President Jacob Zuma: Biennial National Conference of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies

22 Nov 2015

Address by President Jacob Zuma to the Biennial National Conference of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, Johannesburg

Former President Kgalema Motlanthe,
Minister Jeff Radebe,
Deputy Minister Ellen Molekane,
Madame Mary Kluk,
Ambassador Ronald Lauder, President of the World Jewish Congress,
The outgoing President of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies, Mr Zev Krengel
Members of the Diplomatic Corps
Ladies and gentlemen

I am truly pleased to join you today at this important conference.

The South African Jewish Board of Deputies adopted as its mission the objective of working for the betterment of human relations between the Jews and all other communities in South Africa, based on mutual respect, understanding and goodwill, and to protect the civil liberties of South African Jews.

Throughout the years you have applied this philosophy through a continual process of outreach, upliftment, skills development, health, and education. This outreach contributes to national developmental goals.

As we mark 21 years of freedom and democracy, we also reiterate the heroic role that our Jewish compatriots played during the dark days of struggle and are still playing to this day.

They did this as proud and patriotic South Africans who wanted to see an end to racism and racial oppression in their country.

The South African Jewish Community thus occupies a proud place in the history of the South African struggle for liberation across the various phases.

Activists from the Jewish community were among the first to organise the South African working class. They were among the founders of the International Socialist League formed in September 1915 whose centenary we are marking this year.

Six years later (1921) they were to occupy leading positions in the Communist Party of South Africa – the first Marxist-Leninist Party in Africa.

The following year, they were among those that tried, albeit without success, to re-direct the anger of white workers during the Rand Revolt of 1922 when white workers revolted against the admission of black workers into certain categories of skilled workers.

When our organisations were banned in 1960 and the entire liberation movement forced underground, our Jewish compatriots played a leading role in organising safe houses in suburbs and farms.

They could be found among those that forfeited everything and went underground risking arrest, imprisonment, and death.

Dennis Goldberg and James Kantor stood trial with the late stalwarts Nelson Mandela, Water Sisulu, and Govan Mbeki during the Rivonia Trial.

In prison Comrade Dennis was to be joined by the likes of the late David Rabkin. When the foundations of UMkhonto WeSizwe were laid, the late Joe Slovo and Lionel Bernstein were among the leading lights of the People’s Army.

Joe Slovo was to remain in MK ranks throughout the years of its existence until it was dissolved in 1993 – at one stage serving as its Chief of Special Operations and later as its Chief of Staff.

Comrade Slovo has the honour of being the first White compatriot to be admitted into the National Executive Committee of the ANC when the Kabwe Conference adopted the principle of “Open Membership” in 1985.

MK cadres will forever be grateful to Prof Jack Simons who lectured them in Politics and by so doing developed MK to be the rock it became.

There was also Eli Weinberg who shall forever be remembered as one of the best photographers of our movement. Most of the photographs of the “roaring fifties” were the work of his hands.

Today he lies buried side by side with his comrades at the SOMAFCO graveyard in Morogoro, Tanzania.

Some of our Jewish compatriots graced the corridors of our judicial system like the first Chief Justice of a democratic South Africa, Arthur Chaskalson, Albie Sachs, and Richard Goldstone.

I am raising all these examples to demonstrate that the struggle for freedom was largely non-racial struggle which sought to unite the people of our country against apartheid, a crime against humanity.

We need to never lose track of that history of unity and nonracialism even now as we build a new society.

Our mission as government guided by the ruling party the ANC is to build a united, non-racial, non-sexist and prosperous South Africa.

This is a South Africa that shuns racism, anti-Semitism and all forms of hate and discrimination against anyone based on their race or religion.

Working together we should continue educating society to be tolerant and understand the various cultures and traditions that make up our rainbow nation and to embrace diversity which is a hallmark of South Africa’s rainbow nation.

That is one aspect of nation building that we have not as yet succeeded in entrenching in our country.

We still have to do more to make our people move beyond the artificial divisions created by apartheid and reach out more to one another. We would be keen to work with the Jewish community as part of that nation building task.

We must also do more to promote solidarity especially as we face the problem unemployment, poverty, and inequality.

The global economic meltdown which has not subsided since 2008, has made the goal of promoting inclusive economic growth more elusive. You will recall that we had said we want to see a five percent growth by the year 2019.

