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Skweyiya: UNFPA Southern Africa Sub-Region Cluster Meeting (07/02/2003)

7th February 2003


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Date: 07/02/2003
Source: Ministry of Social Development
Title: Skweyiya: UNFPA Southern Africa Sub-Region Cluster Meeting


Ladies and Gentlemen

Thank you for your invitation to me to address this important gathering of UNFPA in this region. The role of the United Nations Population Fund in tackling many of the population challenges of our times is critical. UNFPA embodies the collective efforts and hopes of the world in ridding society of scourges that we face on several fronts.

To the visitors from our neighbouring countries and further a field, you are very welcome in South Africa and we hope that you enjoy what our country has to offer. We in turn look forward to hearing of your experiences and drawing on the wisdom of our region in relation to issues of population and development.

This gathering comes at a crucial time when the Southern African region is going through one of the most challenging periods in its history. Fourteen million people are faced with hunger. The region is estimated to have the world's highest level of HIV/AIDS infections. The devastating combination of poverty, underdevelopment and HIV/AIDS hits hardest at the most vulnerable sections of the population: children, older persons, rural women and people with disabilities.

May I say that it is a relatively easy armchair exercise to identify population and development challenges and to apportion blame for their existence. It is more difficult to analyse the dynamics of the challenges and to find remedies and solutions. Academic and policy researchers are assisting us to conceptualise the problems. They are the right people to be producing lists of recommended remedial actions and programmes. We are extremely grateful to them. They focus our minds on the nature and extent of the problems and they point us in the direction of potential solutions.

However, it is quite another exercise to roll up one's sleeves and get one's hands dirty in the act of doing something to deal with those challenges. The scope for intervention is enormous. Huge proportions of the world's population, especially in the southern part of the African continent, are vulnerable to poverty, hunger, abuse, isolation and disease. Any human being with a conscience cannot and should not avoid asking the questions: "What can I do to make a difference?" "How can I be part of the solution rather than part of the problem?" It simply cannot be left to governments or specialised organisations and agencies to take full responsibility for the social development function.

Sure, governments tax their citizens in order to provide leadership in dealing with the challenges, but it is also up to each individual and each community to help their less privileged fellow human beings to achieve a better life. Nobody has to look far to discover someone else who is less well off than himself or herself.

The South African Department of Social Development has daily experience across South Africa in dealing with the harsh realities facing our people. Our mission is to enable poor, vulnerable and excluded people to secure a better life for themselves, in partnership with them and others who are committed to building a caring society.

We are constantly aware of older persons suffering from psychological, financial or physical abuse and implementing policies that will alleviate their plight.

One of the main priority areas is children. Our Constitution enshrines the socio-economic rights of children. Over the past eight years the South African government and society at large has been putting in place policies and programmes to give effect to these rights. Focus is given particularly to the children from the poorest families and communities.

We are also proactively putting programmes in place to alleviate the poverty experienced by unemployed women, isolated older persons, the disabled and those affected and infected by HIV/AIDS.

We are particularly targeting those in the nodal points identified by the Integrated Sustainable Rural Development Programme and the Urban Renewal Programme. Previously neglected localities such as Sekhukhune, Motherwell, Galeshewe, Ukhahlamba, Central Karoo, Alexandra and Umzinyathi are now high on the agenda of all sectors of government. This is resulting in interventions aimed at the enhancement of the quality of life lived in such places.

South Africa began to receive assistance from the United Nations after its participation in the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development that took place in Cairo. At that conference the Programme of Action was adopted, and the South African Government was a co-signatory. Thereby, we committed ourselves to a paradigm of "sustainable human development". This paradigm places population at the centre of all development, as the driving force and ultimate beneficiary of development. Population concerns should thus be integrated into all economic and social development activities.

We received approximately R10 million from UNFPA between 1998 and 2001 in several forms, including capacity building in our national statistical office, Statistics South Africa. We received technical support in my Department's Chief Directorate for Population and Development. Also, government planners have been sent on one-week training courses to alert them to the implications of the HIV/AIDS epidemic for development planning in different sectors of society and spheres of government.

At the level of policy, the South African Constitution establishes gender equality and the right to freedom and security for all persons. Furthermore, everyone has the right to access health care services, including reproductive health care. This entrenches the international commitment on reproductive rights reached at the Cairo Conference. The Constitution also provides for sexual rights in terms of the Platform of Action of the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995.

The Second UNFPA Country Support Programme activated late last year will inject R72 million into population-related programmes, for which we are extremely grateful. The funds will be used to support the Government in reducing the impact of HIV/AIDS. Another aim is to strengthen integrated rural development programmes and to promote best practices through regional integration.

The programme implementation will focus on three main areas:

1. Reproductive health and reproductive rights;
2. Advocacy and mobilisation of resources; and
3. Strengthening of population and development capacity.

The programme will target development in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo.

Programme implementation will be facilitated through partnerships and cooperation with key stakeholders, including other government departments, academic institutions and organs of civil society.

Preparations for monitoring the implementation of the ICPD Programme of Action since 1994, commonly known as ICPD+10, include national policy monitoring. This begins at national department level and cascades down to provincial and local levels, to ensure widespread participation by partner departments and other stakeholders.

Government is also undertaking a ten-year review to determine the degree to which social development policies have been redirected and transformed since Government was elected to office in 1994. The review will endeavour to identify key challenges in the next decade and objectives that must be pursued by Government to address the challenges.

Our nine-year experience as a democratic South Africa confirms that we cannot tackle its problems alone. We cannot achieve sustainable development solutions to social, economic, political and population challenges unless we work closely with the rest of our neighbours in the region, the continent and the globe.

The New Partnership for Africa Development, NEPAD, incorporates a critically important pledge from African leaders to eradicate poverty. It aims to place Africa on a path of sustainable growth and development and to participate actively in world economic and political forums. A huge proportion of Africa's population lives on less than US $1 per day. The mortality of children under the age of 5 years is 140 per 1000, and life expectancy at birth is currently only 54 years. In South Africa, life expectancy at birth is expected to decline to under 46 years by 2010, which is 22 years less that what it would have been without HIV/AIDS.

Another huge challenge is the high rate of immigration into South Africa from neighbouring African countries. These people have to be provided with facilities and services to address their basic needs, including health care, education, housing and employment.

The country has a high incidence of unemployment of its own citizens, especially amongst youth and school leavers. About one-third of the potential economically active population is currently unemployed or under-employed. This makes it difficult if not impossible for South Africa to solve the problem of temporary migrant workers and clandestine labourers in a sustainable manner. There is an urgent need for stronger partnership with Africa's political and administrative leadership on these and other burning human development issues.

However, let us not be burdened by despair. We can and must make a difference. Once again, welcome to the conference. I encourage you to be creative in your thinking and deliberations, and to share your best practices. We all need to be open to innovative methods of dealing with the challenges. May the deliberations of this meeting be fruitful and purposefully aimed at making a positive difference in poor people's lives? I look forward to receiving feedback on the outcomes.

I thank you.

Issued by Ministry of Social Development
7 February 2003


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