The Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Ms Maite Nkoana-Mashabane
Honourable Deputy Ministers of International Relations and Cooperation, Ms Nomaindia Mfeketo and Mr Luwellyn Landers,
Your Excellencies Ambassadors and High Commissioners,
DIRCO top management,
We welcome all our heads of mission back home for this important annual get together, where we share ideas and update you on issues and priorities to enable you to continue representing the country well.
It is indeed momentous for us to meet in OR Tambo Building in the October month, which has been declared OR Tambo Month.
I had a privilege to officially open this building in honour of OR in December 2011, recognising the outstanding contribution of this illustrious leader in the struggle for liberation and in shaping the South Africa we live in today.
Also importantly, OR shaped the foreign policy of the democratic South Africa and laid a firm foundation as the foremost diplomat and face of the ANC during the most difficult time in our history.
Former President Nelson Mandela reminded us that OR's ideals can never die when he said:-
"….Oliver Tambo has not died because the ideals of freedom, human dignity and a colour-blind respect for every individual cannot perish".
We urge you as our representatives abroad, to internalise the ideas of OR and build a South Africa that prioritises unity, justice and respect for democracy, equality and the human rights of all.
Be inspired by OR as you make your contribution in building a prosperous South Africa, which makes meaningful progress in the fight against poverty, inequality and unemployment.
We are building a South Africa where more of our people have jobs, especially the youth, and where people also have income generating opportunities through running successful small businesses and a booming township economy. It must be a South Africa where those in rural areas have land to grow their own food, and where they can also have opportunities to earn an income through a thriving rural economy.
As our representative abroad you have a responsibility to build friendships and partnerships that will help us achieve these goals.
The economy remains an apex priority for our country. The National Development Plan outlines what we are seeking to achieve. We want to achieve inclusive growth, jobs and a decent life for our people.
South Africa remains an important investment destination in the continent, a destination of choice on many fronts, and the gateway for businesses into Africa. We have been able to draw more Foreign Direct Investment in the continent and want to continue doing so.
Our infrastructure and institutions still present a competitive place to conduct business.
We have a stable democracy, which was affirmed two months ago in our successful free and fair local government elections.
Our exemplary leadership role on the international front has earned us widespread admiration, demonstrated in many leadership roles that we continue to play on the global stage.
You are our foremost marketing and promotion officers. You need to continue to position our country positively and help us to grow the economy through global economic partnerships. Keep our country brand alive and visible everywhere.
As said the economy is the apex priority. We say so mindful of the global economic meltdown and also some domestic economic constraints which are making it difficult to achieve the growth we seek.
Despite the 3.3% growth in our GDP in the second quarter, our economy is still facing major challenges.
The recent announcement by the Stats SA of the loss of 67000 jobs means that we are not out of the woods yet; we need to redouble our efforts at rejuvenating and growing the economy.
At about 23%, our unemployment rate remains at worrying levels, particularly among the youth.
But we have plans in place to achieve our goals, especially to reignite growth.
You need to familiarise yourselves more with these plans, in particular the Nine Point Plan that is our action plan to implement the NDP.
The plan is aimed at promoting growth in sectors such as agriculture, energy, tourism, science and technology, industrialisation, infrastructure development amongst others.
To contribute to success, it means economic diplomacy should be an apex priority. Our heads of mission need to promote various sectors of our economy to host countries.
We have established good working relations with the business community, Business Unity SA and the Black Business Council.
We also continue to work with Labour as part of a patriotic effort to boost inclusive growth. We had a report back meeting recently from CEOs who are part of the Presidential CEO Initiative led by the Minister of Finance, Mr Pravin Gordhan and the Chairman of Telkom Mr Jabu Mabuza.
Considerable progress is being made. Business is establishing an SME fund and also engaging stakeholders in an initiative to create job opportunities for a million young people. We promoted these initiatives at the highly successful 8thBRICS Summit in India over the weekend. We urge you to take this spirit of cooperation forward in the missions you head and promote South Africa in every possible way to local business.
Our efforts of revitalising the economy also include transforming our State Owned Companies, to advance inclusive economic growth.
A lot of discussion is taking place in government on who to make the SOEs function better and not to be a drain on the national fiscus, but to be catalysts for development.
I will be convening a Special Cabinet meeting on SOE reform, where Ministers will discuss nothing else on the agenda but SOEs, so that we can benefit from the collective wisdom.
To grow the economy, we are also employing a host of other strategies including local procurement and growing black entrepreneurs and industrialists.
In this regard, you have a responsibility to brief your host countries of our broad-based black economic empowerment programme. They need to understand our transformation imperatives well and know what to expect when they seek investment opportunities in the country.
The de-racialisation of the ownership, control and management of the economy must be accelerated and all have a role to play to ensure success for the sake of achieving true reconciliation in our country.
In my last meeting with the Presidential Broad-Based Black Economic Advisory Council, we agreed that more work must be done to ensure that transformation does not become just lip service. We believe the 500 billion rand buying power of the state must be utilised to achieve this noble and correct goal.
