Deputy Minister of Health, Dr Sibongiseni Dlomo,
MEC of Health in Limpopo, Dr Phophi Ramathupha,
Your Worship the Mayor of Mogalakwena Local Municipality, Mr Frans Mokwele,
Our friend, veteran and social justice activist, Father Michael Lapsley,
Chairperson of La Luz World, Dr Matsobane Molomo,
Medical professionals and sponsors,
Our VIP guests the medical volunteers and members of La Luz World,
Thank you for this humbling honour to address this first Gala Dinner of the La Luz World. Let me thank the sponsors and supporters of this great youth organisation which is in service to the rural and urban poor. The last time we met with some of you was in July 2018. We were in Cuba bidding you farewell as you undertook your journey back home after the completion of your first leg of the Nelson Mandela Fidel Castro Medical Programme.
It is, indeed, heart-warming to reconnect with you under better and beautiful circumstance. That we convene here almost three years later to celebrate your professional and volunteering contributions, is confirmation that indeed “the beautiful ones have been born”, to paraphrase the title of Ayi Kwei Armah’s book.
During the send-off in Cuba, we recalled the words of Jose Marti “homeland is humanity”. We also remembered the words of El Comandante Fidel Castro who once said “I began a revolution with 82 men. If I had to do it again, I would do it with 10 or 15 and absolute faith. It does not matter how small you are, if you have faith and a plan of action”. In your response and vote of thanks you presented to us a commitment and a plan to change the face of the medical profession in South Africa.
Despite the negative reception you received from some quarters you took to heart Che Guevarra’s definition of revolutionary medicine when he said:
“Isolated individual endeavour, for all its purity of ideals, is of no use, and the desire to sacrifice an entire lifetime to the noblest of ideals serves no purpose if one works alone, solitarily, in some corner… to create a revolution, one must have – the mobilization of a whole people”.
By organising yourselves and recruiting other professionals who have not studied in Cuba you have proven the sceptics wrong. In emulating the name of your organisation, you have brought ‘light’ to rural communities and professionals. You have also brought the light of patriotism, activism, and volunteerism, which are sadly missing in our education system. You are the embodiment of what Jose Marti said when he said, “talent is a gift that brings with it an obligation to serve the world, and not ourselves”. There can be no doubt of the true value of the Cuban education system, for in Cuba one doesn’t just become book smart, but they learn humanity, solidarity, and service.
Compañeríos, you have brought back integrity into our health care system and our nation. In so doing you have been architects and builders of our hard-earned freedom. It was Zig Zalar who once said, “integrity gives you real freedom because you have nothing to fear since you have nothing to hide”. Yours is an organisation that has nothing to hide.
Your collective forms part of the core of a peaceful army we want to build in our conquest to fight ignorance, ill health, hunger, poverty, inequality, and unemployment. You are not one-dimensional soldiers; you have seen the interconnected nature of these challenges. You have also seen the utility of unity. Thus, La Luz does not work alone and in isolation. You have reached out to medical students in the University of Pretoria, and your friends from primary, high school and university. Thus, you have contributed to freeing our people’s minds bringing to reality what Steve Biko once observed when he said:
“The quintessence of [black consciousness] is the realisation by the blacks that, in order to feature well in this world of power politics, they have to build a strong foundation from which they operate from… at the heart of this kind of thinking is the realisation by the blacks that the most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed”.
In this context, we are happy because you have contributed to changing the mind set of South Africans by displaying that we too can develop ourselves. You are making voluntarism and activism to trend, such that it is synonymous with the youth of today. It must be the mark of this generation.
Programme Director, our development trajectory requires collaborations. In seeking to foster collaboration and state coherency in creating a better life for all, 3 years ago we launched the District Development Model (DDM). The DDM is a society wide approach which seeks to facilitate for cross sector collaboration to turn our districts into resilient, vibrant, sustainable, prosperous, cohesive, connected, non-sexist, and climate smart communities. Mogalakwena, being part of the Waterberg District, forms part of the 3 pilot areas, the other two being OR Tambo and eThekwini. We are therefore pleased La Luz World has also selected this municipality as one of its initial implementation sites for its programme.
