Opening Address by Honourable Mr Jeff Radebe, Minister in the Presidency for Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation and Chairperson of the National Planning Commission, and Member of Parliament of the Republic of South Africa – during the 7th edition of the African Media Leaders Forum (AMLF) held in Johannesburg from the 11th to the 13th of November 2015
Programme Director and fellow participants in this programme
Her Excellency Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, the President of the Republic of Mauritius
Mr Trevor Ncube, Chairperson of African Media Initiative and members of the Board present
Mr Eric Chinje, Chief Executive Officer of the African Media Initiative and his Executive Management Team
Mr Mathatha Tsedu, chair of the AMLF Local Organising Committee
Media owners, editors, journalists and distinguished guests
It is with great honour and privilege to be invited by the Board and Management of Africa Media Initiative to open this 7th edition of the African Media Leaders Forum on behalf of His Excellency, President Jacob Zuma, and the people of the Republic of South Africa, I welcome you all to South Africa and Johannesburg.
The theme of this conference is about ‘Media and Development: Shaping Conversations in Africa’.This is a very welcome debate by the African media leaders and intelligentsia since it will ensure that the ‘fourth estate’ does engage meaningfully with issues of development in our beloved continent, Africa.
In my speech I will briefly reflect on the experience of South Africa, and highlight some pertinent issues that are facing Africa, and then relate our trajectory of development as a continent to the global environment.
As South Africa we have recently adopted our first National Development Plan (NDP) and Vision 2030, which is an embodiment of our collective development goals and aspirations as a society in relation to the elimination of the triple challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality. The South Africa’s Development Indicators report that we have recently published shows a mixed bag of progress in some areas and weakness in others.
The NDP builds on the foundation that has been laid over the past in relation to our quest to create a new society free of Apartheid colonialism and its related negative political, social and economic impacts. It is common knowledge that under Apartheid rule a culture of secrecy, disinformation, and restrictions on press freedom were a norm; as journalists were subjected to harassment and some newspapers closed down.
As we gather here, I have a sense of déjà vu as I remember an occasion in 1991 whereby the newly unbanned liberation movement, the African National Congress, convened a meeting of approximately 300 delegates to discuss the drafting of the media policy and led to the adoption of the Media Charter which remains the policy of that organisation as the ruling party of the Government of South Africa. That charter broadened the debate and addressed issues like basic human rights and media freedom, democratisation of the media, the relationship between those working in media and society, media education and training, and proactive measures to promote diversity in the society that we were envisaging then. Policy documents and subsequent multiparty negotiations laid a basis for the current Constitution of the Republic of South Africa that was adopted in 1996, whose Section 16 guarantees:
- Freedom of press and other media, and
- Freedom to receive and impart information or ideas.
Furthermore, in Section 32 of the Bill of Rights, our Constitution guarantees access to “any information held by the state; and any information that is held by another person and that is required for the exercise or protection of any rights”. Our well-known statute called the Promotion of Access to Information Act of 2000 has been used effectively by journalists and other persons to defend this right over the years. By guaranteeing access to information we believe that we open doors for the implementation of other rights that are guaranteed in the Bill of Rights, including other similar international obligations that we subscribe to. Through our legal framework we value human rights, transparency, accountability, equality, justice, good governance and democracy.
Recently, President Jacob Zuma delivered the Percy Qoboza memorial lecture where he declared that: “Never again will our nation witness the harassment of the free media such as occurred on Wednesday, October 1977, when the Apartheid regime clamped down on the media, banning two newspapers, The World and The Weekend World and arresting the editor and other brave journalists who stood up to the regime.” This reminder and clarion call by our President seeks to ensure that as a new democracy we cherish these freedoms and ideals, and we also ensure that they inform our outlook in terms of engaging with other nations across the world on matters of democracy and development.
With freedom comes obligations. The development imperative that is on the agenda of this meeting is one of those obligations that media owners and practitioners should always take into consideration when exercising their craft. Since 1994, as the democratic government we have seen media as a partner and a powerful independent agent for social change. It is the inherent role of the media to inform, educate and entertain everyone, not just the selected minority. This helps empower people to form their own views and opinions, and become active citizens who are able to use the information to engage meaningfully on matters of development that affect them on a daily basis. Most importantly, the media helps build active citizenry that is able to hold powerful actors in society to account, including the private and public sector leadership and organisations.
In South Africa we have made significant progress in terms of media transformation, which is part of the broader developmental agenda to eradicate the legacy of Apartheid. There is still much to be done since, for instance, print media ownership patterns remain largely untransformed and alternative voices – more especially of the poor and most disadvantaged – still remain largely unheard in the media environment. We champion community media to help fill this gap at grassroots level.
