Comrades and friends, Good evening to you all.
This week, the ANC celebrates its 97th anniversary. The occasion bears testimony to the central role that our movement has played in the struggle for liberation in South Africa.
We are pleased to have our friends and stakeholders in our midst on this important occasion. We must pause to consider the struggles fought and the hardships confronted in our long struggle to achieve a democratic South Africa.
We must pay tribute to the multitude of people who have been engaged in this struggle, and the remarkable people who have led this struggle at critical moments in our history. We pay tribute in particular to those who lost their lives in the titanic struggle against colonialism and oppression.
We must also consider the historic mission for which the ANC was founded almost a century ago – to unite the South African people to eradicate racial oppression and other forms of discrimination and exploitation.
Each year, on the anniversary of the formation of the ANC, we outline the objectives, tasks and activities that we must necessarily undertake in the year ahead to advance this historic mission.
Tomorrow, we will gather in this beautiful city together with thousands of ANC members, supporters and citizens of the Eastern Cape – focused on the objective of speeding up the improvement of the quality of life of all our people.
The 2009 Election Manifesto, which we will launch, is the central pillar of our programme of action in government for the next five years. We will seek a resounding endorsement of the Manifesto from the South African electorate, and a clear mandate to continue to build on the progress we have already made.
In addition, this year, South Africa will celebrate 15 years of freedom. We will celebrate 15 years of achievements in development and progress that is unprecedented in the history of our country. We will celebrate 15 years of continuous peace and stability; the first time in the modern history of our land that we can make such a claim.
We will celebrate 15 years of affirming the right of all South Africans to be an equal part of this nation, free from discrimination or exploitation.
We can say, without any doubt, that in 15 years we have worked together to change people’s lives for the better. This is a great achievement. It is an achievement that belongs to all South Africans. It is only through meaningful partnership that we have been able to come this far.
By grappling together with the problems that confront us, and by working together to find solutions, we are able to overcome even the most difficult of challenges.
By working together we have managed to build our economy. We took an economy that had been in serious decline, and turned it one that has recorded steady and consistent growth.
Through proper management of public finances we made available increasing resources to invest in improving our country and the lives of our people.
Under difficult conditions, we made progress in tackling unemployment, with the number of new jobs created increasing at a faster rate in recent years.
As we tackled unfavourable economic conditions, we were nevertheless able to make a real and visible difference to the lives of poor South Africans. Never before, in the history of this land, have so many of our people had proper shelter, or clean water, or electricity.
These are among the basic needs that we have worked together to bring to millions of our people. For all the progress that we have made, there are many more still in need of the basic necessities of life.
We must re-double our efforts to ensure that those who have not yet been reached by our programmes are able to access these services as quickly as possible.
Through these efforts we have pushed back the frontiers of poverty. Through the provision of housing and land; by massively expanding the social security net; and by broadening access to education and health care, we have brought change to the lives of those people who most need it.
Just as we must recognise the tremendous achievements we have made, we need to acknowledge that there is still much that needs to be done.
The progress we have made over the last 15 years has provided a solid foundation, and a firm basis to move even faster to achieve even more. Over 15 years of freedom we have gained much experience, and learnt valuable lessons.
We have not been afraid to admit shortcomings. There have been times when reality did not meet expectations, and where the challenges we faced were greater and complex than we had anticipated. Yet because of this, we are better equipped today than we have ever been before, to respond effectively to the needs of the people.
Tomorrow we will release our 2009 Election Manifesto.
It will demonstrate that we have developed and grown as a party in government; that we understand the challenges of governance; and that we have a practical programme to address these.
It will also be the official launch of the ANC’s 2009 election campaign. Following the launch, thousands of volunteers will spread out across the country to meet the people, and inform them about the ANC’s plans for the next five years.
As in previous elections, we will go from house to house, meeting voters and engaging in a dialogue about our common concerns and shared future.
We can expect this campaign to be robust and interesting. We can expect that many different parties will emerge to assert their views and policies. We look forward to a vigorous contest of ideas. We can expect that there will be a lot of noise, as parties compete to set the agenda for this election and to grab the attention of the electorate.
Throughout all this, we should not forget the most important point – that this election is fundamentally about the policies and programmes that are most capable of bringing about meaningful change in people’s lives.
After all the rallies and speeches, the posters and the adverts, the most important thing about this election is that the people will and must choose a party that has the policies, the commitment, the experience, and the capacity to speed up the process of change.
The Manifesto that we release tomorrow is the product of 15 years of experience. It is also the result of an extensive consultation process. In the course of developing our plans, we have consulted not only with our Alliance partners and MDM formations, but also a range of civil society organisations, experts and professionals.
Importantly, we have received a tremendous number of suggestions from members of the public. In hundreds of submissions, South Africans told us about their concerns, their aspirations, and the practical steps that can be taken to improve the country.
It took a lot of time and effort to go through all the submissions, and we trust that many of those who sent in suggestions will see their contributions reflected in the Manifesto. We will continue to engage publicly on the issues raised during the preparation of the Manifesto.
We will also be launching an interactive dialogue across various technological platforms, including the Internet and cellphones.
This forms part of the ongoing discussion we need to have as South Africans about the most effective ways to unite and develop our country.
As we celebrate, let us think of parts of the world that are in turmoil, such as in the Gaza Strip where more than 700 Palestinians have been killed in the past few weeks alone. We appeal for a ceasefire, and for decisive action from the international community to help find a solution to the crisis.
Closer to home, 2009 must be the year for the resolution of the stalemate in Zimbabwe. We are all committed to assist but the Zimbabweans must also walk the extra mile to find an urgent solution. What the Zimbabwean leadership must remember and understand is that this situation is affecting us very directly as South Africans – socially, economically and various other ways.
Comrades and friends, we thank all of you for your support in various ways. Let us continue to walk this road together, as we work harder to achieve a better life for our people.
By working together, we can do more.
I thank you!