SONA Debate: Minister Naledi Pandor`s input on migration and regional integration

18 February 2014

Mr Speaker, President, Deputy President, Honourable Members

The President is correct when he says we have a good story to tell. In fact, it is an extraordinary story of a remarkable political and socio-economic transformation, one that is probably unparallelled in recent history both for the speed of its achievement and the wide-ranging diversity of areas that have seen fundamental change.

The only cloud hanging over this good story, Mr Speaker, is the uninspiring negativity and poor grace of the opposition parties that have spoken her today. As always they have tried to obfuscate and to distort in order to avoid acknowledging the progress and achievements in our twenty years of democracy.

I am aware that there are some members in this house who prefer amnesia when it comes to our dismal colonial and apartheid past. Your amnesia helps you to minimise the advances we have made under the ANC in a free South Africa.

It has been twenty years, Mr Speaker, and I believe it is correct to say that the damage done by apartheid is surely being undone and is surely being reversed.

I call on the members to the left of me to use their voices and their energy in support of our President`s call to big business to devote greater attention to supporting government in addressing corruption and unemployment.

I want to add to the good South African story by referring to aspects of change that we tend to neglect when we assess how far we have come.

There are still a few members in the House who played a role in writing our new Constitution. Some of you may recall the heated debates we held about the inclusion of socio-economic rights in the Bill of Rights. Some believed we were crazy to include education, health, water as entrenched rights. Twenty years of democracy has proven that we were right .

The President clearly set out the progress we have made on each of these rights. One of the more remarkable is our investment in education. It is true there is much still to do, but visit some of our villages and most vulnerable areas today and you meet families with new graduates proudly taking up new opportunities. Families are entering new strata taking up previously forbidden opportunities as entrepreneurs and middle managers.

Of course, our Constitution has also created institutions supporting democracy as well as a vibrant multi-party democratic parliament, a parliament in which all parties have a voice and where all the people are represented. We also have free speech. For all. Including the media.

Honourable members are also aware that in these twenty years there has been a visible alteration to the character of the SADC region. In the apartheid era southern Africa was the playground of the apartheid state and foreign governments that were happy to have apartheid South Africa as their surrogate. Today we hardly refer to the Maseru massacre, the murders in Botswana, the bombings in Zimbabwe, and incursions into Angola and Mozambique. This destabilisation prevented development in the region and made our neighbours vassals of South Africa`s monopoly capital. We live with that legacy today, but there are signs that our neighbours are increasingly focused on development.

The President referred to a range of SADC infrastructure development projects - the Grand Inga project, the Lesotho Highlands water project, and our one-stop border project to support trade and tourism.

Beyond these economic initiatives South Africa is also playing a key development role in SADC. We are providing policy and institutional support to SADC organs, increasing numbers of South Africans are taking up posts in regional institutions and playing a key role in promoting regional integration.

There is also progress in the research and innovation space. SADC countries are partners in the SKA project, thousands of SADC students are pursuing postgraduate studies in our universities and many are employed in key institutions in South Africa. In fact, many SADC nationals find opportunities in South Africa though our crtiical skills programme and support their countries through remittances

South Africa is also providing refuge to thousands of vulnerable people who are safe here from war and civil conflict and political persecution in their own countries.

In 1998 South Africa adopted one of the most progressive refugee laws. Despite our acknowledged and tragic acts of violence and xenophobia against foreign nationals, we remain a primary and largely welcoming destination for refugees. Our courts have given liberal interpretations to the Refugee Act and for many years we have granted refugee status to thousands of persecuted asylum seekers. Unlike many other countries, we do not maintain camps for refugees. We prefer integration and are doing much more to support and build communities of diversity and peace. We have also benefitted from the immigration of many people with critical skills. Many skilled professionals from our continent have settled legally in South Africa.

I must add, Mr President, that over the past twenty years there has also been much positive change in the lives of women. Our country continues to be challenged by stubborn patriarchy and abuse of women and girls, but the status of women has altered in fundamental ways.

Rural African women continue to bear the brunt of disadvantage in South Africa. But even for them the changes have been significant. They enjoy formal equality in South Africa. Some have been able to challenge customary law and other forms of discrimination.

We have institutions that protect and advance women`s interests and we can approach our highest courts for redress or the setting of precedents.

Children too enjoy greater attention and protection. We have achieved universal access to schooling for all children, boys and girls. Girls in South Africa outnumber boys in education and we buck the international trend for countries of our socio-economic status. Of course, while we are pleased at this progress, we are also the first to admit much more remains to be done and we believe the ANC has the experience to do more and to do it better.

