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Opening address by the honourable Jeff Radebe, MP, Minister in the Presidency for Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation; at the occasion of the 28th session of the international union for the scientific study of population (IUSSP); Cape Town ICC, Cape Town

    29 OCTOBER 2017

 Master of Ceremonies and Deputy Director-General at Stats SA, Mr Risenga Maluleke

The President of the IUSSP, Dr Anastacia Gage

Keynote Speaker, Professor Tukufu Zuberi

The Statistician-General of South Africa and Chair of the International Organising Committee, Dr Pali Lehohla

The Chairperson of the South African Statistics Council, Mr Ben Mphahlele

The Chair of the Local Organising Committee Mr Calvin Molongoana

Members of the Diplomatic Corps

Distinguished Guests

Ladies and Gentlemen

The study of populations has occupied human life since ancient times. It is fully recorded during Biblical times and we all know that ancient nations of China, Egypt, Greece and Babylonia as well as the Roman Empire had their fair share in this enterprise. From time to time, leaders would commission undertakings to establish the size of populations under their domain for different reasons. Such reasons would range from estimating the number of potential conscripts for military enterprises, establishing the tax base, understanding the availability of labour as well as understanding complex issues like food security. A leader who, for whatever reason, would undermine understanding the population under their realm would no doubt be doomed to fail, and inherently hasten the demise of their nation. This maxim still holds today as it did almost three thousand years ago.

The study of populations has also been used for good and sometimes bad reasons. In many countries it has been used as a basis to illuminate issues that need to be sustained and those that need attention, thus aiding development at all times. In some cases, population studies and measurement have been used as a tool to subjugate others and place them on an unequal path. In our country, South Africa, population dynamics were in the past used as a tool to divide a people who so much wanted to be one. A small minority of the society inflicted harm of untold proportions. It was only when the iconic Nelson Mandela led the ushering in of democracy that people learnt to know the meaning of equality. On receiving the results of the first census in the democratic dispensation, Mandela said in 1998:

“The Census itself was one of the defining milestones in the building of our new nation… At the end of the day we have detailed, all-inclusive, information about our people which we can use to achieve our shared goals… It will take time to absorb the full detail of this intricate picture of our complex society. But the broad outlines should act as a clarion call to rededicate ourselves, in every sector of our society, to the historic mission of a generation charged with transforming South African society in order to eradicate the poverty and imbalances that derive from our past.”

 We all know too well too that the Sustainable Development Goals were created to transform the world. And, for the goals to be reached, governments, the private sector and civil society need to work together more prodigiously. Since the launch of the SDGs, we now have an unprecedented opportunity to accelerate inclusive growth in South Africa and Africa to deliver the goals and bring countries, businesses and people together to embark on a new path towards a more sustainable and better planet for us all.

Since the introduction of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in September 2015, considerable work has been done globally to finalise the set of indicators to be used in tracking progress towards achieving the 169 targets attached to the 17 goals contained within the SDGs. The SDGs give us the opportunity to collaborate more sharply, more effectively and more deliberately - because it is an agenda that aims at leaving no one behind, eradicating poverty and creating conditions for people to trust again in not only political systems but also in multilateral forms of governance and in international organisations like the United Nations, the African Union and our various national networks.

The Sustainable Development Goals can be directly linked to South African Government’s priority areas and also the National Development Plan (NDP). The NDP, Vision 2030 presents a long-term strategy to increase employment and broaden opportunities through education, vocational training and work experience, public employment programmes, health and nutrition, public transport and access to information. While there are “quick wins” to be achieved in each of these areas, the strategies will take time to have a large-scale effect on poverty. Our main challenge has to do with rolling back poverty, unemployment and inequality.

On the other hand Africa’s Agenda 2063 is billed as “the strategic framework for the socio-economic transformation of the continent over the next 50 years”. Building on programmes including the Lagos Plan of Action, it is meant to be a comprehensive plan of action for Africa to position itself as a player in global affairs and strengthen inter-continental relations

Agenda 2063 is anchored on the AU vision and is based on the following seven aspirations

1. A prosperous Africa based on inclusive growth and sustainable development;

2. An integrated continent, politically united, based on the ideals of Pan Africanism and the vision of Africa’s Renaissance;

3. An Africa of good governance, respect for human rights, justice and the rule of law;

4. A peaceful and secure Africa;

5. An Africa with a strong cultural identity, common heritage, values and ethics;

6. An Africa whose development is people-driven, relying on the potential of African people, especially its women and youth, and caring for children; and

7. Africa as a strong, united, resilient and influential global player and partner.

Agenda 2063, first ten years of implementation has been aligned to the Sustainable Development Goals and in South Africa we have decided to develop an integrated indicator framework which puts South Africa’s National Development Plan at the centre of all development frameworks at local, continental and global levels.

The integrated Indicator Framework ensures alignment between the NDP, Africa’s Agenda 2063 and the SDGs. The indicator framework goes further and aligns the NDP to local development frameworks such as the Provincial Development Plans and Integrated Development Plans (IDPs).  The integrated Indicator Framework bears testimony to the fact that governments alone will not be able to respond to the data demands of the post 2015 development agenda, thereby partnerships with civil society and the private sector on data production are essential.

South Africa has just launched the SDG indicator baseline and it reflects where the country is at as the measurement and tracking of SDG indicators begin. The picture that is emerging, very early on, is “mixed”.

The 2030 Agenda is without doubt our boldest agenda for achieving human progress. This colossal effort is not about what individual people, governments, business and organisations do alone – it is about what we can and must do, together, to better support our efforts in implementing such a boldly transformative agenda.