The NDP invites all of us to build a capable and developmental state that is underpinned by active citizenry – and I strongly believe that media can play a pivotal role in terms of achieving this development agenda.
South Africa does not exist in a vacuum. We are part and parcel of the African continent. Hence we have committed our country to contribute towards the creation of a better South Africa, a better and safer Africa in a better world. From a media perspective, the South African Government supports or is signatory to a number of international instruments, protocols and charters such as: the African Charter on People and Human Rights, Windhoek Declaration, Johannesburg Principles, the SADC protocol, the African Charter on Broadcasting, the Access to Airwaves principles, the Dakar Declaration, the Declaration on the Principles of Freedom of Expression in Africa, among others. These instruments create an enabling environment for all of us to build strong media that contributes to social, cultural, political and economic development and emancipation. Let us take advantage of this splendid opportunity to make a difference in our life time.
This conference occurs at a time when human development indicators are beginning to show significant shifts in relation to the trajectory of African development, as the latest African Development Indicators report recognises the positive impact of the policies that have been adopted by various African governments and as well as better informed citizens. That report notes the following positive trends, among other things:
- The continent has experienced rapid economic growth at an average rate of 5% over the past decade, against global challenges;
- More than 80% of Africans have access to mobile phones, a trend that is now characterised as an Information Technology Revolution;
- For the first time in history, poverty has been declining with the absolute number of people living under $1.25 per day falling by 9 million.
This is a good story to tell about our beloved continent. And our collective tasks as leaders, including media leaders gathered here, is to ensure that these positive trends are sustained and the fruits of this development are experienced by all our people.The remaining challenges of conflict, malnutrition, pandemics, illiteracy, unemployment, environmental hazards and gross inequalities should be eradicated where they still persist.
In January 2015, the Heads of State and Governments of the African Union, assembled in Addis Ababa during the 24th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the Union – where they adopted Agenda 2063. Agenda 2063 is a long-term vision and a commitment of Africans themselves to achieve the following aspirations:
- A prosperous Africa based on inclusive growth and sustainable development;
- An integrated continent, politically united and based on the ideals of Pan Africanism and the vision of Africa’s Renaissance;
- An Africa of good governance, democracy, respect for human rights, justice and the rule of law;
- A peaceful and secure Africa;
- An Africa with strong cultural identity, common heritage, values and ethics;
- An Africa where development is people-driven, unleashing the potential of its women and youth; and
- Africa as strong, united and influential global player and partner.
Agenda 2063 is aligned to the emerging global consensus regarding the shift from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Media will be very instrumental in ensuring that as Africans we are well-informed of the steps that are required to implement in order to achieve these developmental aspirations and goals. They should provide platforms for the battle of ideas in this regard.
All sectors of societies within the African countries should strive to make the 50-year vision of the ‘Africa We Want’ a reality by implementing practical programmes, strategies and social compacts that will take us gradually towards its attainment in 2063. We can achieve this if we work together as various stakeholders in society. Media holds the key since its core business is about information and knowledge dissemination. It should play its watchdog role without fear, favour nor prejudice. Media should defend the development progress made thus far and challenge governments, civil society, and private sector to always act in a manner that put people first and contributes meaningfully towards socio-economic development. This should be done in a manner that is genuinely participatory, rights-based and respectful of the diversity of views and voices. Media should be the voice of the voiceless indeed.
As you are gathered here in Johannesburg, do remember that this is the very same place where gatherings like these would not have been permitted under the Apartheid regime just about more than 20 years ago.We owe this freedom and democracy to the militancy of the media practitioners and leaders from across globe, the sacrifices of our fellow African brothers in Africa and diaspora, and all peoples of the world who actively stood up against Apartheid chauvinism.
The struggle for emancipation of the poor in Africa and globally from the chains of poverty and under-development is a long-term journey that we should all embark on with more vigour, solidarity and determination. We dare not let down our people at a time when they expect more from us in terms of information and provision of better education, health, skills, employment, housing, water, governance, social protection, and eradication of poverty.
We should produce information and develop measures that will make all peoples of Africa to face socio-economic risks and environmental hazards with greater preparedness and resilience – better informed by our various media platforms who play a key role in terms of early-warning and proper response mechanisms.
The new ICT revolution in Africa brings about new opportunities for media to reach the previously marginalised groups and present innovative solutions in terms of empowering citizens of the African continent to determine their own development and livelihoods.
We echo the voices of our current African leaders when they call us into action through Agenda 2063: the Africa We Want – with a vision of an integrated, peaceful and prosperous Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the global arena.
Again, I congratulate the organisers of this event for being bold and visionary in terms of creating a space to engage on this powerful theme of ‘media and development – shaping conversation in Africa’, which challenges media leaders to question the place and role of media owners, journalists, rights activists, and industry experts in the social, political and economic development of Africa.
I thank you all.