We have a good story to tell. We are indeed much better off today than in 1994.

It is always helpful, Mr Speaker and Honourable Members, to check how other commentators - a leading international bank and a leading think tank - assess our first twenty years of freedom. Both the recent Goldman Sachs report and research from the SA Institute of Race Relations set out our successes and continuing challenges. We have shown that we have the courage to address the challenges. We do not shy away from being ready to grapple with tough issues - poverty, inequality, job creation.

So, Mr President, what did Goldman Sachs and the SA Institute of Race Relations say about our first twenty years?

On the economy the Goldman Sachs report records our successes over the
last twenty years as follows

GDP almost trebled from $136bn to $385bn today
Inflation fell from a 1980-1994 average of 14% to an average of 6% from 1994-2012
Gross gold and FX reserves rose from $3bn to $50bn today
Tax receipts of R114bn from 1.7m people rose to R814bn from 13.7m people
In the past decade a dramatic rise in the middle class, with 4.5m consumers graduating upwards from the lower (1-4) Living Standards Measure (LSM) and in total 10m consumers added to the middle-higher LSMs (5-10)
Social grant beneficiaries rose from 2.4m to 16.1m people today The opposition always suggests that the scale of social grant provision is a failure, but what it means is the most vulnerable in our country are no longer left to beg in the street.

The SAIRR reports as follows,
The number of employed black people has doubled since 1994.
There are almost three times more black, coloured and Indian business owners than there are white business owners.
Black people who own cars have doubled over the past eight years alone.

5.8m black households own their own property – including the provision of housing from the state in some cases.
When it comes to social grants, their provision between 2001 and 2012 has more than quadrupled. But they are working:
poverty dropped 11% on average between 1996 and 2011.

Let me also remind you of the impact of migration and regional integration - regional integration within South Africa itself. Remember apartheid divided us. The ANC brought us together. Apartheid divided us into bantustans for blacks and urban areas for whites. The ANC brought people together by allowing freedom of movement to black people.

Freedom of movement transformed our lives and our regional economies. It led to what the economists call "convergence". Bhorat, Van der Westhuizen, and Goga (2007) show that poverty headcounts among black households decreased from 55% to 27% between 1993 and 2005, while the same welfare measure showed no decrease at all for whites, but rather a slight improvement. They show, in fact, that the economic welfare of whites has risen since 1993 at all levels, from the poorest 10% of whites to the richest 10%.

In other words, the opening of South Africa`s white areas to a vastly poorer and less educated population six times greater in size has been insufficient to reduce white South African`s living standards by even a tiny amount after over a decade. Meanwhile, it allowed living standards of the poor to sharply converge towards those of the rich. The elusive goal of moving toward income convergence has begun to be achieved, and none of the worst fears of those favouring continued restrictions on movement has been realised.

Just think about that. Think about the implications for SADC and African regional integration.

Let me, at this point, remind you of success in government departments like Home Affairs.

In the not too distant past Home Affairs had a reputation for failure.

No longer. We turned it around. Perhaps some of you in this house have forgotten how difficult it was to renew a passport or apply for an ID?

Since the turnaround strategy 95% of IDs are issued within 47 working days and 95% of machine readable passports are issued within 24 working days, and the annual target of 594 000 births registered within 30 calendar days of the birth event has been met.

In the 2010/2011 financial year Home Affairs achieved its first unqualified audit in 16 years.

How did government turn a department around from failure to success, from disservice to service, and from master of all citizens to servants of all?

We diagnosed the problem, using business models and techniques, and then we developed a holistic programme that amounted to a fundamental transformation of the ethos of non-service in Home Affairs.

We learned to treat all South Africans as citizens. We learned to provide citizens with a fast and efficient service. We learned to empower managers.

The turnaround strategy was planned to take place over five years, but within the first two years transformation was already apparent.

A 2009 customer satisfaction survey showed that 93% of its `customers` were impressed with the new waiting times for documents. The department had in place improved customer services, a solid foundation in improving the financial and accounting processes, as well as significant savings in key areas.

The evidence of how well Home Affairs was doing lay in the awards it won - best public procurement project and customer contact centre in 2007, first prize in the Technology in Government in Africa, Public Service Award for the ID transformation project in 2009.

The ANC government`s responsiveness to challenges sets us apart from the DA government in the Western Cape who have done little or nothing to address the dire circumstances of the poor and vulnerable in this province.

In ANC governed provinces our comrades are striving hard to pay attention to the concerns of the poor to ensure they enjoy basic services and are able to exercise their rights as full citizens in our country.