Kgalema Motlanthe, ANC Deputy President of the Republic of South Africa, had been elected by the Parliament as the Acting President of the Republic in 2008. He held office until the regular election in 2009., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
ANC Viewpoint by Kgalema Motlanthe
Social dialogue constitutes the foundations of our democracy
The year to date has seen important milestones and achievements for the country and also for social dialogue. In the first quarter Gross Domestic Product (GDP) increased by 2.7and in the second quarter it is at 3.2 percent. There are grounds for cautious optimism that the economy may be moving into a more stable phase of growth.
However, many risks remain present in the international economic environment which may yet have negative consequences for our domestic economic performance. A lot depends on what happens in Europe, and how that affects the rest of the world.
The European slowdown has already begun to affect the local automotive sector and the platinum sector in mining, for which the car industry is a major procurer of platinum. One catalytic converter manufacturer has already laid off workers. But we are hopeful that the Euro-zone will turn the corner soon and allow the rest of the world to invest with more confidence.
According to our official statistics, in the region of 320000 jobs have been created in the formal sector between the middle of 2011 and mid-2012. Though we have not yet recovered all the jobs lost in the recession of 2009, we are getting there slowly. Continued positive growth in employment would be the most important way in which we address poverty and unemployment.
The government has proposed and initiated a number of projects and strategies to work towards eradicating poverty, unemployment and inequality. These range from strategies such as the New Growth Path and the Presidential Infrastructure Coordinating Commission (PICC) which has developed 17 strategic infrastructure projects, ranging, among others, from electricity, railways, roads, dams and social infrastructure.
Policies have also been put in place for Cooperatives, Spatial Planning and Land Use Management, the bill is being piloted through Parliament, as well as the large-scale Infrastructure Development projects. Government has also initiated the plan to establish a National Health Insurance system and reform to social security and retirement saving.
We appear to be reaching some consensus in the area of youth development around a multi-pronged strategy which may include demand side subsidies to incentivise youth employment. Amending the legislation to further protect vulnerable workers, for example, the current amendments to the Labour Relations Act, the Basic Conditions of Employment Act and the Employment Equity Act, should also contribute to countering growing inequality in the labour market.
Through NEDLAC, the social partners have consistently made important contributions to the fine-tuning of strategies and policies so that we not only confront poverty, unemployment and inequality in the best way, but that we also do so with a common vision and approach. A key challenge facing us all in the years ahead will be to take seriously and to respond appropriately to the National Development Plan that was handed to the President on the 15 of August this year.
The Plan challenges us to work towards a social compact for growth and employment. In proposing a social compact, the National Planning Commission takes account of real complexities that exist in South Africa that will make a meaningful social compact difficult. These include, among others:
• Low trust between the parties;
• The difficulty of the state acting as an independent and strong arbiter that would be able to discipline parties;
• Problems of representation of the social partners; and
• A challenge of effective leadership that is able to take risks.
Despite these difficulties, the National Development Plan has concluded that; "…a social contract would contribute substantially to providing the political, economic and social conditions for long run development." This echoes a similar point that was made in the National Growth Path strategy document.
I am sure that we would all agree that the assessment of the National Planning Commission is correct in this regard. A common vision, a higher level of trust and a set of agreed trade-offs that contribute positively to the growth and development is in the interest of all parties.
How do we get there?
The day after the National Development Plan was handed to President Jacob Zuma we saw the tragedy unfold at Lonmin's Marikana platinum mine near Rustenburg where 44 people were killed, including striking miners and the police. The events at Lonmin will be fully investigated by the Judicial Commission of Inquiry that has now started its work.
Once we have the report of the Commission, we will be able to deliberate fully on the events that took place and decide on an appropriate course of action. The terms of reference of the Commission are sufficiently broad so as to deal with all aspects of the Marikana tragedy and to make appropriate recommendations.
The tragedy at Marikana should make us all reflect on how we confront poverty and inequality through our respective institutions and organisations. It also challenges us to re-commit ourselves to more effective social dialogue at national and regional levels.
We should strive to find a common vision to take us forward. Now is the time to begin laying the basis for a social contract for our labour relations and our labour market that will contribute to achieving a more equitable and inclusive form of economic growth. I wish to draw your attention to the point about the necessity for social dialogue made in the booklet of Founding Documents of NEDLAC, which states:
"Unlike any other the international examples of social dialogue the South African model of social dialogue was developed to deepen democracy and also look at socio-economic issues. The model we have developed in South Africa is a leader in the world of social dialogue. It is a cornerstone of our democracy, and needs to be jealously guarded in order to promote transformation."
I trust that the value of social dialogue which in essence constitutes the foundations of our democracy will continue to enjoy our undivided attention and energise our collective efforts at socio-economic transformation of our country. As it is to be expected, there are still areas of the NEDLAC process that we can improve on.
One of the key challenges is the representation of the poor and the marginalised - the unemployed (including the unemployed youth), urban and rural poor, and those working in the informal sector. These constituencies are not easy to organise or to represent in any formal sense. We must ask ourselves what we can genuinely do to ensure that the Nedlac's 'Community Constituency' is fully represented, their voices are heard and that their interests are adequately addressed.
Other areas of consideration that we must look at going forward include:
• Dealing with the declining quality of participation in NEDLAC;
• Enhancing the relation with government to avoid the use of NEDLAC as an avenue for solely putting government under pressure in the event of controversial policy and legislative proposals; and
• Avoiding the relegation of the process to a talk-shop by sending junior officials, with no decision-making authority, to represent business and government.
I wish to thank all the social partners and government representatives who have given of their time during the past year to support NEDLAC and the process of social dialogue that it provides for. Thank you for your efforts during the year and I wish you well for the year ahead. It will be a challenging year for social partnership, but it could be the year that Nedlac achieves its true potential.
Kgalema Motlanthe is the ANC Deputy President and Deputy President of the Republic of South Africa. This is his edited address at the 17th Nedlac Annual Summit