Deputy President Paul Mashatile has called on social partners to work with government to deal with the country’s pressing issues, especially unemployment and climate change.
The Deputy President took to the podium at the National Economic Development Labour Council’s (NEDLAC) 28th Annual Summit in Johannesburg on Friday to reflect on the COVID-19 pandemic, which he said intensified economic setbacks, resulting in high unemployment and loss of jobs.
He also spoke about the current condition of the labour market, which he believes is indicative of the legacy of apartheid.
“We have inherited a labour force characterised by racial and gender inequities, skills shortages and high unemployment rates, particularly among Africans,” he told the delegates.
He welcomed the decline in the unemployment rate to 32.6% in the second quarter of this year, this is down from 32.9% in the first quarter.
“The best that can be said here is that the trend is heading in the right direction, albeit at a slow pace. Serious concerns such as job losses in manufacturing remain.
“In this regard, organised business, labour, government and the community sector at NEDLAC have turned to each other to seek ways of turning our economy around, reversing unemployment and building inclusive growth.”
Through collective efforts, one purpose and shared values, he said, they hold the power to determine the trajectory of South Africa.
The Deputy President cited President Cyril Ramaphosa who has called for a social compact between the government and the social partners in his 2022 State of the Nation Address.
He noted that NEDLAC has historically sought to collaborate about the big policy choices that face the country.
“However, in South Africa, where unemployment is so high and those who work support many of those who do not, this type of trade-off may be difficult to attain. The most pressing challenge appears to be one about ideological positions among social partners with respect to the path to growth, which have not shifted despite the enormous crisis the country faces.
“We must summon enough bravery to discuss this matter openly in order to prevent the ticking time bomb of poverty, inequality and joblessness from going off. This is not impossible to achieve.”
Meanwhile, he said the Presidency and Business for South Africa has initiated an important partnership with government to focus on energy, logistics and crime.
“It has offered to bring in resources and expertise to accelerate progress and address the current impediments to economic growth.”
He also urged social compacts to avoid being mere “talk shops”.
“NEDLAC has a responsibility to demonstrate to the nation that there can be win-win situations and that we can proceed with the best potential or least worst outcomes.”
He also touched on the impact of climate change whether it is the flooding in KwaZulu-Natal, persistent drought in the Eastern Cape, high temperatures in Upington or poor air quality in Mpumalanga.
“[This makes] it impossible to cultivate fields… climate change is here.”
“Government’s response has been to prepare for a just transition from the world as we know it, to one which is friendlier to the environment and ultimately gives our children a safe future.”
He believes it will only be through partnerships that they can ensure that everyone is supported to transition to new employment or better livelihoods and provided with the necessary social support mechanisms.
“If not, those that are negatively affected now will resist this transition, to the detriment of future generations.”
In addition, social partners should focus on preparing for and building resilience in the face of challenges, especially health crises, natural disasters, deteriorating infrastructure, and rising levels of disruptive crime and vandalism.
“The reality is that some terrible aspects of our country cannot be wished away. Instead, we must indeed prepare for these crises to preserve lives and livelihoods and then address systemic challenges such as climate change and improved water access.”