We are far from that, but we do not want to revise this goal. We want to continue striving towards it working with all social partners especially business and labour.

Global growth stands at around three per cent. In this regard, it continues to fall short of the rate needed to enable us to make meaningful progress in creating work opportunities for our people.

The recovery was hampered by some new challenges, including a number of unexpected shocks, such as the downturn in the Chinese economy and the rising geopolitical conflicts in different parts of the world.

Other risk factors driving the slowdown include lower commodity prices, the strength of the US currency and its resultant disruptions in global financial markets.

South Africa’s economy is expected to expand at a pace of 1.4 per cent this year and around the same rate next year. Key risks to higher growth levels for the economy are electricity constraints, lower commodity prices and the slowdown in China.

Progress has been made by government in taking steps to reduce the binding constraints to long term growth.

Electricity generation has been increased by 800 megawatts following the launch of Medupi Unit 6. Eskom has been placed on a financially sustainable path and its management is in place. The Renewable Energy IPP is expected to add up to three thousand megawatts of generation capacity.

Solving the energy challenge is expected to add one percent to our growth rate.

The impact of the drought and water scarcity conditions in various parts of the country may have its own negative impact on the economy and jobs especially in the agricultural sector.

The threat of further job cuts in the mining and steel industry sectors is another serious cause for concern. We cannot afford to lose more jobs that have been lost already. We reiterate our call to employers not to use retrenchment as the first response to the economic crisis.

The threat of further job cuts in the mining and steel industry sectors is another serious cause for concern. We cannot afford to lose more jobs that have been lost already.

We reiterate our call to employers not to use retrenchment as the first response to the economic crisis.

It is a difficult situation indeed for the country. This is a period for us to minimize what keeps us apart.

Unity and solidarity are the most important weapons at our disposal at this time.

We should minimize shouting at each other and analysing what is wrong with what each one is doing and spend more time contributing to finding solutions.

We have, as a nation, adopted the New Development Plan (NDP) that will guide our development efforts for the next fifteen years.

We call upon our Jewish Community to participate actively as we implement the NDP towards the goal of building a truly united, non-racial, non-sexist and prosperous South Africa.

Compatriots and friends,

We meet during a difficult period with regards to global peace and security.

The organised attacks in Paris have brought sharp focus onto the problem of global terrorism. Our continent has also been hit hard with ongoing attacks in Nigeria, sporadic attacks in Kenya and this weekend with attacks in Mali and the Cameroon.

All these attacks wherever they occur, put the spotlight on the Middle East Peace Process.

It is difficult to imagine peace in the world without the achievement of peace in the Middle East.

South Africa continues to contribute to attempts at finding peace in the Middle East especially with the age-old Palestinian-Israeli question.

Last year I appointed senior ANC cadres, Dr Zola Skweyiya and Mr Aziz Pahad, as my special envoys to the Middle East Peace Process.

Since then, they have criss-crossed North Africa, the Middle East, and Southern Europe soliciting and exchanging views seeking a way forward out of the impasse.

We shall, in the future, invite to our shores different groups that are involved in the Middle East Peace Process so as to share with them our past experiences and to also exchange views with them.

We believe we have a lot of lessons to offer. We were able to put the past hatred and anger behind us and to work together to build a new society.  We have a responsibility to assure nations that are going through conflict that peace is possible and achievable.

On our part we believe that the key to peace in the Middle East is the establishment of a free and sovereign Palestinian State, co-existing in peace with the State of Israel, based on the borders of June 1967, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

That can only come about through genuine and peaceful negotiations by all affected parties without any pre-conditions.

Our Government holds the view that our support for a free Palestine is in no way against the existence of the State of Israel and the safety of the Israeli nation.

On the contrary, we believe that the establishment of the State of Palestine will lay a solid foundation for lasting peace in the Middle East.

We urge our Jewish community to remain seized with these efforts and to also make their contribution in bringing about a peaceful Middle East.

South Africa has something to offer in the promotion of peace and tolerance in the world.

We are therefore happy that your conference looks at the ills of global racism and anti-Semitism because South Africa must, in the memory of our founding president Nelson Mandela, continue to promote tolerance and understanding as well as global peace and security.

I wish you well with the conference and the rest of the programme this evening.

I thank you all.

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