In this regard African heads of state at their 29th Summit of the African Union held in July this year considered the challenges confronting the continent and decided in favour of dipping their bucket where they are.  Based on lessons in East Asia more recently and the facts of history in Europe and America they looked in their population and concluded that they have to mobilize resources towards harnessing a demographic dividend for Africa.  That the host is in Africa and the 19 themes of the 28th Session of the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population (IUSSP) decided four years ago in Korea at the 27th Session of the IUSSP are converging on the fact of a demographic dividend is pleasing in the light of the decision of the African Heads of State.  Your choice of Africa as the theatre for your discussions is apt as it provides an important window through which in this week the world’s intellect will be focused on Africa’s development aspirations – our Agenda 2063 - the Africa we want and in particular the vexed question of a demographic dividend.  As a host country we shall indulge you in the South Africa’s National Development Plan (NDP) - our Vision 2030.  As you prepare for Africa day presentations, I trust you will use these sets of lenses of the Africa we want and Vision 2030 to contextualize the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  I trust that you will use the opportunity to intellectually ground the development challenges and the opportunities that Africa and South Africa present for the global community, including importantly how Africa should not miss out on its nascent demographic transition and the fourth industrial revolution brought about by the ubiquitous technology and the speed at which it causes us to reimagine the universe and development.  Your voice as a community of scientists immersed in understanding human populations should provide us the insights needed to change the course of human history with significant degrees of certainty for the better, especially for Africa. 

The nineteen themes you chose invariably feed into the demographic dividend narrative.  I wish to pick on five of these themes and juxtapose these against our own reality here in South Africa. Starting first with the theme of education and labour force let me suggest that your piercing intellect should reveal to us as policy makers and answer the question of by what means could we tackle education and its outcomes in terms of a productive labour force.  This is most relevant in South Africa where one of the biggest challenges we have is that of unemployment.  Second let me discuss an interrelated issue of the relevance of your theme on children and the youth in the nineteen themes for this international conference on population.  In this regard our policies of South Africa also address the question of children and in particular in as far as how we provide foundational skills within the first five years of their life.  We have through our policy instruments early childhood development (ECD) programme.    

Third is the theme on number of children born per woman - fertility.  South Africa has experienced a rapidly declining fertility and consequently attained a rapid demographic transition yet this has not been accompanied by a demographic dividend.  This is especially so for Blacks.  This reflects the history of colonialism in general, settler colonialism particularly and apartheid exceptionalism specifically.  The apartheid regime was so brutal that in its design and architecture as choreographed by prime minister Verwoerd deprived Blacks education especially mathematics.  In the place of providing equal education, Verwoerd chose to provide Blacks with an inferior education fit for Blacks and it was called Bantu Education.  In the rest of the continent of Africa there was no apartheid in the way discrimination was formerly prosecuted in South Africa.  However even these parts of the continent of Africa face a real grim possibility of a missed demographic gain.  The question is what are we going to do to resolve this problem?

Fourth let me touch on the space economy under your theme of spatial demography and relate this to how apartheid used as its central force, a race based discrimination to effect development.  At that, a narrow and selfish separate development programme was what apartheid deployed to those who are not white in South Africa.  In this regard we shall be keen to learn from the theme covered by your conference on Spatial Demography.   

Fifth and finally I would like you to open the space on your theme of Population, Consumption and Environment and introduce the International Comparison Programme (ICP) which provides a rich source of information on the final household consumption globally.  It includes price levels experienced in each country and regionally.  The nexus of ICP and the IUSSP focal area on population, consumption and environment should enlighten our policy space and through the United Nations System of Environmental and Economic Accounting we should connect the dots. The environment is our greatest concern and South Africa is conscious of this because it uses dirty energy – coal.  We have thus signed the Paris Declaration on Climate Change to ensure that our policies, laws and practices move rapidly towards the reduction of using dirty energy.   

The building of a solid scientific base to solve problems current and future will require the world to go out there and build capacity. Such capacity should harness the skills and expertise that we currently have and give rise to young and upcoming offshoots. It requires a hand-holding to young and upcoming demographers, statisticians, economists and developmental scientist. On our continent, we have a program of Young African Statisticians which has been meeting every two years. Young Africans can only succeed if they are part of a great global establishment. Scientific knowledge becomes meaningful if it is universal.

To this day ─ nations both developing and developed ─ invest lots of resources to understand the number of people they lead and where and how these people live. The quest to understand these issues has become quite important for both leaders and the citizenry alike. The premise of making such a public good available to all at once ensure that those of us who are in public office are held accountable by the electorate at all times. It creates a robust culture of public trust in navigating sometimes a complex path in the choices of policies that nations make. Only nations that have high levels of trust between those who lead and those who are lead experience a unique bounty of prosperity. Such nations provide a guarantee to men and women, young and old, that their aspirations will materialise. In doing so, nations eliminate competition among the citizenry, thus creating hope that one day their time will come as those responsible for implementing national policies phase in key program from one part of the country to the next. This is a world that we all would like to live in. Such a world can only be achieved with your contributions in the study of populations.   I therefore appeal to all of you here today ─ and those who will follow on your foot steps for many generations to come ─ to remain true to form at all times. Those who measure should never succumb to any temptation whatsoever, or to submit to whatever pressure, to falsify the count of populations of the world. For, doing so will not only mean abdicating your responsibilities, but also dragooning the masses of the world on a road to underdevelopment, subversion and doom. The study of populations cannot be submitted to petty opinions of sudden impulse and superstition. It should be rooted in solid science. 

Your conference should therefore reinforce the suggestion for a new compact of a human race free of the demons of discrimination and the nightmares of war.  Importantly it should pave for us pathways for achieving better results through prosperity that is inclusive of people and planet.  Let us leave no one behind. 

With those words I declare this the 28th Session of the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population officially open.


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