change, so that they are able to remotely access public services during a national lockdown.
The Fouth Industrial Revolution is perhaps one of the greatest transformations human civilisation has ever known; and Africa cannot be left behind. This industrial revolution is transforming nearly every human activity: the way we produce goods and deliver services; the way we communicate and interact with each other as humans; the way we learn; the way we work; the way we govern; and the way we do business. Its scope, speed and reach are unprecedented; and Africa must not be left behind.
If, at the level of the African Union and the APRM processes, we get the Fourth Industrial Revolution right by harnessing its benefits, digitalisation will benefit the entire continent and its people. If we get it wrong, the continent will once again be divided into winners and losers, social strife and anarchy will rise, the glue that holds communities and societies together will disintegrate, and citizens will lose trust in the ability of governments to enforce the rule of law, provide security, and deliver public services in an equitable, efficient and effective manner.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution is therefore not just about technology; it is about the kind of future we want to create for ourselves and the entire continent. It is, as this year’s overarching theme of Africa Public Service Day states: building and sustaining peaceful co-existence in communities. And public administration in Africa must play its part in this pivotal societal revolution.
It is during this time of the coronavirus pandemic, and the rapid changes it has brought about in the delivery of public services to our people, that the Batho Pele Value Statement becomes a source of inspiration as we affirm that We Belong (to our people), We Care (about our people), We Serve (our people). Now, more than ever, this value statement rings true.
I thank you.