/ 23 December 2023

ANC’s Mbalula reflects on our hopes, fears

Gettyimages 94656720 (1)
Progress: Since the country held its first democratic elections in 1994, more than 1  700 clinics and 56 hospitals have been built and the National Health Insurance Bill has been passed. In terms of housing, 88.5% of the population lives in formal housing. Photo: Louise Gubb/Corbis/Getty Images

On 27 April 1994, millions of South Africans, young and old, black and white, urban and rural, stood in long, snaking queues waiting to vote. All determined to make their mark, voting their hopes and their fears for the future. 

As we assess 30 years of democracy, we too should look to the future, knowing where we came from.

The ANC won a decisive majority in 1994 and, based on the negotiated settlement, formed an inclusive Government of National Unity for the first five years of democracy. 

The task of that government, led by Nelson Mandela, was to dismantle apartheid (its laws, institutions and policies), build non-racial, non-sexist institutions of state, while at the same time to begin to address the basic needs of all South Africans, rebuild the economy and ensure the writing of the Constitution. On top of it, our nation had to conduct the painful process of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission; painful for victims and perpetrators alike.

Thus, in the first State of the Nation address on 24 May 1994, Mandela pledge the ANC-led government of national unity to be mindful that: “Our definition of the freedom of the individual must be instructed by the fundamental objective to restore the human dignity of each and every South African. My government’s commitment to create a people-centred society of liberty binds us to the pursuit of the goals of freedom from want, freedom from hunger, freedom from deprivation, freedom from ignorance, freedom from suppression and freedom from fear.”

Thirty years later, based on that pledge, South Africa is a different place from what it was on 27 April 1994, and our hopes and fears are different as a nation, as a result of the foundation laid by generations before us. 

Our schools, universities and other institutions of learning are open to all, and our debates as a nation are about the quality of learning and teaching, how to improve infrastructure, teaching coding, artificial intelligence and decoloniality, and funding models to allow more access to education. 

The latest 2022 census shows that we are making progress in eliminating illiteracy, down from close to 20% in 1996 to below 7% in 2022. More children under the age of five are in early childhood education, more than 35% of the population obtained a matric, and each year over one million students enrolled in universities. 

The same goes for other basic services. As parliament this month passed the National Health Insurance Bill, 84% of South Africans depend on the public health system for their needs. Thus, since 1994 we have built more than 1  700 clinics and 56 hospitals. 

Census 2022 also shows that 88.5% of households now live in formal dwellings; 94.7% have electricity for lighting; four-fifths (82.4%) have piped water either inside their dwelling or their yard and 70% have access to flush toilets. The number of households with no access to the internet went down from nearly 65% in 2011 to 21% in 2022. 

Mandela committed our country to relentlessly wage the war on poverty, and the need for South Africa to have a comprehensive social security system that provides dignity to our most vulnerable. Thus more than 18  million people are beneficiaries of a combination of grants that include the disability grant, grants for older persons and war veterans, child support and foster child grants, and care dependency grants. More than nine million children receive a meal when they come to school.

We have a vibrant, non-racial, non-sexist democracy, with continual improvements to the rights of workers, and a relentless commitment to the emancipation of women. Our Constitution of 1996 guarantees our basic freedoms and human dignities, forces the government to progressively work to make these real, and we have robust institutions to monitor and enforce the Constitution, such as our Chapter 9 institutions, parliament’s oversight role and the role of our courts, including the constitutional court.

The South African economy has changed, albeit at a slower pace, with the size of the economy tripling since 1994, and the number of people employed has risen from 8.9  million in 1994 to more than 16  million in 2022. The middle class has expanded and a minimum wage to protect workers at the bottom of the rung has been introduced. 

Over the three decades, infrastructure spending remained a priority, to address the huge backlog of the past, as well as cater for a growing and urbanising population. This included social infrastructure such as houses, clinics, community centres, schools, roads, water and sanitation infrastructure, sport facilities including stadiums, economic infrastructure such as power stations, upgrading of ports and airports, roads, bridges, and industrial parks. 

We also had to steer the integration of South Africa into the global community, a community from which it has been isolated for decades as a pariah apartheid state. Africa and the world welcomed us, but also expected us to immediately take up responsibilities as part of global humanity: in the Organisation of African Unity, the United Nations, the Commonwealth and Non-Aligned Movement, but also be part of new institutions to ensure a voice for the Global South. 

We were expected to play our role in aiding peace in Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Palestine, Côte d’Ivoire, Sri Lanka, Timor East and Ireland, and over the 30 years this list kept growing. 

These were the achievements of our democracy. But, as our founding father also reminded us, we are bound to face challenges and make mistakes. 

Some of the greatest challenges have been and remain state capture and corruption, and the effect it has on the social fabric of our society and our capacities to serve the people. 

Crime and gender-based violence is an epidemic affecting everyone, rich and poor, urban and rural. 

Inequality in income, assets and wealth remains a challenge throughout the three decades and has worsened, making us the most unequal nation in the world. 

After steady progress in reducing poverty, especially extreme poverty, we have seen over the last decade that poverty is again on the increase, affecting the most vulnerable, including children, in a country with so many resources. 

After laying a solid foundation for the post-apartheid state, in some areas of governance and therefore basic services, we are having serious capacity challenges, including water and sanitation, our ports and rail system, maintaining some of our road infrastructure, and the massive challenge of energy security and load-shedding. 

These and other challenges have damaged the trust of citizens in the state and our democracy. The crisis of youth unemployment and the poor performance and slow transformation of our economy are making the people doubt the future. 

The ANC was a key part of the body politic of South Africa during the previous century, and continued to be so during the new century, as it celebrates 112th years since its founding on 8 January 1912. 

Through the ebbs and flows of many decades, its primary mission remains to be in the service of the people. This is why it has fought and acknowledged the scourge of state capture and corruption, and is on a path of renewal. It remains hard at work to strengthen the capacities of the state to provide basic services, to tackle the economic challenges we face and to correct its mistakes. Indeed, after climbing one hill, there are many more hills to climb, and the ANC is up for the task. 

Just a week or so ago, the ANC-led government released a comprehensive report on the implementation of the recommendations of the Commission on State Capture Report. It is abundantly evident that progress is being made in strengthening policies to prevent state capture and corruption, in arrests and prosecutions, in disciplinary actions and dismissals, and in seizure of assets. 

We must continue this war on corruption, in the state, in our organisation, in the private sector and in society.

The national and provincial elections of 2024 will be the sixth time since our first elections that South Africans go to the polls to vote on their hopes and their fears. 

Thirty years represent at least two new generations born since the dawn of democracy. Thus young people constitute the majority of our voting population. 

And yet many young men and women have not registered to become part of the voters’ roll, and thus to decide the future. 

Let us all therefore again be reminded of the words of our founding father, Ntate Nelson Mandela, that “sometimes it falls upon a generation to be great, you can be that generation”. 

Let us all work together to be the generations that transforms South Africa into a truly united, non-racial, non-sexist and prosperous country.