Published in An Phoblacht on 25 March 2010
Speaking to An Phoblacht‘s Emma Clancy during the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis held in Dublin in early March, international guest Baleka Mbete, a National Chairperson for the ANC and former Deputy President of South Africa, said that important steps forward had been made in the country since 1994 but that huge challenges remain.
“Successive ANC governments have made a lot of positive changes to South Africa since we came to power 16 years ago. Of course, we have extended democratic rights to all citizens and dismantled the formal structure of apartheid,” Mbete said.
“But overcoming the structural legacy of apartheid – poverty and inequality – remains our biggest challenge,” she said.
“For so long our movement was in opposition and we could not have anticipated the complexities of being in government. But we are enthusiastic about being in this position. We believe we are up to meeting the challenges, and we are confident in the renewed mandate given to us by the people in last April’s general election in which the ANC alliance won almost 70% of the vote.
Mbete said that last year the ANC had completed a comprehensive 15-year review of their achievements and areas that needed to be improved.
“Fifteen years is long enough to have gained the knowledge and experience of operating the state structures and we wanted to have an honest appraisal of our work. We want to launch a concerted push to really improve the quality of life of the people, who are still suffering from poverty,” she said.
“We have five key priorities for the next five years – creating decent jobs, developing education and health services, reducing crime and developing rural areas.
“We have tried to reform government structures to best meet these needs. For example, we have now set up an equality ministry to address the needs of women, children and people with disabilities. This is one area that needs much more attention.
“The majority of women lived in the so-called reserves in rural areas while their partners went to work in the towns or cities, a pattern that developed in the framework of colonialism but which still exists today.
“We have also set up a ministry of rural development and land affairs. Because, despite progress, many people have been left behind in these rural areas. They are lacking basic services and sending their children to school in mud huts.”
The ANC chairperson said that the legacy of apartheid and meeting immediate needs “will mean a bigger bill for the government”.
“But we believe this is something we must do,” she said.
“The global economic recession exacerbates our existing problems by fuelling unemployment, particularly in South Africa’s mining industry, where there has been large numbers of workers laid off.
“We want to mitigate the effects of the recession through the process of all the social partners working together, to make sure the unions and workers’ representatives have a say – and that workers can be retrained for different industries, for example.”
Mbete told the Ard Fheis that the ANC would be marking its centenary in 2012, and urged Irish republicans to participate in events in South Africa and internationally to celebrate a century of struggle against apartheid and oppression.