Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize

Address by Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize at the SAAPAM Gala Dinner and Awards Ceremony in honour of Prof Stanislaus S’khumbuzo Sangweni and Dr Sidney Themba Zola Skweyiya (Posthumous)

Hon Minister of Public Service and Administration, Ms Ayanda Dlodlo,

President of SAAPAM, Prof Zweli Mpehle,

Most distinguished guests of the occasion, Prof Stan Sangweni and Ambassador Thuthukile Skweyiya and Family,

Distinguished scholars, academics and Members of SAAPAM,

Members of the Diplomatic Corps

Senior executives from government, state-owned entities and private sector,

Distinguished guests,

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great honour for me to share this historic occasion.

We are gathered to honour two great men that have shaped the post-apartheid public service in our country. We are filled with great pride as we acknowledge their illustrious contribution not only to the struggle for liberation but to the transformation and building of the South Africa we dream about.

We therefore thank the SAAPAM for its foresight to honour these two patriots.

Let me also at the outset thank SAAPAM for their conscious commitment to make intellectual and other contributions to good governance and transformation in this country.

The democratic South Africa enjoyed a privilege of having its maiden public service entrusted to the stewardship of these two great leaders. They faced head-on the challenge of creating one new civil service out of the fragments that was the apartheid bureaucracy including the Bantustan civil service, and with dedication defined the contours and ethos of a new democratic era. It was a public service that had been designed to perfect and enforce racism, tribalism, division and a good life for a few.

Their vast international experience endowed our public service with a universal content and character, while remaining rooted in, and responsive to our country’s peculiar experiences of systematic deprivation and poverty.  They succeeded to lay a firm foundation for a new, transformative civil service.

Prof Sangweni, whom we are honoured to have in our midst today, has had a very illustrious career, unmatched by many in terms of depth, breadth and diversity.  His accomplishments from various countries and international institutions are just horizons that many of us can only point from a distance, just imagine or read about.

We see his legacy in his main stamp in our public service, the Public Service Commission, which continues to promote the values he instilled of a stable, efficient public service which is corruption-free and dedicated to serving the people. In fact, the name of Prof Sangweni is synonymous with the fight against corruption, maladministration and waste and with the promotion of an efficient, stable, resilient and efficient public service.

Professor Sangweni continues to promote a stable, efficient and effective public service even in retirement. The ill-treatment of senior public servants such as Directors-General troubles him deeply.

Incidentally, it was at the send-off of Dr Skweyiya that Prof Sangweni spoke out about the need to protect stability in the upper echelons of the public service. In an impassioned address which touched the President of the Republic, he decried the capricious tenure of senior public servants, particularly Directors-General.

Prof Sangweni’s call is supported by the National Development Plan which proposes greater job security of tenure for Directors-General and Heads of Department, on account of the fact that short terms are unviable and contribute to organisational instability.

These short terms also make it more difficult to build an experienced senior management cadre, as some experienced people are lost to the public service unnecessarily.   The NDP cautions however that greater security of contract can only be desirable if it allows people to be removed if they do not meet the required standard, meaning that greater job security should be considered once there is confidence that performance management mechanisms are robust. Indeed, a stable public service will promote stability in the public service and ensure the seamless delivery of services to our people.

In the late Dr Skweyiya, we had a devout constitutionalist and a real ambassador of the poor. As the head of the ANC’s legal and constitutional affairs department, he played a prominent role in the drafting of our democratic Constitution.

He was a true pioneer and champion in advancing the socio-economic rights regime in South Africa. For people to enjoy those rights, you need a caring and public-oriented public service.

Through the Batho Pele philosophy and principles, Dr Skweyiya sought to promote the values of putting people first in public service.

Throughout his life, Dr Skweyiya fought against poverty. He shaped the social security system that we now have in the country. When we boast about having 17 people in the social security net receiving social grants, the majority of whom are orphans and vulnerable children, we should remember that it is Dr Skweyiya that passionately drove this key anti-poverty strategy.

The South African Social Security Agency, which is now twelve years old was his brainchild. He sought to find effective and corruption-free means of providing social grants.

