Ministers and Deputy Ministers;
The Chairperson of the Board of Brand South Africa
Chief Executive Officer
Captains of industry;
Ladies and Gentlemen:
Thank you for inviting me to address this inaugural Competitiveness Forum.
First of all I wish to congratulate Brand South Africa on taking this step to bring captains of industry, organised labour and civil society under one roof to discuss the promotion of South Africa’s competitiveness in the global markers.
As a first of its kind in South Africa, this forum will give leaders from all spheres a platform for debating our country’s competitiveness, as well as arriving at common understanding of how to improve the competitiveness of our economy.
This forum will harness the collective wisdom of various sector leaders in an effort to meet the quality standards of the local and world markets.
This is no small feat, given that we live in a global village where goods and services recognise no borders and where countries continuously strive to penetrate foreign markets to sell their products.
Because of this open-ended access to the global market South African products need to compete on the basis of improved quality, value for money and desirability.
Beyond the competiveness of our products, we need to prove our worth on a number of socio-economic indicators such as political stability, cultivating an investment friendly environment, greening the economy, transparency, predictability as well as having good macro-economic policies.
If we are to be competitive we must have in place sound economic policies; cultivate a favourable legal and business environment; roll-out socio-economic infrastructure; constantly improve our trade and industrial policies and lower the cost of doing business.
As such, the sheer amount of work that still needs to be done requires that we— as government, business, labour and other social partners, continue to work together to address the challenges we face.
Toward this noble objective, I would encourage that we see this forum as an opportunity for social dialogue and crafting social compacts that will enable higher growth trajectory.
By acting in concert this forum may prove to be an invaluable tool in the identification, management and minimisation of risks in governance, delivery systems, institutional arrangements and other existing procedures.
We have over the years made good strides in positioning our country as a stable democracy with the necessary institutions and mechanisms for providing an attractive and friendly investor environment.
This has with time led to significant investments in various sectors, including automotive manufacturing, mining, petro-chemical and many others.
All the same, we have also fallen short of the development trajectory necessary to place us on par with many of our competitors.
These glaring challenges show themselves through high rates of inequality, poverty and unemployment, especially amongst young people who constitute the majority of our population.
Confronted by the challenges of poverty, inequality and unemployment, we are acutely aware that improvement in the competitiveness of our nation is proportional to strides in these critical areas that define the character of our nation today.
As you know, poverty, inequality and unemployment pose an ever present risk to the socio-political stability of any country, contributing to social unrests, crime, and a general sense of hopelessness.
Recognising these threats to stability our government has gone a long way in trying to improve the social wage through a raft of measures including social grants, investment in education, health care, Human Settlement and others.
These interventions are aimed at drastically improving training and skills sets; lessening the burden of disease; increasing access to productive resources and generally trying to improve the standards of living for all.
In modern times societal progress is predicated on innovation. Equally, South Africa has the task of remaining innovative in all key sectors of society, particularly the economy.
In turn innovation assumes that our Research and Development capacity as a country is of international standards. Research and Development creates conditions in which innovation can keep thriving at every stage. Logically, this then suggests, sequentially, that our education system be sound and solid, especially in the key areas of science, mathematics and ICT, all of which are the prime drivers of national development.
In other words harnessing the force of science and technology to meet our developmental needs is among the empirically proven ways for societies to move forward.
Only a sound and quality education system with strong emphasis on mathematics and science can serve as a reliable feeder for tertiary institutions, which will in turn be able to produce top-notch graduates geared to the needs of the country.
Consequently such graduates can find their ways into our national research institutes, expanding the cohort of researchers at any given time. The pace and scale of national development corresponds with the number of graduates in science, mathematics and technology.
Simply put, to improve our competitiveness we need to grow a critical mass of a population that is able to fully participate in their own socio-economic development, thus pulling themselves up by their bootstraps.
In this regard, for us to improve our country’s labour and economic productivity, education and training remain disproportionately important as the most viable long term solution.
We must pay more attention to producing a capable generation of young people, armed with requisite skills pool geared to the needs of the economy.
At the same time, government needs to do more to mobilise all the resources within its reach to provide quality health care and socio-economic infrastructure.
Economic productivity of societies is the fruit of long term investment in a country’s competitiveness. This reality places enormous responsibility on government and all its social partners to pay particular attention to educating, training and reskilling of people.
In view of the issues raised above, I am confident that this forum will equal the task of trying to improve our competitiveness, conscious too that in the final analysis it is action that speaks louder in the achievement of our objectives.
Ladies and Gentlemen;
As I have stated, education alone will not in the short-term reduce inequalities and unemployment.
We must therefore, in the short to medium-term, implement measures that will lead to more rapid growth and creation of jobs.
Using state levers, we need to support growth and development through sound macro-economic policy, strong industrial policy plans and cultivating an investment friendly environment.
We have over the years made great strides in this regard by reducing public debt inherited from ineffective past economic policies.
This placed an enormous burden on the fiscus, but we managed to balance our economy in that period, drastically improving our competitiveness and providing stability.
In the aftermath of the economic downturn in 2008 our position has receded slightly, which has stunted growth and slowed down investment.
Over and above this, our country also faces economic challenges such a low savings, high current account deficit and increasing debt levels.
These are some of the critical issues you must engage with as you tussle with ideas to improve our country’s overall competitiveness.
Specifically, we trust that you will help us answer some of the questions on the following areas:
• Whether the skills developed in South Africa are positioned to address the needs of industry in future and how we can realise the goals for education, skills development, and job creation outlined in the NDP;
• What interventions are necessary to expand manufacturing and service sector that creates employment opportunities, in particular for youth;
• How we can improve the quality of institutions and systems in key areas where governance impacts on competitiveness;
• How we can give effect to the National Development Plan with the aim of addressing critical social and economic infrastructure the country needs;
• What issues related to FDI and South Africa’s competitive strengths can help position the country effectively as an investment destination.
Allow me to conclude by stating that the achievement of sustainable competitiveness has never been a more pressing challenge for South Africa.
Economic growth activities that occur under fair market conditions and that enhance and restore the health of natural and social systems are the essence of sustainable competitiveness.
We would like to believe that through social dialogue and social compact, the South African Competitiveness Forum will be a strategic platform for South Africans to engage reflectively on conditions and issues upon which is predicated our development.
This Forum is in a good position to contribute to a South Africa that continues to become a better place than it was before 1994.
Lastly, I wish to officially declare the launching of the Competitiveness Forum and wish this initiative everything of the best!!!
I thank you one and all.