During his response to the debate on the state of the nation address today, President Cyril Ramaphosa told members of parliament that a nation that should be built now is one that focuses on the destitute.
“The poor, the unemployed – the most important people in this country are not those who walk the red carpet to parliament but those who spend their nights on the benches outside the gates of parliament, they are the most important people,” he said to applause.
The president added that the most important people in South Africa are those who live the reality of having their shacks flooded during heavy downpours, people without water supply whether is a drought or not, job seekers who have had to drop out of school.
“Those are the most important people, who are suffering from preventable diseases, who have been orphaned or abandoned, who rely on an old age pension and who do not have the seed or the implements to work their small piece of land,” Ramaphosa said.
He said as president such people are the most important to him, adding that “they are our people”.
Cope leader Terror Lekota had questioned during the Sona debate yesterday who the term “our people” referred to when the president said land expropriated without compensation would be given to “our people”.
“So in the end, in everything we do as the government and as a society these are the people, honourable Speaker, honourable chairperson of the National Council of Provinces, whose interests and needs must, of necessity, come first. These are the people whose voices must be heard. They are the people we all collectively are being sent to, all of us, like Bra Hugh Masekela said when he said ‘send me’, we are all being sent to those people,” the president said.
He said the reason for being sent to the poor and marginalised was to improve their lives, heal their wounds and to turn their hopes into a reality.
“At the centre of this approach to improving the lives of our people is the Madiba way of getting our people involved in changing their lives for the better or making them, as Madiba urged, to become their own liberators, this is what Madiba taught us,” Ramaphosa said.
He said in the pursuit of advancing the interests of the destitute, a call has been issued for a “new social compact founded on the principles of social justice, solidarity and equality”.
Ramaphosa said the joint efforts of all social partners and all South Africans working for a common national agenda that poverty and inequality would be eradicated.
“Collaboration therefore, partnership and consensus building are essential features of our rich African past and will be central in determining our future,” he said.
Ramaphosa had earlier commended members of parliament for being committed to building a better country for all.
“What emerged clearly from the debate yesterday is that all members of parliament are committed to build a nation where progress is measured not by growth in GDP or global competitiveness rankings but by how the lives of the most vulnerable of South Africans, the most marginalised of South Africans can change for the better,” he added.