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Speeches by Zweli Mkhize at the National General Council

One of the strong messages we expect to come out of the National General Council is the focus on how we need to unite as South Africans to face the fact that we are going through difficult economic times. And the answer to these economic challenges does not lie in us pointing fingers to who should have done what and who didn't do what - we must learn from what we have seen in the rest of the world. Everywhere in the world the economy is taking a knock, and I always like the example of Greece. Because it looks like some people thought the government was a problem, so they decided to change it and they had to go through elections three times in 18 months. This is just a measure of the fact that there is a challenge out there and we want to make a call. The call is South Africans must unite to help the country to traverse this very turbulent economic time. It is important for us to know that the answers lie amongst ourselves, as the leadership in government in particular, and in business, the political sphere and civil society.

These sessions have been structured to be able to create that conversation. I think the reason why we have so much negativity is probably because we have a gap in the way we communicate. I don't blame all of us because I think the crop of leadership of South Africans from our age upwards and a little younger than us, have all grown up in different cultures, different kinds of environment. So sometimes you become more suspicious than is warranted, but we need to overcome that. And part of what will help us to overcome our economic situation is a lot of intangible stuff - simple things such as good communication, trust, good faith, and of course the issues of good governance, fighting corruption, building together, and focusing on what we can do best together and on where there is proof the country can actually succeed.

I want to give you one example. We had a very interesting conversation on the initiative that was done by Mackenzie International. They went through the National Development Plan and raised the question: Is it possible for 2030 economic growth to be increased to 5%? We got involved in a brainstorming session where they brought in all the information. But before I go to the issues that they highlighted, I want to point out one thing which I found quite disturbing: They interviewed people from all over the world as well as South Africans, and they found that the highest level of pessimism and negativism was in South Africa, not from those who are looking at South Africa from outside.

Those who were outside were very excited about the opportunities in South Africa; those that were in South Africa were very dismissive about the opportunities we have. Then they came up with what they called the Big Five.

They looked at a number of things and said the industrial and manufacturing sector has some of the leading manufacturing companies that are supplying the whole world, which if we were to build on, would be able to grow the number of jobs by over 600,000. They believe we can actually grow the jobs by 1.5 million jobs by the time we get to 2030. Therefore there is a huge amount of conversation that is needed between the South African government and South African business to explore where these opportunities are, and which companies, sectors and products can actually take the country up 1.5 million jobs, increase the GDP at that level and the growth rate to something reasonable.

They have itemised a number of these and it has been discussed with government and with the ANC. We believe the approach the president has adopted of the Operation Phakisa and the labs where they bring in private sector and government to go talk about one solution, is the right way. So we support the president's approach on the work streams, those laboratories, as well as the Operation Phakisa in that particular area. That was one area where they calculated and said it is possible - South Africa, you can do it.

The second area is the area of infrastructure - not only is it necessary for the country to grow but it is also important for purposes of linking up with the rest of the continent. Part of what the NDP is calling for is an increase to 27% in the intra-African trade with South Africa, from the average of 11-12%. That becomes a very important area, and we believe there can be more than 600,000 jobs created in that infrastructure programme.

The next area is the area of services - here you are looking at financial services and tourism. One of the most important things is the huge amount of opening of the African market and if you expand these services into the rest of the continent, massive growth is possible. It is possible that around 460,000 jobs will come out of this, and these are opportunities proven on the basis of the trends the country has already seen.

The other area is the area of natural gas with the whole set of downstream opportunities that are coming out of this particular industry. Not only have we discovered our own gas reserves in the Karoo, but our neighbours in the Rovuma basin in Mozambique has a huge amount of gas that is beyond what we have seen in any part of the world, and there is a huge amount of interest going there. This will help us to look at a number of things like electricity generation, the power challenges and a host of other things that means we have to adjust to that kind of emerging economy. And from that side we also believe there can be more than 400,000 jobs.

We already have a plan we should be supporting - as government and as private sector, civil society and political leadership - to take the country forward. I don't think we should be disturbed by all the excitement that we see on the side-lines of the politics, simply because there is a lot of what appears to be robustness of engagement at the political level and the media is going to be out there. The media wants to make news, and what is going to sell best right now are fear and fright. Emotions are much better sellers than the quiet facts - facts are good, but they don't make news. So we must not get distracted by what we hear and see as opposed to what a lot of good South Africans are already doing. There is a Chinese saying that the noise that comes from one falling tree is louder than a million trees that are growing. And that is what South Africans must focus on.

The ANC believed it was important to focus on small business development and we have a ministry that was identified and created for that purpose. Comrade Lindiwe Zulu is a source of energy in this particular department, full of enthusiasm and driving it with passion. She is a child of the African National Congress, grew up in the struggle and went on to be trained as a soldier. She is chairing the drafting committee, which basically is in charge of all the resolutions that this congress must deal with, and is the Minister for Small Business Development.

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