Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Cape Town: President Cyril Ramaphosa says the most important people are ordinary South Africans, who are faced with socio-economic challenges ranging from poverty to diseases.

The President said ever since he delivered the State of the Nation Address (SONA) last week, many have given him an indication of a sense of patriotism with the message, “Send me”. Responding to a debate on the SONA in the National Assembly on Tuesday, the President said the State – government and parliamentary public representatives – should always aim to serve citizens in an inclusive manner.

“Since delivering the State of the Nation Address on Friday night, I have been humbled and encouraged by the response of people from all walks of life to the call to work together to build a new, better South Africa.

“They are galvanised by a sense of patriotism that elevates the interests of the country above narrow, selfish interests. They are moved by a conviction that tomorrow will be better than today. They have all been saying they are ready to lend a hand to build a South Africa that benefits all its people. I have received messages from many people consisting of only two words: Send Me,” he said.

The words “send me” — a direct reference to a popular song by the late renowned jazz maestro Hugh Masekela – featured strongly in the President’s maiden SONA on Friday, 16 February. These words quickly gained popularity, with the nation expressing their enthusiasm for working with government to help develop the country.

Citizens and their needs remain government’s top priority

President Ramaphosa said what emerged clearly from Monday’s debate was that all Members of Parliament are committed to building a nation where progress is measured not by growth in Gross Domestic Product or global competitiveness rankings, but by how the lives of the most vulnerable and marginalised are changed for the better.

“We are building a nation where our greatest concerns must be those in society who have need – the poor, the unemployed. The most important people in this country are not those who walk the red carpet in Parliament but those who spend a night by the benches outside the gates of Parliament. They are the most important people.

“The most important people in this country are those whose shacks are flooded…with every rainfall, those whose taps run dry, whether there is a drought or not. It is those who have been looking for work their entire lives, those who have dropped out of school, those suffering from preventable diseases, who have been orphaned or abandoned, who rely on an old age pension… To me, those are the most important people. Those are our people,” he said.

Monday saw MPs, Minister and Deputy Ministers tackle a wide range of issues in response to the President’s first SONA. The debate lasted into the night on Monday.

Land issue needs to be brought to the fore

The President said the return of the land to the people from whom it was taken speaks to precisely the divisions of the past, which he believes can be healed. He said there is a need to interrogate the statement that the expropriation of land without compensation is incompatible with a growing, flourishing economy.

“We need to respond to the view that what we propose represents a violation of the spirit and intent of our democratic Constitution. There are few in our country who would contest the fact that dispossession of black South Africans of their land contributed fundamentally to the impoverishment and disempowerment of the majority of our people,” he said.

He said while jogging with residents from Gugulethu to Athlone on Tuesday morning, he met a resident by the name of Cedric Alberts, who was forcibly removed from District Six in 1969. The President said Alberts’ family story illustrates in vivid terms the pain and damage caused by the former rulers of this land.

“The expropriation of land without compensation is envisaged as one of the measures that we will use to accelerate the redistribution of land to black South Africans. We will need to determine, collectively, how we can implement this measure in a way that promotes agricultural production, improves food security, advances rural development, reduces poverty and strengthens our economy,” he said.

He said for it to serve this purpose, there is a need to locate this measure within a broad and comprehensive land redistribution and agricultural development programme.

“This is a profound responsibility that has been given to our generation.

We owe it to our ancestors and to our children to ensure that we fulfil it. “In dealing with this complex matter, we will not make the mistakes that others have made. We will not allow ‘smash and grab’ interventions. We will handle this matter in the same way we have handled all difficult issues our country.

“We will always seek to do what is in the interests of our people,” he said.

President commends MPs for restoring the decorum of the House. The President said he was pleased to see that the dignity of the House had been restored. He said the debate was conducted in a respectful manner and that it engaged with the issues that most directly affect the people.

“The debate was conducted with decorum and respect – respect for each other, respect for the dignity of the House and respect for the people that we have all been sent here to represent. We should always remain mindful that this is the People’s Parliament. It was built by our people, for our people and it belongs to our people.

“The dignified manner in which the debate was conducted was very much in accord with what our people expect from their representatives in this, their House.” – SAnews.gov.za

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