President of SAAPAM, Prof Z Mpehle
Vice President of SAAPAM, Dr. L Vermeulen
Fellow Board Members of SAAPAM
Honorable Minister, Dr. Zweli Mkhize
Family Representatives of Dr. Skweyiya and Prof. Sangweni
Ladies and Gentlemen
Allow me this evening to make a proud and solemn declaration that as this generation, We Stand on the Shoulders of Giants!!!
The sacrifices that our forebears like Dr. Skweyiya and Prof. Sangweni among others have made, sometimes at great personal cost, demand that we spare no effort in emulating their example so that we can achieve their lifelong dream of a free and united nation.
We are gathered here this evening, not only to reminisce about the role they have played in building the country and society of our dreams, but also to remind ourselves of our own contribution towards building that prosperous nation, for which many have laid down their lives.
I am particularly delighted that the South African Association of Public Administration and Management has taken the important initiative to honour these public service and administration giants, who have spent a great deal of their time in building a sound and credible administration that is based on the values and principles of our constitution.
Let me also take this opportunity to welcome and thank the participation of the members of the two families, who have joined us tonight to accept with pride and honour, the prestigious awards that have been bestowed upon these giants of our societal transformation and progress.
We are extremely proud of the solid foundation they both laid in the building of the post-apartheid administration. As pioneer Minister for Public Service and Administration and Chairperson of the Public Service Commission, Dr. Skweyiya and Prof. Sangweni respectively oversaw the institutionalization of a single Public Service from a complicated muddle of fifteen (15) administrations, a task that required both commitment and professional expertise in public service management and leadership in general.
Amalgamating and professionalizing the petty and complex bureaucracies of the Bantustans of the Transkei, Bophuthatswana, Venda and Ciskei (TBVC) states, along with those of the self-governing homelands and “White South Africa” was no menial undertaking.
As we know, the pre-1994 Public Service was not only philosophically inspired by apartheid, it was also mirrored by an institutional and service geography that was biased towards serving the interests of white communities. Under the leadership of Dr. Skweyiya and Prof. Sangweni, the groundwork was set for the transformation of the Public Service machinery as it exists today and the kind that serves all South Africans, irrespective of kinship, color or creed.
Most importantly, through the introduction of the White Paper on Transforming Public Service Delivery, or the “Batho Pele White Paper” in October 1997 under Dr. Skweyiya and Prof. Sangweni leadership, the post-1994 government sought to infuse a culture of belonging, caring and service to our people. We are proud of the achievements we have made so far in implementing these founding principles of a caring and accountable public service.
The Public Service to which these giants laid the first brick in its construction has undoubtedly stood the test of the many challenges thrown to it by years of apartheid maladministration. Today, not only do we boast of a stable and functional Public Service, but its impact is notably felt by the majority of South Africans in critical areas such as education, health and social security.
Ladies and Gentlemen
Despite all these achievements over the past 24 years, we remain concerned about the lapses in the Batho Pele ethos that these leaders instilled in the life of the public service. The tragedy of Life Esidimeni will remain an indictment to all those who call themselves public servants in the names of Dr. Skweyiya and Prof Sangweni.
In celebrating their sterling contribution to the integrity of the public service and the ideals of our constitution, we must make a firm commitment that tragic incidents such as the Life Esidimeni never ever resurface in the course of rendering public services especially to the most vulnerable members of our society. We owe it to them, to raise the bar and strive for an accountable, professional and competent public service.
We must support the President both in word and deed in his commitment to revive the spirit of service in the public service but most importantly, to position the public service as the public services provider of first choice to our citizens. We have a duty as we honour the contribution of these giants to rekindle the image of the public service and make it a credible institution that will be trusted by all our people.
Ladies and Gentlemen
I would like to conclude by making the bold assertion that since the departure of these celebrated public servants, the public service has evolved tenfold. This means therefore, that as we continue to celebrate and appreciate the role they played in founding a transformed public service, we must think about the current and future challenges in the DNA of the public service.
One of the realities we must face is that of an aging and aged cohort of public servants and the need to attract younger and more energetic blood into the public service. As the old public servants exit the system, we must think creatively about the legacy and transfer of the much needed technical and professional skills to the entrants in the system. This poses an important challenge for us to design exit and entry strategies that will ensure consistency in the retention and supply of critical skills in the system.
We must also confront squarely, the brewing time bomb of unemployed youth in our country and the need for the public service to absorb young and unemployed graduates into the system. The National Development Plan Vision 2030 enjoins us to professionalize the public service and position it as a career of choice to young graduates. Our recent launch of the Graduate Recruitment Scheme is an important step towards the achievement of such strategic goals.
We must also accept that the recruitment of young graduates and unemployed experienced youth into the public service will enhance our desire for innovation in the system. We live in a highly sophisticated digital age, often referred to as an era of the 4th Industrial Revolution. This means we can no longer do things the way we did them two decades ago. The world has moved on in the manner of providing public services to its citizens, and the public service cannot be left behind in these developments.
At the end of this month, I will be hosting a public service hackathon which in essence is a problem solving exercise aimed at finding solutions for the challenge of public service delivery. The hackathon will bring together young people in a digital space whose task will be to identify gaps and challenges in the service delivery model of government and propose innovative solutions that government can deploy to confront these challenges.
There are many other new challenges for the public service in the 21st century and these require a new ethos and way of doing things. Once again, let me thank the organizers of this prestigious event and invite you to continue working with us in the public service space to improve our governance and public service delivery.
I thank you