In this regard, government is to produce a new procurement law which will replace the Preferential Procurement Policy Framework Act or the PPPFA which is unpopular with black business. They say it hinders transformation.
We are developing regulations that will make the PPPFA helpful while awaiting the finalisation of the new law. One of the key new measures in the regulations, which we hope to finalise soon, is the enactment of 30 per cent set asides, requiring of big companies subcontract 30 per cent to SMMEs.
The National Treasury and the Department of Trade and Industry will be able to brief you further on these changes so that you are able to explain to investors abroad and in the continent.
Supporting small business is critical because unless we grow our small business sector, we will not achieve our employment goals or successfully fight poverty.
As you aware, education remains a key priority of our government. We are making progress in promoting free education. For example, 80 percent of our schools are no-fee schools and the children of the poor and the working class do not pay fees.
With regards to higher education, the Freedom Charter states as follows:
"Higher education and technical training shall be opened to all by means of state allowances and scholarships awarded on the basis of merit."
The expansion of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme is part of efforts of ensuring that more children of the poor and the working class attend universities, universities of technology and technical and vocational training colleges.
We have also gone beyond the call of the Freedom Charter to support students on the basis of merit, as well as the need.
It is in this vein as well that in response to the call of students, government is to again carry the costs of fee increases for children of parents who cannot afford the increases, as announced by the Minister of Higher Education and Training.
To look at long term funding and support for higher education, I established a judicial commission of inquiry chaired by Judge Heher.
We urge all who have an interest in finding a solution to make presentations to the commission.
The Higher Education Minister Nzimande will be here with you this week and I urge you to share with him helpful experiences from your host countries.
I also urge you to explore more partnerships and new areas of cooperation that can broaden educational opportunities for our youth.
This could be in the form of scholarships, exchange programmes and vocational skills training programmes, among others.
We have had successful cooperative partnerships with countries such as Cuba. Other countries have offered us a large number of scholarships which we appreciate.
I believe we can optimise the scientific and cultural exchanges that we often commit to in our bilateral relations.
It is however worrying that genuine concerns regarding high tertiary education fees are hijacked for wrong ends, and involve particularly violence, arson and various forms of destruction of property.
We have to ensure that universities complete the 2016 academic programme, while we are still finding medium to long-term solutions.
The Minister in the Presidency Mr Jeff Radebe is leading efforts to support the Minister of Higher Education and Training and universities to stabilise universities and support students who want to write exams and ensure that the academic year is not lost.
The police will also continue to ensure that those who use genuine grievances to promote criminal acts are arrested and face the full might of the law.
We are a caring government. We are sympathetic to the message from the students because we share the understanding of the need to ensure that children of the poor and the working class obtain higher education.
There is therefore no need for violence and the kind of protests we have seen, which give an impression that students think government is opposed to what they are asking for. We are not opposed to the call, we support it. It is a noble call. We also urge them to support the orderly processes of finding solutions to this important challenge.
They must not break doors that are already open.
We trust that missions work well with Brand SA, Tourism SA, dti and other departments and agencies aimed at promoting the country.
Brand SA is conducting an Investor Perceptions Study in 16 countries, which will indicate what investors think about our country and will inform our strategies to attract investments.
The outcomes of this study will be shared with you through DIRCO and Brand SA will be at your disposal to unpack it further.
We are pleased with the progress cited in the World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Index which was released at the end of September. It demonstrates the great strides that South Africa has made in various areas.
The results show that South Africa improved by two places, following an improvement of seven places last year.
More impressive however is that South Africa improved in 10 of the 12 areas assessed by the World Economic Forum (WEF).
These include Goods and Market Efficiency, Labour Market Efficiency, Macro-economic environment, Infrastructure, Innovation, Higher Education, Health and Primary education, business sophistication, financial market development and technological readiness.
Most noteworthy are growth by ten positions on Goods and Market Efficiency and labour Market and by six positions in macro-economic environment and higher education and training, out of 138 countries.
All these will support our efforts to tell our good South African story, and we must tell it.
Ladies and gentlemen
Let me reiterate that as we work to reignite growth, our efforts are moderated by the challenging international economic climate. There is a sharp decline in commodity prices and shrinking revenues, Brexit ramifications in Europe, as well as security matters such as terrorism.
Climate change is also taking its toll, with erratic rainfalls and the drastic drop in our water reserve levels. This is affecting our livestock and crops, thus slowing our economic growth and threatening food security.
These challenges make the implementation of the Paris Agreement on climate change more urgent.
Some of your host countries have technologies that we require to mitigate the effects of drought, such as drought resistant seeds, and technologies that convert ocean water.
Let us explore all these possibilities and lastly, continue to work collectively with our partners for a peaceful and stable Africa, including silencing the guns by 2020 as envisaged in our 2063 vision.
We welcome you back home indeed for this important interaction.
We urge you to continue your good work in advancing the mission of building a truly united, non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous South Africa.
I thank you!