As part of the work, we are undertaking in the context of the District Development Model which includes the 3 spheres of Government and multi stakeholder District Development Forum we have already begun reimagining Waterberg, based on its own unique endowments. Some of these endowments include a youthful population, with over 70% of the population being below the age of 35. About 60% of these young people who are of a working age are unemployed, and they form part of the country’s 9,1million young people Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEETs). Because of a lack of skills and education, 61% of the African population are poor.
This is significant because 91% of residents are African and they own less than 8% of the land in the district. Yet 38% of agricultural (arable) land in Limpopo is in this district. Thus, to change the fortunes of this majority we must radically transform the economy of the district. Fortunately, the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform has already given away 176 farms over 91 899 hectors to 1 836 beneficiaries in the district. Significantly, about 40% of this land went to women and 20% is for youth. These farmers have limited implements, financing and knowledge to market and beneficiate their products, which include game, livestock, and vegetables. We therefore invite La Luz as well as sponsors such as Woolworths to join the private sector initiatives led by the Private Public Growth Initiative (PPGI), which seeks to support these and other community-based programmes in the district and beyond.
Those of you who studied in Cuba, and other progressive institutions will also understand the important link between health and nutrition. Thus, La Luz World and its partners can and should assist us in the promotion of good eating habits amongst our communities. In so doing we must emphasize on our healthy and indigenous foods. We must also emulate the Cuban example where every household is educated on the nutrition content and quantities of every meal. This practice started during the food rationing period, but it persists to this day. In our context with urbanisation and the stopping of household and village food gardening, eating habits and lifestyles have changed. Thus, we are happy to see that healthy lifestyles feature in your objectives.
Programme Director, because of the poverty situation and lack of opportunities in the district the leading causes of death of women in the district between the ages of 15 and 24 are HIV/AIDS and TB. For men in the same age category road accidents and substance abuse are the main causes of death. The latter also explains why Bela Bela has the highest crime rates in the district. To solve this also requires radical economic transformation, which must create opportunities for young people.
To create such opportunities, we must facilitate for a skills revolution in the district. Such a revolution requires that we also build on the unique features and endowments of the district, whilst diversifying the economy such that it is not over reliant on mining. Thus, we must explore the comparative advantage of the district economy which lies in farming, crocodile farming, game, tourism, beneficiation of minerals, and new sectors such as the call centre market.
As we take this long term view we must also strengthen our substance abuse and rehabilitation initiatives. In this regard we are working on resuscitating the Ke Moja Campaign in the area, together with the Municipalities, Departments of Health and Social Development as well as the United Nations. Your expertise and time would be greatly appreciated in that campaign. As they are required in the Thuthuzela centres which intend to provide care and support to survivors of Gender Based Violence.
One cannot overemphasize the need for collaboration and joint actions towards addressing the scourge of gender-based violence. These initiatives ought to be accompanied by initiatives that promote gender equality in our work and society. Thus, every one of our actions, plans, programmes, and budgets ought to be gender responsive whilst promoting the rise of women in every area of human endeavour.
Here too we can use the example of Cuba where despite women constituting only 40% of the labour force, they constitute 60% of the country’s science graduates. Thus, the face and environment that La Luz and its partners must promote are those that ensure that women belong. As you do so you must forever be conscious of the words of Ari Eastman who once said:
“Everyone wants a strong woman until she actually stands up, flexes her muscles, projects her voice… suddenly she is too much… she has forgotten her place… you love those women as ideas, fantasies… not as breathing, living humans threatening to be even better than you could ever be.”
We must rid all our institutions of the ‘boys’ club mentality, not as an act of charity. Research the world through has shown that organisations that are either women led, or gender inclusive outperform those that are not.
Programme Director, on behalf of government and the people of South Africa I wish to conclude, by once again thanking the people of Cuba for gifting us which such talented and gifted patriots and comrades. I call them comrades not because I wish to recruit them into our party. I call them comrades because they are at the forefront of our fight against social injustice and the eradication of hunger, inequality, poverty, and unemployment. As Che Guevarra once said, “If you tremble with indignation at every injustice, then you are a comrade of mine”.
Bon Apatite and thank you.