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Mabuza weighs in on unrest in first public engagement since Russia trip

Deputy President David Mabuza. File photo.
Deputy President David Mabuza. File photo.
Image: GCIS

Deputy President David Mabuza has for the first time spoken about the recent riots in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, saying they were a reminder that the government must urgently address unemployment, inequality and poverty.

“The growing numbers of young people not in employment, education or training, as well as the events of the recent riots, are a daily reminder of the existential task demanded from all of us,” said Mabuza in his first public engagement since returning from Russia where he received medical treatment.

Mabuza, speaking at the hybrid fourth summit of the Human Resource Development Council (HRDC) on Wednesday in Midrand, has been criticised by some members of the ANC’s national working committee (NWC) who questioned if he was medically fit to hold office.

The Sunday Times reported at the weekend that before returning from Russia last Wednesday, his prolonged absence was a subject of discussion at a recent NWC meeting.

Mabuza said the unrest — which led to the death of more than 300 people and the destruction of infrastructure worth billions of rand — also reminded the government that its efforts to rebuild needed to be anchored on ensuring security for all people, property, essential services and businesses.

He said it should also be anchored on “establishing with all organs of the state a co-ordinated effort in rebuilding the economy, focusing on the re-ignition of township and rural economies for employment and entrepreneurship creation [and] addressing the generalised anxiety induced by the unrest by rolling out social cohesion and moral regeneration programmes.”.

Mabuza said the summit, under the banner of “Skills Required for the 21st Century”, took place under unprecedented conditions presented by the devastating effects of the pandemic.

He said recent results from the quarterly labour force survey revealed that in the first quarter of 2021 structural unemployment stood at 32.6%. The figure is worse among young people, at 46.3%, and among university graduates it is 9.3%, he said.

He urged the summit to deliberate on how the human resource development strategy is recalibrated to be skills-based, innovation-led and entrepreneurial-focused.

“It is encouraging that the objectives of this fourth HRDC Summit focuses mainly on building the foundation and skills for a transformed economy and society, as well as building a capable and ethical developmental state.”

At the third HRDC summit in 2018 it was agreed that SA would work towards ensuring that it underlined policy, programmatic continuity and avoided “reinventing the wheel”.

Mabuza said it was encouraging to learn that this summit would focus on building the foundation for a transformed economy and society centred on, for example, early childhood development as well as on National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) resolutions.

“We presume there will also be strategic and thematic continuity between this fourth summit and previous summits in implementing pathways and partnerships between training institutions, labour and industry ... [as well as] integrating entrepreneurship into curricula to grow job creators as opposed to job seekers, and sharing best practice.”

When discussing skills for the 21st century, Mabuza said it was important to talk about responding to the “dictates of the changing world of work that is shaped by realities of automation, artificial intelligence and robotics”.

The HRDC has an important facilitating role to play, he added, working with social partners to ensure opportunities for young people.