Dr Skweyiya developed a very strong bond with the rural and poor communities, criss-crossing the country searching for them so that they could be registered to obtain any type of social grant they qualified for, so that they could put food on the table.

He did this because he was very much concerned about the needs of the vulnerable in the society – the old, the children and people with disabilities. Hence, he ensured that each one of them had some income every month no matter how small, to protect them against the pangs of hunger. These interventions helped people a great deal as a means of livelihood during the time when the HIV/AIDS devastation in the families was most acute. Like Prof Sangweni, he epitomised the caring society that the ANC government set out to build from 1994.

He was already envisioning a comprehensive social security system that catered for unemployment, compensation for occupational diseases and injuries, road accident funds, pension and provident funds to ensure a that workers and the poor are cared for. In essence, nobody can doubt that SAAPAM has acted correctly in awarding lifetime achievements to these two great leaders.

In this centenary of the late former President Mandela, they showed us that they truly internalized his words that “Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life.”

We honour the values they espoused, and at the same time set a challenge for the nation to walk the footsteps of these two humble and committed giants and continue to work for a better South Africa. In their lives we take out the fundamental values of a culture of service, integrity, excellence, being fit for purpose and having a work ethic that says you work hard because you want to create a better life for the people you serve and not because you fear your supervisor.

Their lives teach us that public servants should know their constituency and that people must feel their constitutionally guaranteed rights through the work of public servants. It says a public servant must do right because it is the right thing to do, and not because someone is watching.

That is what we mean by building an efficient capable state, one that understands its role and impact and in which public servants are driven by results and outcomes.

This capable state must be a system that has a reservoir of knowledge, institutional memory, stability and the ability to serve so that it can make an impact on the lives of the people. The capable state must add to respectability to all serving Government and be able to withstand political turbulence of changing leadership be there different political parties or same after elections or any change of the executive authorities. It is important to maintain this stability and continuity because there is a core of services that constitute Government, regardless of mandate and that must be preserved.

There must be alignment between institutional memory and research, building a reservoir of knowledge and information that guides the public service.

This is important as people are employed to think and apply new knowledge for the improvement of the public service. That is why training and skills development is critical in the public service, and especially continuous learning and knowledge production.

At the end of the day it is will be about not being a full-time public servant but more about people who have dedicated their lives to serving the people in the manner that Professor Sangweni and Dr Skweyiya have taught us.

In the memory of our two leaders, we appeal to our public servants to focus on their work and not be distracted by business interests and greed which threatens the public service and enables corruption to creep in.  Our public service must not be captured by anyone, in this era of seeking to control our public service and its vast resources. We must have a public service cadre that is impenetrable and which also does not need enforcement to be productive.

This is absolutely critical because the pride of nations is the efficiency and predictability of their social, economic and political systems. The public service forms the centrality of such predictability and stability as it must survive any turbulence or changes.

We need a stable, efficient, corrupt-free, caring and effective public service because the lives of our people depend on such a service being made available to them by their government.

We must not underestimate the impact on the lives of the people, of inefficiency and indolence in the public service. We can take the example of a new-born child being unable to get a birth certificate because someone at Home Affairs decided to be unhelpful. The child cannot get to school, cannot access the child support grant, if he or manages to get to school, after a few years it will be impossible to write the matric examinations as without a birth certificate one cannot get an ID and thus a whole life is doomed because of one incompetent and uncaring public servant.

Doors to a better life for the poor can be completely shut by incompetent and uncaring public servants. The impact and effect of indolence and incompetence is suffering.

Professor Sangweni and Dr Skweyiya have set an example for us. Their track record must inspire the public servants and make our public servants, young and old, to seek to do good at all times.

We have a Constitution that tells us what type of society we must build. We must now move from the spirit of the Constitution and make it live and through it, create the type of society we want to build.

We want an efficient public service and corrupt free public service and society. The foundation has been laid by our two giants in the public service.

Let us emulate them and build the society and South Africa that both fought for, and which Prof Sangweni in fact continues to fight for.

Let me extend my hearty congratulations to Prof Sangweni and Dr Skweyiya. This honour befits their stature and is also tribute to our country and the cadre of leadership it has produced over the years.

I thank you